Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Look To Beat Morris, Irish, In Big Ten Semifinals
It comes as little surprise to anyone with even the most basic hockey knowledge that getting the puck past the goalie is generally viewed as good strategy.
But it's also easier said than done.
Enter Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris, who is by any measure among the best goalies in college hockey. His .945 save percentage is second best in the country. He's one of three goalies this season to have stopped over 1,000 shots. And when teams do beat him, it isn't often, giving up an average of 1.92 goals a game, sixth best in the nation.
Point being, it's hard to get the puck in back of Notre Dame's net.
This doesn't come as a shock to Penn State, the Nittany Lions have scored just eight goals on Morris so far this year over the span of four games. It's a respectable number against the Irish, but for a Penn State offense that averages 3.75 goals a game, it's also a showcase of how good Morris -- and the defense in front of him -- has been.
Perhaps the more importantly, how good the Irish defense has been in front of him.
So that's the challenge facing Penn State during its quest to make back-to-back Big Ten Tournament title games. Getting the puck past Morris, and doing it on the road, against a team as talented as the Nittany Lions -- if not more so.
"He's really good." Penn State forward Alec Marsh said on Tuesday with a grin. Nearly the exact same words coach Guy Gadowsky used to describe Morris, the same as captain James Robinson. There is no way to really describe it other than that. When the puck is shot, Morris is there to save it.
The key for the Nittany Lions, generating scrambles. Like any goalie, Morris is his best when the saves are easier and easier. If Penn State wants to beat him it will come down to making his life hard, manufacturing rebounds and scrambles in front of the net. It doesn't matter who is in goal then, just who gets to the puck first.
The good news for Penn State fans, the Nittany Lions have given the Irish all they can handle in South Bend. Penn State went to overtime in both games on the road against Notre Dame last season before falling 5-3 and 1-0 this year, so the Nittany Lions won't be intimidated by the stakes or the venue.
And if there is any silver lining for a tough semifinal showdown, the Irish have won two of their last six games after rolling through the season with relative ease. Meanwhile the Nittany Lions have won five straight, and have seen their season go from a missed opportunity, to an all but certain second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
So all Penn State might need is a little luck.