The Huskies resume Hockey East play this weekend against New Hampshire, a popular dark horse pick to make some noise in Hockey East this year.
Despite the preseason optimism, the Wildcats are just slightly higher than consensus would have had them pegged. They sit in a three way tie for seventh in the conference, and at 30th in the Pairwise. If you ask me, UNH should feel lucky to even be there.
The Wildcats have an abysmal 46.1 close CF%, the second worst in Hockey East. Only UConn has worse numbers in that category. Goaltender Danny Tirone is one of only two qualifying goalies with a worse save percentage lower than our own Ryan Ruck (whose save percentage is steadily rising). Tirone clocks in at .898. While it’s a flawed statistic, it’s also worth noting that his 3.30 GAA is worst in the conference among qualifying goaltenders.
So, how has UNH found themselves in a decent spot so far in the season? Well, first we should look at the schedule the Wildcats have played so far. Their eight wins have come against Maine, Dartmouth, Bentley, Merrimack, Union, and AIC. The only real quality opponent in that group is Union. Three of their wins have come from Maine alone. It’s not exactly the toughest bunch.
That weak schedule has led to UNH having the second highest scoring offense in Hockey East, behind only BC. Along with that comes the Wildcats’ 12.67 shooting percentage. Again, only BC ranks above them in the conference. UNH’s shooting percentage is over twice that of Maine, the team accounting for three of their wins. There’s nobody even close to those two teams’ shooting percentages. While BC might actually be a 12% shooting true talent team, there’s just no way UNH is. You can expect that to regress down to a more reasonable number as the sample size grows and competition gets more difficult.
Another aspect of the Wildcats’ game leading to their decent place in the standings is their special teams. New Hampshire has Hockey East’s best powerplay by far. They also have one of the best penalty kills. UNH has to use that penalty kill far less frequently than anyone else in the conference. The Wildcats have 35 fewer penalty minutes than the second least penalized team in Hockey East.
Basically, the Wildcats are a crap team that’s been getting lucky. They’ve played a bunch of crap teams in the first part of the season, boosting their record above where it should be. They’ve been shooting at a far higher percentage than they have any right to be, and have been able to capitalize on special teams. All Northeastern needs to do this weekend is to avoid taking penalties, and get solid goaltending. Ruck has played much better recently than he did at the beginning of the season. With the exception of last tame, the Huskies had done a good job staying out of the box. Northeastern should be able to keep the positive momentum they’ve been building into and through this weekend, hopefully picking up their first Hockey East win(s) along the way.