Riding the wave of a five game winning streak, including last Saturday's important win over Notre Dame, the Boston College men's hockey team is getting set for two games this weekend: tomorrow night against Providence, and Saturday evening at Brown.
Tomorrow night's game is the biggest game of the year thus far, with far-reaching conference and national tournament picture implications. Going into the break, the Friars were actually briefly #1 in the PairWise Rankings. However, a dip during World Juniors, including a loss to Air Force, bumped them from the #1 spot. Then on Tuesday night, despite the return of star goaltender Jon Gillies, PC lost to Northeastern 2-1 in overtime, dropkicking them to #7.
By virtue of BC's 2-0 record against Northeastern this year, NU's win bumped BC up into 2nd place in the rankings, a magic number for two reasons: 1) the top 4 teams are obviously the #1 seeds in the national tournament; 2) BC is now the highest ranked Eastern team, behind only Minnesota. PC at #7 is the second-highest Hockey East team. Being the top East team is important in trying to lock down the #1 seed at the Worcester regional and prevent being shipped out west.
From a smaller-picture standpoint, BC and Providence are currently atop the Hockey East regular season standings. BC is in first place with 15 points in 9 games played; the Friars are on 13 points in 10 games. Given BC's game in hand, a victory over Providence could give the Eagles a bit of separation on top of the standings.
With this significant game coming up tomorrow night, here's look at some trends and stats for BC and Providence.
BC 13-4-2.... Providence 13-4-4: Both teams had outstanding first halves and sit atop the Hockey East standings.
KRACH ranking (explanation):
BC #3 (440.8).... Providence #8 (309.2)
Strength of Schedule:
BC #6.... Providence #26..... while the Eagles have played a number of high profile opponents, Providence faced an easier non-conference schedule and hasn't faced BC, Lowell, Notre Dame or Maine yet in conference play. However, that's not to say PC doesn't have quality wins to their credit - they did sweep Minnesota State and go 1-0-1 against Miami.
BC +40 (#1 in Hockey East), Providence +26 (#2). Thanks to BC's prolific offense, they far outpace everyone in the league in goal differential.
BC: +3.26/gm, #21
PC: +3.33/gm, #20
BC is on a hot streak, winning 5 straight ranging from two wins over UNH in December, through a holiday tournament waltz past Penn State and Bowling Green, through last weekend's win over Notre Dame. The Friars have cooled down, with a 2-2-2 mark in their last six, including a loss to Air Force and the only wins in that stretch coming against Army and Dartmouth.
Boston College ranks #1 nationally in team offense, with a staggering 4.42 goals per game. The next highest team, Minnesota, is nearly 0.5 goals behind at 3.94. To put that gap in perspective, another .5 back, 3.44, would bring you to #11 overall Quinnipiac. That's quite a gap.
Providence's offense is not quite as prolific, but has been adequate, ranking #15 overall with 3.24 goals per game.
BC averages 32.63 shots per game - #19 nationally - and, as you probably would have figured based on the scoring number, leads the nation in shooting percentage by a solid margin (13.5%). High shooting percentage can either be a sign of good fortune or extremely talented shooters... in BC's case, it seems to be the latter, as the Eagles' style punishes with a lethal and efficient transition offense, rather than lots of long possessions with a barrage of shots on goal. BC's crappy power play has a lot to do with BC's shot total being lower than you might expect for such an offensively dynamic team.
Providence's 33.81 shots per game are good for #12 on the national leaderboard and a shooting percentage of 9.6%, toward the middle of the pack in D-1.
Providence hasn't scored more than 3 goals against a Hockey East opponent since Nov. 23 against UNH, a 4-3 win.
BC's scoring in recent games: 5, 5, 4, 6, 2, 5, 8, 4 - pretty consistently scary for opponents.
With a team goals-against-average of 2.32, BC is #14 nationally in team defense- good enough to among the elite teams nationally, and inching toward the kind of numbers you want to see out of a championship team. During BC's 19 game winning streak to the 2012 title, BC stayed at or below the magic number of 2 goals allowed per game in every game during that stretch, so I like to look at that number when evaluating BC's defensive trend; prior to last week's 4-3 win over the Irish, BC had gone four straight giving up two or fewer. Overall, BC has given up 2 or fewer goals in 11 of 19 games. The BC defense allows an average of 29.3 shots against per game, which is #26, right in the middle of D-1.
The Friars have built their success off of great defense and goaltending, ranking #4 nationally in goals against average at exactly 2.00 goals allowed per game. Gillies has only been solved for three or more goals 4 times this year. PC did give up 3 to Air Force in Gillies' absence. In terms of shots, PC actually gives up a higher than average amount, 30.25, so you can see how important Gillies is to their success.
As mentioned previously, prior to last week's 4-3 win over ND, BC had gone four straight giving up two or fewer.
Despite being 0-1-1 in 2014, Providence allowed 1 goal to 'Mack and 2 to NU. Offense has been the bigger issue.
BC 14.9% -- #44
PC 13.3% -- #49
BC 90.1.% - #2
PC 86.2% - #9
BC 64 -- #48 -- you know, I would be angry that a team that usually has so much puck possession is so low on the penalties drawn list, but given BC's power play proficiency (or lack thereof) it's probably for the best.
PC 98 -- #11
BC 91 -- #25
PC 94 -- #20
Jon Gillies, PC: .941 (#2 nationally)
Brian Billett, BC: .925 (#21)
Thatcher Demko, BC: .911 (#45)
Gillies 1.88 (#9)
Billett: 2.30 (#25)
Demko: 2.31 (#28)
Gillies is, well, Gillies; after a slow star for both goalies, Billett is crawling toward a pretty decent save percentage and has been good for BC in recent games.