Extended breaks may be a welcome benefit as a team approaches the end of the regular season and the beginning of postseason play.
Extended breaks which stem from positive Covid-19 results within the team, not so much.
At last, though, Penn State will return to the ice after a 34-day hiatus as the Nittany Lions head to South Bend to close out the regular season against Notre Dame.
The snowball began to take form for the Nittany Lions when their early-February series against Michigan was postponed due to a department-wide pause in activities within the Wolverines athletic department.
Penn State was then forced to postpone its series against Ohio State a week later due to its own Covid outbreak among Tier I personnel, believed to be an outbreak among student-athletes according to a source with close knowledge of the subject.
The outbreak could not be contained as the Nittany Lions’ series against Arizona State and Minnesota were canceled, abruptly and prematurely signaling the end of Penn State’s home schedule.
The entire month of February was wiped out for the Nittany Lions and along with it, any remote chance they had of making ground on Wisconsin and Minnesota at the top of the Big Ten standings during a six-game homestand.
The Nittany Lions positioning heading into the Big Ten Tournament — to be played March 14-16 at Notre Dame — is set in stone. They sit tied for fifth with the Buckeyes with 20 points, and will maintain the tiebreaker of greater number of regular season wins as the Buckeyes host non-conference opponent Arizona State.
The Nittany Lions can’t overtake fourth place Michigan even with a weekend sweep of the Fighting Irish, and it’s unlikely last place Michigan State and its 15 points will leapfrog either the Nittany Lions or Buckeyes as the Spartans take on first place Wisconsin.
So with no conference seeding at stake for the Nittany Lions, this weekend serves merely as a tune up for the reestablished three-games-in-three-days conference tournament and a preview against their potential Day One opponent.
Scouting Notre Dame
Penn State’s most recent action came against, coincidentally, the Fighting Irish in late January, a weekend split in which both contests went to overtime. Since then, the Fighting Irish have gone 4-3-1, including a weekend sweep against Michigan State last weekend in which the Fighting Irish allowed precisely zero goals.
Dylan St. Cyr has been a rock in goal for Notre Dame during that stretch. He went 4-2-1 and posted a spectacular .944 save percentage during February. St. Cyr stopped all 56 shots he faced in his back-to-back shutouts against the Spartans.
While the Fighting Irish defense has improved, their offense remains fairly middle of the road, ranking fifth in the Big Ten and 33rd nationally at 2.65 goals per game.
Junior Alex Steeves paces the Fighting Irish with 14 goals and 28 points. Eight of those goals and 16 of those points have come in his past 11 games.
Though the Nittany Lions will be behind the eight ball due to their limited on-ice sessions over the past month, they can take solace in the fact that Notre Dame hasn’t been especially good at home this season.
Though the Fighting Irish have been dominant on the road (9-2-1), they are 3-10-1 at Compton Family Ice Arena this season and 1-8-1 against Big Ten opponents. Their most recent home win against a Big Ten team came on Dec. 12 against Ohio State.