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November 13, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Second Thoughts

BU Losing the Numbers Game in Baffling Start

by Ryan Lambert/Columnist

(Ryan Lambert writes "Second Thoughts" bi-weekly. In order to keep him on his leash a little, we made him alternate the column's focus between Eastern and Western schools. -ed.)

After Friday's 5-1 home loss to archrival Boston College, it became pretty apparent what problems currently face Boston University. The question, though, is why it's a problem at all.

Long story short, BU just never has the puck. That obviously makes it very difficult to win at hockey. This was perhaps as evident as it could ever be in a game between two teams of this quality on Friday, as the Eagles outshot the Terriers 40-23. And okay, a 17-shot difference isn't all that bad if you think about the riotous start to which Boston College is off, but consider this: 17 of BU's shots came on seven power-play opportunities.

Even-strength shots in the game — BC put eight on Matt O'Connor on its four power plays — were therefore an astonishing 32-6. That's six shots in 39:31 of even-strength play, and for a team with BU's on-paper talent, that simply isn't anywhere near good enough.

The problem for BU is that this is no emergent issue. It has, in fact, been there since the start of the season. Sure, it won three of its first four games, but when you take power-play shots out of the equation, it mustered more than 20 just once, the only time it outshot its opponent 5-on-5. That was against RPI, in a game the Terriers lost, and trailed by two for more than 55 minutes. It's important to keep in mind that teams which are trailing, particularly by more than two goals, tend to put a lot more pucks toward the net as the winning team goes into more of a defensive shell.

That was an issue coach Dave Quinn talked a little bit about following his team's 7-3 win over Wisconsin, but in which non-power play shots were 39-19 in the visiting Badgers' favor.

“We'd like to have more shot attempts than 45 or whatever we had, and not give them more than 70,” he said a few weeks ago. “When you've got the lead, you know, in the first 10 minutes I wouldn't imagine they had many attempts. It was 1-0, and don't underestimate what a penalty does. Three in a row in a 10-minute stretch, you get some tired players, and guys who haven't played for a long stretch. It changes the complexion of the game.”

And certainly, there were a lot of penalties against BC. More than a third of the game (20:29) was played with one team on the power play, and during that period BU outshot their guests a whopping 17-8 by virtue of their seven power plays, including 1:01 with a two-man advantage. They shelled Thatcher Demko like a French beachhead and walked away with only one goal to show for it. Still, the problem persisted for the other 39:31.

“It's disappointing because we had a lot of opportunities to climb back into it with a lot of the power plays we had," Quinn said. “It's frustrating that we don't shoot the puck enough, we don't have the shooter's mentality. I know I've talked about that before in some of our postgame news conferences.”

A shooter's mentality is what BC, with 272 shots in just eight games (34 per, 10th in the nation) brings to the table, and BU very much does not. It's 45th in shots per game at 25.78 (232 total, and of those, 59 were on power plays). This isn't to say that drawing penalties isn't a skill, because certainly it is, and BU's been making its opponents pay to the tune of a 20-percent efficiency, but you look at this team at even strength and it's like they've never played together before.

They're being badly outpossessed, and not taking care of the puck when they do have it. That's how you end up getting outshot 245-169 at 5-on-5 — a shot percentage of 40.8 — in nine games. Having just 18.8 shots per game at evens is, to put it bluntly, beneath BU.

Friday's game was riddled with neutral- and defensive-zone turnovers, an inability to clear the zone when they get hemmed in (this led directly to BC's second goal, as a matter of fact), and the Eagles are obviously a team which is going to twist the knife every chance it gets.

To be fair, Quinn puts some of the blame for performances like this on himself, saying he didn't prepare the team well enough to play a high-flying Boston College. You can get away with home games like this against Providence — which they did a week earlier, winning 4-3 despite being outshot 37-25 and after falling into a three-goal first-period deficit — but BC brings a lethality that the improving but not-there-yet Friars do not.

“We find a way to fire it into pads, and we miss the net,” Quinn said. “You've got to be paying attention before the puck comes to you, and be ready to shoot it. It's just the mentality. If you're staring the play down and just paying attention to what's going on around the puck, and not aware of the people who are around you, or who's ready to step into you or ready to jump on you, you're not going to create any offense.”

Of course, a team shooting into pads and putting shots wide is one that at least has the puck, and "Corsi" has been proven at the NHL level to correlate so directly to possession time that sitting there with a stopwatch is a waste of energy. The issue for BU is that it didn't even have the puck enough to even make a difference. Even-strength shot attempts in the game went 52-29 in BC's favor (64.2 percent), despite the fact that score effects dictated BU should have been throwing a lot more at the net as BC shelled up. That BU had the puck less than 36 percent of the game at even strength is shocking.

After the game, BC coach Jerry York alluded to the fact that it's still relatively early in the season, and there's a whole winter lying ahead of BU in which it can theoretically sort out its possession problems. And while we can safely infer that Yogi Berra was not talking about the shortening of the Hockey East schedule in the wake of conference realignment for the 2013-14 season when he said, “It gets late early out there,” it nonetheless remains a strange truth. BU has already played 20 percent of its conference schedule, and three of those games have been at home. UMass is a team they should be beating, and to their credit they did. Salvaging a split with Providence is likewise something BU should theoretically do. Getting clubbed by BC? Hey, happens to the best of 'em.

But the time to “sort things out” in Hockey East this season is extremely limited. If BU can't start playing cohesive even-strength hockey within the next month, it's very likely to lose more games than it wins, and NCAA hopes, or even those for home ice, are going to start fading more quickly than anyone on Comm Ave. would like.

In his opening comments following his first-ever game against BC, Quinn actually summed it up perfectly.

“If you're going to create offense, you've got to move the puck quickly, you've got to be ready,” he said. “When the puck comes to you, you can't let it surprise you. You've got to be ready to shoot it, and we're not there yet. We're not there yet.”

Second thoughts

Atlantic Hockey

Air Force: The Falcons were idle on the weekend, but that didn't stop them from picking up a commit from Dubuque defenseman Phil Boje. He's the second USHL commit coming to Air Force in the next few years.

American International: It seems no one in Saturday's game against Bentley was very interested in playing defense. Final shots: 42-28, Bentley. Final score: 8-7, AIC. The Yellow Jackets find themselves, incredibly, with 20 goals from their first five games.

Army: Army was outscored 15-1 this weekend, but to be fair, 11 of those goals allowed came against BC. They're 0-5 for a reason.

Bentley: The weirdest stat from that 8-7 game with AIC, by the way, was that it featured only five power plays. Bentley only had one of them, and didn't score. AIC popped in three in the other four. That special teams efficiency — or lack thereof — comes in at just 20 percent and yup, that's going to lose you a lot of hockey games.

Canisius: On their fourth try of the season, the Golden Griffins finally picked up a league win, which was important to the team largely because they don't have another conference game until Nov. 19. Imagine a week and a half of practices under “we started 0-4” conditions? No fun at all.

UConn: Good news for the Huskies: captain Brant Harris was originally supposed to miss six weeks with a knee injury, but could be good to go as early as tonight. If he doesn't, he makes his season debut Friday instead. He's broken 15 goals in each of the last two seasons.

Holy Cross: The Crusaders scored four goals in 7:51 in the second period of a 4-1 road win over Army, and ran their AH record to 2-0. That included goals just 24 seconds apart that probably took all the air out of the building.

Mercyhurst: The above-mentioned Canisius/Mercyhurst game was also the first conference loss of the season for the Lakers, but don't worry. They have a home game against Niagara to figure it out before RPI comes to town for a pair and clobbers them.

Niagara: Speaking of Niagara, they're 0-fer in their last four games, having been swept by Ohio State 4-1 and 6-1. Outscored 22-7 in those. Yikes.

RIT: It took eight tries, but the Tigers finally won, picking up a road win at Robert Morris. Special teams definitely seems like The Thing you need to be good at in Atlantic Hockey, by the way, because RIT went 5 for 5 on the PK and 2 for 3 with the man advantage.

Robert Morris: One of those things that's never been entirely clear to me: Is a natural hat trick three goals in a row, or three goals in a single period, or both? Everyone seems to have different definitions. For me it's both, so saying Cody Wydo had a natural hat trick to give Robert Morris its first win of the year on Friday because he scored three goals in 10:05 across the first and second periods is a load of bunk to this impartial observer.

Sacred Heart: The Pioneers have now lost five straight after opening the season with three wins from their first four games. Everything that rises must converge.

ECAC

Brown: Weird split for the Bears this weekend. Outshot 48-20 by the Q on Friday in a 3-0 loss, then they bounced back with a 6-3 win against Princeton. Coach Brendan Whittet said the score in the latter game was “indicative of the way [Brown] played,” but it looks like the results are indicative of the teams they played.

Clarkson: A weekend sweep for the Golden Knights gave them as many wins this season (nine) as they had all of last season. That includes 3-1 in ECAC games. So, y'know, that's impressive.

Colgate: Tough night for the Raiders' keepers. Charlie Finn faced seven shots and gave up three goals. Spencer Finney faced six shots and also gave up three goals. Eric Mihalik led the team in save percentage for the night, stopping the only shot he faced. That's right, Colgate used all three goalies and gave up six goals on 14 shots.

Cornell: Along the same lines, Mike Schafer disputes the fact that his team had 11 shots on goal in a 3-0 loss to Union. Hey Mike, it's your buddy Ryan Lambert here. Let's say you double that number: 22 still isn't a lot. But the thing is, Union's sports info people didn't miss 11 of your team's 22 shots. So let's say they missed four. What's the difference if you had 11 or 15? You got dominated. Don't need to make a big thing out of it.

Dartmouth: The Big Green are 0-6, and 0-4 in the ECAC, to start the season, but coach Bob Gaudet says there's a silver lining. Adversity. Or something. “I know we can beat anybody, but our goal is to get better and we got better tonight,” he said following an 8-5 loss.

Harvard: The Crimson had to be hopeful entering the four-game homestand they just wrapped up. Now, not so much. They lost the last three of those games.

Princeton: The Tigers' goaltending didn't fare much better than Colgate's this weekend: Colton Phinney and Sean Bonar combined to give up 11 goals on 62 shots. That may be a function of bad defense more than particularly galling puck stopping, though. “I don’t think Phinney played bad, he played OK,” coach Bob Prier said after the freshman conceded five on 22 shots Friday. “There were a couple we tipped in our net, and there were a couple where we stood and watched in front. We didn’t protect the front of the net as hard as we should have.

Quinnipiac: So about that off year... We're getting to the point where a tie against the reigning national champion is seen as a disappointment.

RPI: Ryan Haggerty with another three goals this weekend, including two on Saturday to wrap up a bizarre win. That's 13 on the year in 10 games. Which is a lot.

St. Lawrence: That 8-5 win over Dartmouth on the weekend was, likewise, weird: “[T]he contest featured 13 goals, two game misconducts, four power-play tallies, a shorthanded breakaway marker and an empty-netter to seal the win with the goalie still on the ice.” Not every day you see any one of those things happen in a game. Let alone two. Let alone all five.

Union: A big reason Cornell was held to 11 shots on goal in the game was that the Dutchmen held them to just two in the first 20 minutes. When your shot differential in a game is plus-20, you tend to win.

Yale: The Bulldogs have to be happy with earning a tie, especially on the road, given how Quinnipiac is playing.

Hockey East

Boston College: The shame about BU putting out these highlights is that you don't see all the hard work Johnny Gaudreau did to make a gorgeous pass on the first goal and pretty much keep the scoring play alive for himself on the second. Skip to 45 seconds, though, to see absolute magic.

Boston University: Further to the point about the Terriers' lack of offense: They don't have difference-making forwards. Or rather, the forwards they have who are capable of being difference-makers have been uncharacteristically fallow this season. Playing without Matt Nieto will do that.

Maine: Even though Maine only split with Vermont, they have to be happy with the effort on Saturday. They were down 4-1 in the third period and came within a goal. That's not nothing.

UMass: It would be great and cool if someone could explain to me what John Micheletto is doing with Alex Wakaluk as his No. 2 goalie. Alex was in no way prepared for this, as — one would think — was evidenced by his getting shelled in his only other appearance this season (six goals against on 23 shots at Maine). He stopped just five of 10 against the Wildcats, and now has a line of 10.57/.667 this season.

UMass Lowell: The River Hawks lost at home to Northeastern on Saturday, 4-2. I don't know, though, that I've ever heard of one team having three reviews and a disallowed goal go against them in a single game though. That was the first of four games in six days for Lowell, which defeated Princeton on Tuesday, then play a pair at Penn State on Thursday and Friday. Not doing themselves any favors with that schedule.

Merrimack: Nate Leaman said that his team's sweep of Merrimack “felt a lot like playoff hockey” but the way the Warriors are starting (3-5 with wins over Mercyhurst, Army, and Bentley, with just 16 goals from those eight games), that's not something with which they're going to find themselves acquainted very much this season.

UNH: While it may have been too early to throw the last shovelful of dirt on UNH's casket after the Wildcats were swept by Lowell two weeks ago, let's not go rolling the stone away from the tomb just because they swept UMass either.

Northeastern: Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the release of the Wu-Tang Clan's seminal hip hop album “Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers.” To celebrate, the Shaolin's own Joseph Gambardella of Lowell and Zach Aston-Reese of Northeastern played each other. Who bought the Killer tapes?

Notre Dame: Huge weekend for Notre Dame, recovering from that split with Vermont to split with a far better opponent in Minnesota. Jeff Jackson seemed to indicate he didn't really think his team was ready to go after Friday's surprising win.

Providence: Ho hum another shutout for Jon Gillies ho hum.

Vermont: This is what separates Vermont from the better programs in Hockey East these days: The ability to not shoot themselves in the foot. The Catamounts were tied at zeroes with Maine late in the third period, when Caylen Walls went to the box for holding, then Connor Brickley picked up a hitting from behind major. Two goals in 2:56 later, and the game was way, way over.

Player of the Week

I would say that I'm going to get sick of giving this to Johnny Gaudreau every week, but have you seen this kid play hockey? I'm never going to get sick of him. Seven points this weekend. He's a revelation.

Goal of the Week

More Johnny Gaudreau. Just give him the Hobey now. The goal in question is at 13 seconds.

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