Midway through the second period of Notre Dame’s 3-2 win over Michigan State last Friday night junior T.J. Tynan fired a needle-threading pass through the middle of the offensive zone to freshman winger Mario Lucia, who scored to give the Irish a 2-1 lead. Less than 10 minutes later, the rookie returned the favor, dishing to Tynan to give Notre Dame its fourth win in a row.
From (L to R), T.J.Tynan, Robbie Russo and Mario Lucia are adding a new dimension to Notre Dame's power play this month.
Both goals came with a man advantage, and it’s no coincidence that the winning streak the third-ranked Irish stretched to five games the following night has lined up with a sharp rise in their power play production.
Notre Dame’s 16 percent success rate on power plays this season is mediocre at best, but six of the team’s 13 extra attacker goals have come in the last two weeks. The ability to capitalize on opponents mistakes has created an offensive spike that adds a deadly element to the country’s second-ranked scoring defense. The Irish are averaging 4.4 goals per game during their current win streak.
“We’d like to get one [power play goal] per game,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “We don’t care if that’s on five chances or 10 chances, if we can get one a game we’re in good shape.”
Lucia and Tynan’s quickly developing chemistry has a lot to do with the recent surge. Lucia skated in his first college game in mid-November after missing the first five weeks of the regular season because of a broken fibula. He has three power play goals since his return, which puts him three away from the nation’s leader despite playing in only half the number of games as most on the list.
The new pairing developed an almost instant connection that has helped both player get rolling in the past couple weeks. Tynan, the team’s leading scorer in his first two season in South Bend, started the season in a relative slump. Since Lucia joined his line he is averaging just a hare under a point per game. That duo gives the Irish two strong units on the power play, which lets them keep the pressure on an opponent the entire time they have a player in the penalty box.
“Obviously Tynan is one of the best players in the CCHA so he makes life a lot easier out there with his speed and his hands,” Lucia said. “I guess it’s just been clicking so far.”
Both players see the ice well and have sturdy, fast hands in front of the net. They can switch seamlessly between playing a point guard role and the scorer role whenever the situation calls for it. Options abound with a versatile group on the ice.
“Mario and Tynan running on the half wall, they make a lot of plays so they make it easy on everybody,” said sophomore defenseman Robbie Russo, who lends a big hand running the blue line at the top of the Notre Dame power play.
Russo combines the power to rip shots from the top of the zone that can find their way to the net with the decision making ability to know when to pull the trigger and when to dump it off to one of his forwards. He leads the team with eight points on the power play (three goals and five assists).
“Shooting the puck, I think that’s important when you are up top,” Russo said. “You like to make plays but the best play is usually get it to the net. I think we’re going to the net and that’s helping a lot.”
Notre Dame has converted 28.5 percent of their power play opportunities in the past two weeks. If they can keep that pace during the second half of the season, they’ll find themselves at the top of national rankings with an extra man on the ice.