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Know Your Enemy: Penn State Men’s Hockey vs. Notre Dame

Following a 34-day hiatus, Penn State men’s hockey took to the ice for a series against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last weekend. In both games, fatigue and individual mistakes played a big factor in back-to-back Notre Dame sweeps.

Just before the shutdown, Penn State split a series against the Fighting Irish at Pegula Ice Arena. Now, for the fifth straight game, Penn State and Notre Dame will match up on the ice, this time in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

Here’s how things might go down this weekend.

Overview

In the five games Penn State has played Notre Dame this season, the Nittany Lions are 1-3-1. The Nittany Lions’ only win in the series came in a 2-1 overtime victory where Alex Limoges scored the game-winner. The most recent matchup was an ugly 7-1 loss where six Irish players scored a goal.

Notre Dame enters this game as the No. 4 seed with a 14-12-2 record, while the Nittany Lions come into this one as the No. 5 seed with a 9-11 record. This season, Notre Dame has two huge sweeps over Michigan and Minnesota along with another sweep over Ohio State where the Irish outscored the Buckeyes 14-2 in two games.

Notre Dame’s offense relies heavily on its first line of Alex Steeves and the Slaggert brothers, Graham and Landon. Steeves is scoring at more than a point a game average with 31 points in 28 contests. Graham Slaggert has 25 points while Landon Slaggert has 21. The trio accounts for approximately 35% of Notre Dame’s points all season. Along with that, Steeves has had a goal in three out of the four games Notre Dame has played against the Nittany Lions.

Defensively, Notre Dame is fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 2.57 goals per game. Captain Nate Clurman and Spencer Stastney highlight Notre Dame’s first pair and will match up against Penn State’s top lines. Junior Nick Leivermann is usually listed as a bottom pair defenseman but is fourth on the team in points with 17 in 28 games.

In goal is senior netminder Dylan St. Cyr. He has been an issue for the Nittany Lions this season, only allowing seven goals in the four games that the Nittany Lions have faced him. In his first year as a starter, St. Cyr has posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.30 goals-against average. St. Cyr is an average goalie when it comes to Big Ten goalie standards. But similarly to former Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris, the Nittany Lions have had trouble figuring out whoever is in goal for the Irish.

The Fighting Irish special teams is another bang average unit in Big Ten standards. The Irish have the second-worst power play in the conference, converting just 17% of the time compared to Penn State’s 21%. The Notre Dame penalty kill is a solid unit that makes up for its powerplay woes and keeps the opponent out of the net 81% of the time.

Keys To The Game

The easy formula for Penn State to be successful is to shutdown the S-S-S line. As previously mentioned, Steeves has scored in three of the four games Notre Dame has played Penn State while the Slaggert brothers have both been effective against the Nittany Lions defense.

Jimmy Dowd Jr. and Clayton Phillips both left the last weekend injured and have “day-to-day” injuries that may keep them out of the series, while Christian Berger will also be out due to a game misconduct penalty received in the last game. Penn State could be stuck facing a potent Notre Dame top line with rotation on the back end.

The Nittany Lions were also exposed multiple times in transitions against the Irish in the last four games. Penn State, at times, had the offensive possession and then got caught out when Notre Dame rushed down the other end of the ice. The Nittany Lion defense needs to do a better job in eliminating the odd-man rushes that goalie Oskar Autio has faced in the last four games.

Offensively, Penn State needs to generate more high-quality scoring chances and protect the puck in all three zones. Neutral zone play for Penn State was an issue coming out of the break, and that led to a lot of turnovers and issues for the Nittany Lions. Being more careful with possession can be a major key to success for Penn State if it wants to advance in the Big Ten Tournament.

Prediction

The health of the Penn State defense will play a key role in this game. If Penn State has to rotate on the back end against the likes of the S-S-S line, it will be in trouble. Gadowsky called last weekend’s series a “necessary evil” for the Nittany Lions to light a fire under them, so there is no doubt that the motivation and will to win will be there.

It’s hard to imagine that “fire” will be enough. Penn State has too many question marks and lost the momentum it had before the shutdown. Notre Dame will win 4-1 and the Nittany Lions’ season will be over in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

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About the Author

Connor Donohue

Connor is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He hails from the great state of New Jersey and is proud of it. Lover of the greatest city in the world, New York City, he strongly dislikes the city of Philadelphia and will not hesitate to tell you that. He's also been cursed as a Penn State fan since birth. If you want to call him a bum or maybe go out on a date with him, follow him on twitter @ConnorDonohue00 or email him at [email protected]

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