Even in victory Jeff Jackson can clearly see one of Notre Dame’s most glaring problems.
Turning pucks over has been a sore spot for Irish hockey most of this season. Last Friday the issue reared its head again as the Irish fell four goals behind en route to a 5-2 loss to New Hampshire. Notre Dame did it again the next night in a 5-3 win after letting an early two-goal lead slip.
Jackson plans to fix the issue in a couple ways. First, he’ll continue to drill situations in practice. Second, he’ll use the bench as a weapon. Turn the puck over too much and players might find themselves parked for long periods of time.
“The things that haunt us consistently are just the players’ will to be good with the puck,” Jackson said. “To make good plays with the puck, especially at both blue lines. I think it hurt us on Friday and it hurt us a little on Saturday when we got the two-goal lead. It’s just been a bad habit.”
Exasperating the problem are opponents with enough ability to punish Notre Dame (11-14-3, 6-5-3 Hockey East) for their sloppiness with the puck.
New Hampshire did so last weekend and Maine is capable of accomplishing the same despite a 10-16-2 record overall and sub-.500 mark in the league. Coughing up the puck along either blue line can unleash team speed, something Jackson sees across the Maine roster.
It can also spur on a rowdy road environment, something the Irish will step into tonight.
“My hope is we show some growth because this will be the toughest environment that we’ve played in probably since Minnesota,” Jackson said. “It’s a smaller venue but it’s still, the fans are right on top of you and when you have that kind of crowd you have to be prepared for the intimidation factor. The crowd creates that. Their team speed and their transition game can be eliminated if we protect the puck, if we do a good job with the puck.”
All week Jackson has tried to spur that growth by manufacturing situations in practice where players have to make quick, smart decisions with the puck.
“We’ve been practicing at a real high pace trying to create a little chaos because that’s what we’re gonna face when we play there,” Jackson said. “Trying to create situations where we’re gonna have to respond transitionally both offensively and defensively. We’ve been working on it all season, but working on making plays at the blue lines, not turning pucks over at the blue lines. We’ve improved in our defensive structure.
“We’re not 100 percent there. But part of the weakness in our defensive structure is because we turn the puck over and it creates chaos. We have to try to simulate those things in practice to where we don’t break down when there’s a late turnover or a bad bounce or whatever.”
Petersen back to practice
Jeff Jackson has a goalie decision to make after Cal Petersen returned to practice mid-week.
Petersen was hurt after allowing a third and final goal in barely a period of play last Friday night against New Hampshire. He faced just 11 shots, with Jackson set to pull him regardless. But Petersen’s injury meant he headed straight to the dressing room instead of staying on the bench.
“He practiced (Wednesday) for the first time and he got through practice fine,” Jackson said. “He looks to be OK, full go.”
Whether Jackson runs Petersen out against Maine, however, remains to be seen. Chad Katunar picked up the win Saturday against New Hampshire with 28 saves.
“I have to take a hard look at that,” Jackson said. “I thought Chad gave us a chance to win on Saturday night, so he’s earned another opportunity. We haven’t won at home in awhile and Chad played well enough for us to win. I have to take that into consideration.”
Power play surges
Notre Dame ran one of the nation’s best power plays last month.
In their last eight games the Irish have scored on the man advantage all but once. They’ve done so in seven of their last 10 dating back to Dec. 28, good for a 22.5 percent conversion rate. Throw out an 0-for-9 effort at the Florida College Hockey Classic and it jumps to 29 percent.
“We stuck with it and I think it was just a matter of finding the right group chemistry-wise,” Jackson said. “Once we found two groups that both had some chemistry that’s when we started scoring.”
Boston University leads the nation with a 26.3 success rate on the power play this season. Notre Dame is at 12.3 percent this season despite the recent uptick thanks to an abysmal first half.
Jackson addresses Irish turnovers
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