We made it to the dance. Pretty much everybody until last weekend doubted we’d be here, but we’re here as the hottest team in the country with some new hardware.
Alright, so I admittedly don’t know anything about North Dakota. I know that they’re apparently good. I know that they managed to win thirty games this year. I know they’ve been to the last two Frozen Fours. I know they also have a line named after the world’s most boring television network.
Let’s take a look at our old friend the stat sheet. They have a 58.6 close CF%, which is third in the country. The members of the previously referenced CBS line are three of the top fifteen scorers in the country. Goalie Cam Johnson is tied for the third best save percentage in the country at .935. They have the eighth best offense and third best defense, good for the fifth best scoring margin.
So, that was a little depressing. Let’s cheer up with this:
Yeah, remember how awesome Northeastern is? One single loss in 2016. First Hockey East championship since 1988. The Huskies are good.
North Dakota also plays in a worse conference, beating up on worse teams than those we’ve seen in Hockey East all year. They blew a lead in their conference championship on the way to getting dusted by fellow tournament fourth seed Duluth. Their own goalie dropped that they got too comfortable playing bad teams, saying “We thought, ‘Oh, all we have to do is just show up to the rink, and we’re going to win the game.'” The players their goalie is tied with in save percentage? Thatcher Demko and Kevin Boyle, the two most recent victims of Husky offense. They ain’t so bad.
Jim Dahl at College Hockey Ranked ran the KRACH predictions using just 2016 and found Northeastern to be an 86-14 favorite over North Dakota. With those parameters, the Huskies have a 46% to win the championship. I like those odds.
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.
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.
The schedule takes a much easier turn for the Huskies as they begin the soft end of their season this weekend against UMass. As good as Northeastern has been in the past few months is exactly how bad the Minutemen have been. Maybe worse.
Although the Minutemen started out the season with a 4-0-1 record, they have come right back down to where we all thought they would be. The team just broke a nine game losing streak on Tuesday by beating AIC (the last ranked team in Pairwise) in overtime. Somehow that is not UMass’ longest winless streak this season, after going ten games earlier in the year without a win. From November 7th at UConn up until Tuesday’s game, the Minutemen had only one win.
UMass ranks last or near last in the conference in almost every category this season. Goalie Nic Renyard’s .896 save percentage is only ahead of Merrimack’s Collin Delia (by a huge margin of .001). The Minutemen have given up by far the most goals per game this season. They also have the worst penalty kill. Surprisingly, UMass actually isn’t terrible offensively, sitting at eighth in Hockey East in goals per game. The powerplay is even better, ranking seventh. They’ve scored seventeen goals in their last five games.
So hey, you’ve got that.
Northeastern, coming off kicking ninth ranked Harvard’s teeth in, is by far the better team. They’ve been undeniably one of the hottest teams in the country. The Huskies have just a single loss since the first week of December. We’re looking at a program on the other side of the ice that is in the worst shape I’ve ever seen. I’d be shocked if UMass can even keep it close.
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.
The Huskies will start out this year’s Beanpot against last year’s champion, BU.
Northeastern lost the two previous games against BU earlier in the year, a wild game at Agganis and the homecoming game at Historic Matthews Arena. They come into the Beanpot with a 5-1-1 record in January, kicked off with a win over Harvard. Their only non-win results came against BC. The Terrier’s are Hockey East’s best possession team with a 55.4 close CF%. Like last year’s team, they are incredible in the third period. BU has scored just one fewer goal in the third period than in the first and in second combined. Northeastern fans are all too aware of how well they finish out games.
But, the Huskies are looking pretty good themselves. As you may have heard, Northeastern is on the longest unbeaten streak in the country. The team hasn’t lost in almost two months. They’ve been great offensively, and while BU’s Sean Maguire has been better in net recently, he hasn’t had a great season. The Huskies have also won four of their last five first round games. It hasn’t really been this round of the tournament that’s been an issue.
Northeastern will also be featuring Kevin Roy, who tends to be pretty good in Beanpots. Three years ago he won MVP as a freshman. Through his first three years, he’s already Northeastern’s leader in career Beanpot points. If Roy scores one more point, he’ll enter the top 25 Beanpot scorers of all time. Hopefully he’ll have himself another big tournament.
Edit: as pointed out by Mike Downie, that’s actually not true. My bad.
Look, BU is a good team that’s playing well recently. But, so is Northeastern. I ain’t scared. See you Monday.
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!