Hockey East Tournament Round 1 Preview: Maine

Nolan Stevens

I’m going to keep this one nice and short.  Believe it or not, nothing really has changed since my last two posts about the Huskies or Black Bears.  Northeastern is still good.  Maine is still bad.

The Huskies should have absolutely no problem with this round of the playoffs.  The only difference between these two games and the last two games is that I’d expect them both to look like Saturday night’s game and less like Friday’s.  Literally the only thing I’m worried about this weekend is coming out of it with everyone healthy.  The Saturday game meant absolutely nothing for the Black Bears; they were locked into their position in the tournament.  They still acted like goons when things went south.  I can see things getting a whole lot worse when their facing the end of their season.  There’s a few key pieces on this team with very recent concussion issues.  I’m sure the team makes it out of this weekend, let’s hope all the players do, too.

Head on a swivel out there.

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Week 22 Preview: Maine

Team Celebration

The regular season comes to a close this weekend as the Huskies host the Maine Panthers Black Bears and newly extended head coach Red Gendron for two at Historic Matthews Arena.  This series doesn’t really mean a whole lot for Northeastern who’s already locked into the sixth spot in the Hockey East tournament, but let’s take a look at what we have.

Maine is not good.  They’re currently tied with UConn for second to last in Hockey East.  While their goaltending and defense have been bad (team save percentage of .904, 3.24 goals against per game), it’s the offense that is truly noteworthy for the Black Bears.  Maine is dead last in the conference in scoring offense, averaging under two goals per game.  The closest team to them, Vermont, is an over ten percent increase in scoring away.  The special teams aren’t helping things either.  Their powerplay is converting at the second worst rate in Hockey East, and they’ve given up the second highest amount of goals on the penalty kill.  Maine also has a fun tendency to allow teams to score late in games, giving up the highest total of third period goals in the conference.  Things could be better up in Orono.

As has been well documented, Northeastern has been cruising.  They should have no trouble against Maine at home.  While the Huskies are locked in to the sixth spot in the tournament, there are some implications of this game.  Maine, UConn, Merrimack, and UNH are all possible first round opponents.  If Northeastern sweeps Maine, they’ll stay in the eleventh spot and play the Huskies again.  If Maine can get a point and UNH sweeps UConn, UConn will fall to eleventh.  If Maine gets two against Northeastern and Merrimack is swept, they could fall to eleventh.  UNH falling to eleventh is a distant possibility if they’re swept by UConn, Maine gets three points, and Merrimack gets two.  Also, there’s the distant, but still existing, possibility of an NCAA tournament appearance!  Even though the Huskies’ place is set, there are things riding on this game for them.

Week 21 Reaction: Sequels Are Never as Good

Kevin Roy and Brendan Collier

2/19/16: Northeastern 5, UConn 2

2/20/16: Northeastern 4, UConn 1

The real Huskies continue to roll as they easily dispatch their Connecticut namesake.  While it wasn’t the repeat bloodbath we all hoped for, it was still another good performance from Northeastern.

The first game was very reminiscent of last year’s series.  Northeastern dominated UConn.  Although UConn’s Tage Thompson continued his good run by scoring early, Northeastern quickly quieted them.  After the Connecticut goal, NU scored four times in a ten minute period.  UConn, in a change of pace from last year, actually pulled Rob Nichols in the first period.  While that move succeeded in stopping Northeastern from scoring (other than the empty netter), it didn’t help the rest of the team out there.  NU continued to pretty easily control the game.  There was a period of time where our Huskies had it in the other Huskies’ zone for over four minutes.  It was bad.

The next game, at Historic Matthews Arena, was a slightly different tale.  A pretty even first period ended without a score, but the powerplay came through once gain for Northeastern in the second.  They put up two on a five minute interference call on UConn.  Connecticut was able to put a rebound past Ruck, and things started to look a little murkier than they previously had for NU, but a weird angle Kurker goal early in the third put Northeastern back up by two.  Our Huskies were able to hold off a physical, high pressure opponent in that game, but it wasn’t as easy as the previous three games against them.  They were able to stay (relatively) disciplined, which is a nice improvement from the first half of the season.  The powerplay continues to be a strong point for Northeastern, scoring twice in each game, and contributing to one of my favorite recent developments: random Cockerill shots from the point resulting in goals.

With the sweep of UConn and two losses from Vermont on the weekend, Northeastern locks up sixth place in the Hockey East tournament.  It will be a first round matchup against a recent opponent either way for the Huskies, as UConn and Maine are tied for that eleventh spot in the standings.  My guess would be that it’s Maine, as they’re less likely to get points against Northeastern next weekend than UConn is against UNH.  Either way, with this run the Huskies have set themselves up nicely for the tournament.

Week 20 Reaction: Blasé Blasé

Garret Cockerill

2/12/16: Northeastern 5, UMass 0

2/13/16: Northeastern 4, UMass 2

I don’t know if this is really going to make sense, and I know it won’t be popular, but I wasn’t really that impressed with Northeastern this weekend.  The Huskies did earn a conference sweep against the Minutemen.  They did outscore UMass 9-2.  But it’s UMass.

While Northeastern dominated the first game in Amherst, it was more UMass being bad than anything.  After a scoreless first where the Minutemen were kept in the game by big saves from Nic Renyard (really), things fell apart for them in the second.  Aston-Reese scored early and five minutes later Roy scored his first of the season.  After that, it was like UMass gave up.  Northeastern completely controlled the rest of the game, but it was like UMass wasn’t even trying.  So, yeah, the Huskies scored five goals and shutout the Minutemen, but they were giving minimal effort for more than half the game.

Northeastern had all sorts of trouble in the Saturday game.  After quickly jumping out to a two goal lead, the Huskies blew the lead in the second period.  Northeastern was struggling to keep the puck on their sticks.  UMass was actually applying pressure.  If it wasn’t for the Minutemen repeatedly taking penalties, I’m not convinced the Huskies take two points from the night.  That game was much, much more uncomfortable than it should have been.

The one thing that stood out for the Northeastern was special teams.  It made the difference for the Huskies, especially in Saturday’s game.  UMass was shut out on their powerplay chances in both games.  Meanwhile, Northeastern scored four powerplay goals in their ten chances.  Three of their four goals Saturday came with the man advantage, and they were actually outscored by the Minutemen at even strength.

It’s weird to sweep a conference series, outscore the opponent by seven, and say it was a little unimpressive, but that’s what it was for me.  The Huskies crushed UMass on Friday, but the Minutemen were barely even there.  Meanwhile, you can’t knock Northeastern for UMass’ lack of effort.  Saturday it was their special teams that saved them.  Without the powerplay and penalty kill executing, it’s hard to say that the Huskies win that game.  I know it’s a kind of negative look on this weekend’s play considering the outcome, but I can’t really get excited about what we saw.  Luckily, the rest of the regular season is an absolute cakewalk.

Week 19 Preview: Lowell

Team Celebration

It was against Lowell at the Friendship Four in Belfast over Thanksgiving break that Northeastern started their much improved play from the earlier part of the season.  Though the Huskies lost that game in hearbreaking fashion (naturally) it sparked their eventual run in December and January.

Since that weekend, Lowell’s season has seemed to take an opposite turn to Northeastern’s.  While they come into this weekend’s game with a 6-1 record in the month of January, it’s actually not as impressive as it seems.  They did go 1-1 against Providence, but the other wins came against Arizona State, UMass, and UNH.  Before that, after beating the Huskies the River Hawks went on to struggle against Brown in the Belpot championship game, get swept by UConn, and lose to Robert Morris.  Their only win in December came against Clarkson.

Lowell is by no means a bad team.  They’re currently 11th in the Pairwise and have a pretty good 53.2 close CF%.  Their success is heavily influenced by goaltending and special teams.  Goalie Kevin Boyle has been fantastic this season.  His .938 save percentage is tied for highest in Hockey East.  The River Hawks have only given up 1.65 goals per game, good for best in the conference.  While their offense is mediocre, they have the third best powerplay in Hockey East.  Paired with the second best penalty kill percentage (and lowest powerplay goals given up), they have second best net special teams in the conference.

Although Lowell is pretty good and has been ranked highly all season, they are certainly beatable.  The Huskies nearly did while paying their worst hockey of the season.  Hopefully Northeastern can get back the momentum they had build coming into this month.

Week 17 Reaction: And Another One

Nolan Stevens

1/22/16: Northeastern 5, Merrimack 2

1/23/16: Northeastern 4, Merrimack 1

To nobody’s surprise, the Northeastern easily swept Merrimack this weekend, remaining undefeated in 2016 and extending the Warriors’ misery another two games.  The Huskies’ unbeaten streak extends to eight games, tied for second in the country.  Oh, and they added captain and best player Kevin Roy to the lineup after missing the previous twelve games.

Merrimack had me going for a bit there in the first game.  They scored early in the first, taking their first lead in a billion years.  The Warriors took a second lead in that game after the Huskies had tied it up.  Memories of last year’s Hockey East Tournament flashed before my eyes.  Northeastern was dominating, yet losing.

Four unanswered goals later, all fear was erased.  The Huskies continued to control the game and it this time around it was reflected in the final score.  The second game, at Historic Matthews Arena, was a continuation of the lopsided play.  Despite the quotes from Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, who for whatever reason though his team deserved to win, Northeastern’s victory was never really threatened.  The Warriors’ only goal came off a bad turnover and a good shot.  The Huskies were forcing turnovers left and right.  Merrimack

Offensively, the Huskies look incredible.  The 7-8-9 line is on fire.  McMurtry has a nine game point streak.  Gaudettes’s streak is at eight.  Sikura has six goals in his last four games.  The Stevens and Aston-Reese trio is right behind them.  Each Stevens brother had a goal this weekend, and Aston-Reese has fourteen points in his last thirteen games.  Roy looked really good in his return to the lineup, making an instant impact and getting an assist in each game.

The defense has continued to be solid.  With the exception of that turnover that lead to a goal against on Saturday, they’ve looked good.  Surprisingly to many, Northeastern has been one of the best shot suppression teams in the country this season.  What shots have hit the net Ruck has been able to deal with.  He’s continued his run of solid goaltending, turning in a .925 performance this weekend.

The one thing the Huskies do need to work on is taking bad penalties.  Obviously Merrimack (now by far the worst powerplay percentage in the conference) isn’t going to take advantage of all the opportunities presented to them, but better teams will.  Northeastern didn’t give up a powerplay goal this weekend, but the chances were there and a better opponent can and will take advantage of them.

This weekend the Huskies handled Merrimack pretty easily.  Much like last weekend they took care of business against a struggling opponent.  While these sweeps have been nice, especially in terms of conference standings, Northeastern will have to replicate the performances from earlier in the month.  The level of competition’s about to turn up.

Week 17 Preview: Merrimack

Matt Benning

The College Hockey News team of the week looks to avenge its tournament sweep last year as they take on Merrimack.  Unfortunately for the Warriors, Rasmus Tirronen’s not walking through that door.

At this point we’re all aware how well the Huskies are playing.  I don’t want to be repetitive.  I’ve shouted their praises over and over again both on this blog, and in real life to the annoyance of all I’ve encountered.  The offense is unstoppable, the powerplay is red hot, Ruck is a god, #badboysforlife, yadda yadda yadda.  The team is playing phenomenally well.

Merrimack, on the other hand, is a team headed in the polar opposite direction.  In their last twelve games the Warriors are 1-10-1.  As College Hockey News’ and the Mack Report’s Mike McMahon pointed out, Merrimack last held a lead in a hockey game over 350 minutes ago.

Goalie Collin Delia is a far cry from Tirronen, the man who stymied the Huskies in the Hockey East Tournament last year.  Delia’s .899 save percentage is near the bottom of the conference among qualifying goaltenders, second only to last week’s goalie Danny Tirone.  The offensive end isn’t much better for the Warriors.  You’d have to go back over a month to find a game where they scored more than two goals.  They’ve scored a conference low seven powerplay goals, and have just a 9.6% conversion rate, which is also the worst in Hockey East.  Things could be going better for Merrimack.

The outlook is not great if your a fan of the opposition this week.  These are two teams are on two opposite paths.  Merrimack’s patented low scoring, tough defense style doesn’t really work with sub-par goaltending, and they aren’t exactly equipped to keep pace on the scoreboard with a team like Northeastern.  I’m very tempted to predict an easy sweep for the Huskies, but the last time I did that things didn’t exactly work out.  So,  I’ll just leave it at this:  I think Merrimack will put up a good fight and I sure do hope the good guys come out on top!