This Big Ten season is more interesting with each passing weekend. There were three series B1G series Friday and Saturday. Here are my takeaways.
First, Notre Dame is mighty impressive.
With a home sweep of No. 6 Minnesota, No. 4 Notre Dame improved to 12-3-1, extended its current win streak to nine games, remained undefeated (6-0-0) in Big Ten play, and solidified its position atop the Big Ten standings with 18 points to Minnesota’s 11. I don’t care how early in the conference season it is and how much hockey there remains to be played. The Fighting Irish will be hard to catch as the season progresses.
Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Minnesota Friday night was made all the more impressive by sophomore Cale Morris’s performance in net. Morris stopped all 40 shots he faced for his fourth career shutout — all this season — and his second shutout in as many games. The Fighting Irish were limited to 23 shots in that game; the following night, they were still outshot, 42-35, but their additional offensive press resulted in a 5-2 win and the Irish just took it to the Gophers in the third period, peppering Eric Schierhorn with 17 shots, limiting the Gophers to five, and scoring two unanswered goals to take that game outright.
Second, these aren’t last year’s Buckeyes.
No. 15 Ohio State swept No. 17 Michigan in Ann Arbor with a 3-2 win Friday and 5-1 win Saturday. Through 14 games this season, the Buckeyes have allowed just 1.93 goals per game, second in the nation; in 2016-2017, Ohio State finished 30th in the nation with 2.90 goals against per game. In the series against Michigan, it was clear that Ohio State has committed to total team defense this season. The Buckeyes were more protective of the puck in both their own end and on offense, committing far few turnovers than they have in the past.
The addition of senior goaltender, Sean Romeo, is another reason the Buckeyes are so stingy this season. Romeo was especially impressive in the third period of Saturday’s game. After Ohio State had limited Michigan to 13 shots through the first two periods and led 3-1 going into the third, the Wolverines turned up the heat and did all they could to salvage something from the weekend and Romeo was having none of it. Michigan put 21 shots on Romeo in the third and limited Ohio State to five, but the Buckeyes still scored two goals and Romeo allowed none — even with over a minute of a Michigan five-on-three power play.
Third, these definitely are not last year’s Spartans.
While Michigan State may have some way to go in rebuilding its program, the Spartans are playing smart hockey, playing to the best of their ability and learning from game to game. On Friday, the Spartans got shellacked by the Nittany Lions on the road, 7-2, a game Penn State led 4-1 after the first period and during which the Nittany Lions were never really threatened.
Saturday, though, was a different story. After a scoreless first period, Penn State found the net 12:57 in the second, but by the 17:44 mark of that period, Michigan State led 2-1. Penn State evened the score at 19:26 in the third with the extra attacker, but the Spartans came out of that game with two points, having taken the extra point in the shootout. Sophomore John Lethemon was a big part of that. He replaced senior Ed Minney in net Friday night, and Saturday Lethemon stopped 41-of-43 as the Nittany Lions outshot the Spartans 43-23.
Michigan State has been swept just once this season, on the road against Minnesota. With an overall record of 7-6-1, the Spartans have now equaled the total number of wins they earned in the 2016-2017 season. Definitely not last year’s Michigan State team.