Playing in its second straight Big Ten road series, Michigan State hockey is heading down to South Bend this weekend to play the No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Both teams are coming off of series splits in conference play — Michigan State with Penn State and Notre Dame with Ohio State.
After losing on Friday night, Michigan State managed to bounce back on Saturday and powered to victory by a 50-save night for sophomore goaltender Pierce Charleson.
Ohio State managed to stun the Irish with a 4-2 victory in South Bend in game one, but Notre Dame exacted its revenge with a commanding 5-1 victory the following night.
Notre Dame is an extremely dangerous squad. Just a couple weeks ago, the Fighting Irish managed to pull off a stunning road sweep against the Michigan Wolverines, securing both victories in overtime. When this Notre Dame team is playing at its best, it is one of the best teams in the nation.
Junior forward Max Ellis leads a lethal offensive group, with 11 goals and nine assists in just 15 games. The junior forward's 1.33 points per game is tied for the fourteenth most in the nation. Sophomore forward Ryder Rolston is also averaging over a point per game, netting six goals and 10 assists through 15 games.
A majority of Notre Dame’s defensemen rack up their points through assists, but senior defenseman Nick Leivermann has been a double-edged sword, potting four goals and tacking on nine assists.
As a unit, the Notre Dame offense ranks eighth nationally in average goals per game, with 3.67. In the Big Ten, the Fighting Irish are second only to Michigan.
The problem for opposing teams is not just stopping the Irish offense, it is also finding the back of the net. Notre Dame allows an average of just two goals against per game, which is tied for fifth best in the nation and the best in the Big Ten.
A large part of that stellar defense is excellent goaltending. Graduate goaltender Matthew Galajda holds a save percentage of .932, allowing just 1.68 goals against per game. Right behind Galajda is junior Ryan Bischel, who has a 2.26 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.
Michigan State has its own stars in net, with senior Drew DeRidder and Charleson. The two are used to carrying the team on occasion, but they cannot do it alone against a team like Notre Dame. The offense has to find a way to solve Fighting Irish goaltending and defense to win.
It is a familiar statement, but special teams will be an essential factor in the matchup. Notre Dame has an excellent penalty kill as opponents have only scored five power play goals in 59 attempts against the unit. That is the second-best rate in the nation.
On the power play, the Spartans actually have a slight edge. Michigan State’s .240 success rate is 16th in the NCAA, while Notre Dame’s .192 is 29th.
The Spartans are on a bit of a hot streak, winning five of their last six games. Likewise, Notre Dame has lost just once in the last eight. In a league where every series feels like the playoffs, the upcoming battle in South Bend seems especially important.
Notre Dame is a team vying for a title and Michigan State is a team hungry to prove itself as a real threat in the conference this season. Separated by a razor-thin margin in the standings, the two games will play an important role in the standings down the stretch.
The series will be Michigan State’s last before the holiday break. The puck is set to drop at 7:30 p.m. Friday night and the game will be televised via the NBC Sports Network.
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