Puck Preview: No. 17 Penn State Faces Goliath With No. 2 Notre Dame in Town

By Doug Leeson on February 2, 2018 at 8:00 am
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via Adriana Lacy
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You couldn’t ask for a better time for a White Out. No. 17 Penn State, riding a five-game winless streak, will host No. 2 Notre Dame this weekend and can’t afford another sweep. The Fighting Irish took both games in South Bend earlier this season and the Nittany Lions have their work cut out to not only avoid the season sweep but to stay competitive on the Big Ten table.

  B1G Record Points PairWise Rank
1. Notre Dame 14-2-0-0 42 1
2. Ohio State 10-5-1-0 31 6
3. Wisconsin 7-8-3-1 25 19
t4. Michigan 7-9-2-1 24 16
t4. Penn State 6-8-4-2 24 15
6. Minnesota 7-10-1-1 23 11
7. Michigan State 3-12-1-1 11 35

With series remaining against Michigan State and Minnesota, Penn State is running out of time to climb the standings. Unfortunately, Notre Dame has been in a class of its own all season. Let’s take a closer look why:

Forwards outlook

For a team not built around offense, the Irish still have a pretty solid one. It mainly runs through top-liners Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie; Evans is tied for second in the conference in points, and the pair of them are tied for the conference lead with four game-winning goals each. After them, there is a significant drop-off. Penn State’s sixth-highest scoring forward has more points than Notre Dame’s third (Cal Burke has 17 points in 26 games).

Notre Dame is fifth in the conference in team offense with 3.04 goals per game, but its powerplay is the best, converting at a .216 clip. If there is a vulnerability on this team (there really isn’t), it’s five-on-five scoring. As long as Penn State stays out of the box and its defense can hold off the Irish attack, it should be in good shape. However…

Defense outlook

...Notre Dame’s defense is disgusting. Not just because its best player is Jordan Gross, but because its put up silly numbers all season. The Irish average fewer than two goals against per game despite allowing about 34 shots on goal per game. They’re accustomed to teams playing the way Penn State does, yet they still keep the puck out of the net very successfully. Their penalty ranks fifth in the country (.875), so the man-advantage is barely an advantage against this team.

Three of the team’s six most-used defensemen are NHL draft picks, and two that aren’t lead the group in points. Notre Dame prides itself on being able to do something Penn State has struggled with this year: roll out three defensive pairings that are trustworthy in any situation. This group has top-end talent and quality depth, and we haven’t even mentioned the best player on the team yet.

Goalies outlook

  Record GAA SV% Shutouts
Cale Morris 19-3-0 1.61 .952 4
Peyton Jones 12-9-3 3.00 .902 1

All of Cale Morris’ numbers lead the conference, and his save percentage, number of wins, and winning percentage lead the nation. He’s easily the frontrunner for the Mike Richter Award and should at least end up as a Hobey Baker finalist. Not much else to say about that, other than for both of our best interests, I hope the undrafted 21-year-old goes pro after this season.

Predictions

There are a lot of reasons to pick Notre Dame here, but there is one extenuating circumstance to consider. Friday’s game is a White Out and Saturday’s is NHL Jersey Night. As logical as a sweep by one of the best teams in the country seems, it’s hard to pick against a Penn State team in Friday’s atmosphere. Because of that, I’m picking the series to go PSU 4-3 on Friday, ND 4-1 on Saturday.

Friday's tilt starts at 6:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network, and Saturday's puck-drop is 4 p.m. Saturday’s game is the last of the season that will not be televised.

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