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No. 19 ND welcomes No. 5 PSU in must-win series

Last week, Notre Dame fell to No. 20 on both the USCHO and USA Today polls. After a weekend of inaction, the Irish rose to No. 19, thanks to a team ahead of it falling out of the rankings. This weekend, the Irish will take on No. 5 Penn State at home at Compton Family Ice Arena.

The Irish come into this matchup in desperate need of points in the Big 10. They currently sit in a tie for fifth, with just nine points off of a 2-4-1-1 overall record. Penn State is currently in second, 10 points ahead of the Irish, with a 6-3-0-1 record.

The Nittany Lions have had a phenomenal season thus far; they currently have a record of 14-4-0, including an impressive nine-game win streak to start the season. Their first loss (during overtime) came to Michigan in a close contest back in November. All four Penn State losses have come in the Big 10.

Players to Watch

Penn State’s leading goal scorer is senior No. 21 Kevin Wall, who has contributed eight to the Nittany Lions campaign. He also leads the team in shooting percentage at 16.7% (when factoring out players who have not played a substantial amount).

Wall is also among the point leaders for the Lions, with 14. He is currently tied with sophomore No. 12 Ben Schoen and senior No. 20 Ture Linden.

Defensively, the Nittany Lions are anchored by senior No. 5 Christian Berger and graduate student No. 3 Paul DeNaples. The two have blocked a combined 63 shots while contributing a combined 11 points.

In net for the Lions is No. 31 Liam Souliere, who has started 16 games in between the pipes. On average, Souliere sees 26 shots per game, of which he saves .923%, good enough for 19th in the country (and .001% behind Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel).

On average, Souliere allows just 2.12 goals per game, a major reason for the Nittany Lions boasting the incredible record they do. 

Strengths

Faceoff Wins

The Nittany Lions currently rank second in the country for faceoff wins with a .567 win percentage across their 18 games, only trailing Minnesota State (.592).

While four Penn State players have a +.600% faceoff win percentage, only two are doing it on a significant amount of volume. Linden has a 207-130 record at the faceoff dot (.614), which leads the team when adjusting for volume. Not far behind is senior Connor MacEachern, who is 181-116 (.609). When those two are facing off against the Irish on Friday and Saturday, expect lots of Nittany wins.

What makes this advantage all the more dubious is that Notre Dame is a below-average faceoff team, ranking No. 37 in the country with a percentage of .489, hardly anything to write home about.

Notre Dame currently lacks a player who can match Linden and MacEachern at the faceoff dot. The best at winning faceoffs when adjusting for volume is graduate student Chayse Primeau, who is just 145-117 on the season (.553%).

Penalty Discipline

The Nittany Lions are one of the most disciplined teams in the NCAA, ranking 59th in average penalty minutes per game at just 7.17, or a little over 3.5 penalties per game.

This honestly feels like a bit of a mixed bag for the Irish. The special teams play has been, at best, average this season, and the power play downright dreadful. On the 56 opportunities gifted by the opposition, the Irish have only converted seven (.125), a mark that ranks a walloping 52nd in all of college hockey.

That being said, because Notre Dame has an awful power play, Penn State’s discipline might not hurt them as much as it would a team that is more efficient with a man advantage.

Weaknesses

Power Play

Special teams have not been a point of pride for the Irish this season, nor have they been one for Penn State. In their 14 games this season, the Nittany Lions have had 61 power plays and have only converted on 10 (.164).

A good thing, too, as the Irish are one of the most heavily penalized teams in the country with an average of 12.69 penalty minutes per game. The Irish are giving opponents roughly six power plays per game, a mark made worse by their poor penalty kill (ranking No. 51).

Luckily for Notre Dame, they are facing a team that cannot really capitalize on those opportunities.

Penalty Kill
On a team ranked No. 5 in the country, it is hard to find a ton of weaknesses, so being pedestrian will have to do.

The Lions rank No. 31 in the penalty kill, allowing opponents to convert nine times on 47 different attempts. So, while the Lions will not give the Irish a lot of power play chances, when they do, the Irish need to pounce on the Lions (pun intended).

The Offense

The Nittany Lions are an excellent offensive team, having scored 65 goals this year (3.61 goals per game), which makes them a top-10 offense in the nation. Eighteen different Nittany Lions have scored this season, so the offense can come from nearly anywhere.

The Defense

If you were hoping for an offensive juggernaut that failed to play good defense, sorry to let you down. While the Lions are not as proficient on the defensive end, the difference is fairly minimal. The Lions rank 13th in scoring defense, allowing just 2.39 goals per game.

The Lions’ scoring margin is 1.22 goals per game, which once again makes them a top-10 squad.

The Irish certainly have a tall task ahead of them. Penn State has looked like one of the best teams in college hockey at times this year. The Nittany Lions are able to shut down opposition on their own defensive end and then light the lamp on the other.

The Irish will have to hope that they are not swept this weekend, as they somewhat desperately need the conference play points. The games should both be close though.

Score Predictions

Game 1: No. 5 Penn State – 5, No. 19 Notre Dame – 3

Game 2: No. 5 Penn State – 3, No. 19 Notre Dame – 2

Contact Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu.