Hockey Banter, Week IV: Northeastern Isn't *THAT* Bad

via @heightsphoto

I mean, they're perfectly adequate.

Joseph Gravellese: Grant "Broken Clock" Salzano strikes again. I think everyone else in Final Thoughts last week said this series would either be a split or a 1-0-1 weekend, but you did predict the sweep for BC.

Where you were wrong is that your reasoning for BC's sweep was "NU stinks." I mean, they probably do stink, but they didn't this weekend. They gave BC a lot to deal with over 120 minutes. But somehow, the Eagles came out of the weekend with four points -- and now that we're into the grind of conference play, that's all that really matters.

There are two things that happened this weekend that I'm looking at as positive bellwethers. It was striking to me how similar this comeback victory over NU was to the one the team had in the fall of 2011 under similar circumstances -- a young team looking to establish themselves as a contender, showing an early sign of mental toughness to overcome adversity and win in Matthews Arena where winning almost never comes easy.

There used to be a Thing prior to 2011-12 where it was interesting to note that the 2001, 2008 and 2010 teams all won at Alfond Arena, while the rest of Jerry York's (non-title-winning teams) did not. It was always seen as a sort of bellwether, the ability to go up there and win where BC usually struggles. (That storyline went away in 2012 when BC was swept in Maine but went on to win the title.)

Obviously Northeastern is not Maine and Matthews is not Alfond, but I think the ability to gut out a win in such a hostile environment is certainly a great bellwether for success. Especially when it's a place BC usually struggles (as opposed to someplace like Agganis where BC has a great record).

But the more important bellwether was the two shorthanded goals (three, really, if you count BC's first goal at NU, which was for all practical purposes a shortie even though BC's player had just stepped out of the box). It had been just about a full year since BC had scored shorthanded, and it was an empty net goal at BU. BC had no shorthanded goals against a goalie all year last year - unthinkable, compared to some past BC teams which made shorthanded opportunities some of their most lethal and devastating weapons.

That was a great sign.

Overall, I was pretty displeased with BC's performance on Friday night, though I have to give the Huskies credit for playing very tight defensively in a way we haven't seen them be able to do in a few years. Some of my section-mates commented that it was like watching a Tortorella-coached team. Didn't make the game easy on the eyes but NU played well enough to be the first opponent to give BC a real fight at Conte this year.

I didn't actually watch all of Saturday's game, though I've seen good chunks of it at this point - but I'm curious to hear your take on Saturday's performance compared to Friday's.

Grant Salzano: I thought it was interesting to see you say that Friday's game was so bad. Maybe it was because the TV timeouts made it especially frustrating live.

I didn't think it was too bad. It wasn't anything special, but it was your average hockey game. Saturday to me was more of the same.

The biggest thing I noticed is that Northeastern definitely didn't lose either of these games for lack of effort. Particularly on Saturday on their home ice. They REALLY get up to play us and battle really hard.

I felt like we were bottled up a lot. They got a lot of sticks and bodies in the way and just made it really hard to move around.

Coming off a pair of games on the Olympic sheet, it was even more pronounced to me as a fan watching.

Northeastern impressed me, but I still don't think they will make much of the season. They kept those games close by putting in a ton of effort. That's not something I can really see happening game-in and game-out.

JG: The TV timeouts didn't help. The game really did drag. It was dead in Conte despite being packed, which didn't help either. But I think that kind of speaks to NU executing the kind of game plan you want to establish on the road. Slow the game down, take the crowd out of it, prevent it from becoming one of those famous BC track meets.

As someone who watched the whole game on Saturday night... did anything change that allowed BC to make that comeback on Saturday night? Or was it more of a puck luck issue?

GS: Well puck luck was definitely part of it when you consider that one of the goals was Gaudreau trolling Witt.

But aside from that I'm not really sure anything changed so much as we were finally able to have a few nice plays set up that we were able to capitalize.

The first goal when we were down 3-1 was the shorthander that was just brilliant execution. It was everything you want to see out of a BC team -- tictactoe passing, shorthanded pressure, and a nice finish.

The last goal, in OT, was just a smart hockey play. One player just getting the puck to the net and another being perfectly positioned behind the D. That was as easy an OT layup as you'll see.

JG: And how did Billett look?

GS: Fine. After letting in a goal on the first shot he saw on what was kind of a soft deflection from the side of the net, he did a perfectly serviceable job.

We're in a good place, goaltending wise.

JG: Demko had some great saves on Friday night although I wouldn't say he was standing on his head by any stretch. He did was he had to do to get the win. And the team is still undefeated with him in there. So that's a plus.

And now Billett has a big road win under his belt.

I agree that in general both goaltenders have acquitted themselves pretty well.

GS: How about that Kevin Hayes, huh?

JG: Boy. I figured he would come out motivated this year after what happened at the end of last season. But he has been beyond what I would have expected. He's been a force. He's finally using his size, strength and natural ability to boss the game -- the way we've been waiting for both Hayes' to do for about 7 years now.

Or 6. Or however long it's been. I'm old.

And of course that's just massive for BC because having Gaudreau and then Hayes going at you makes the team a lot harder to play against. Different styles, different lines and matchup issues out the wazoo.

GS: He has been an absolute monster, and you're totally right about the different styles. Gaudreau and Hayes can beat you in very different ways. But rest assured, they will beat you.

How does BC have one senior every single year who becomes a superstar? I've lost track of how many years in a row it's been.

JG: It's certainly a nice thing to see, and very helpful. It's early, obviously. But if Hayes keeps this up, he plays the kind of game you need to succeed in the grind that is Hockey East.

Speaking of the Grind That Is Hockey East (TM), welcome to the show, Notre Dame.

GS: HA. HAHA. HAHAHA.

HA.

I get that Vermont isn't terrible but Notre Dame has no business nearly getting swept.

I mean, parity, etc. etc. But that was pretty unexpected.

JG: I do believe I predicted pre-season that Notre Dame would struggle to adjust to the travel and the style of Hockey East. Though I guess it's only been one weekend...and I also said Lowell would be strong right out of the gate. So.

Lowell does appear to be Back On Track (TM) after sweeping UNH -- who suddenly is a 1-win team despite high expectations.

And, you know, they've had a tough schedule -- this is exactly the kind of thing that COULD HAVE HAPPENED to BC, so that's why I was okay with the 2-2-1 start.

(Now a 4-2-1 start, which is quite nice.)

GS: With every single game against ranked teams!

JG: That is truly remarkable. And BU will be in the polls to make it eight in a row on Friday night.

GS: It would be nice to hand BU one of those soul-crushing losses that sends our opponent's season for a tailspin.

They did look halfway decent against PC though.

Fortunately this game is being played in Our House -- 'Our House,' proper noun, which is to say 'their house,' common noun.

JG: That was quite the comeback against PC on Friday night, it really kind of saved their bacon because otherwise they'd be looking at quite the streak of ugly results.

GS: That's what we get for relying on PC to do anything worthwhile.

JG: Let's put this out there right now, BC should be on a different level from BU this year. It's a rivalry game and things happen but I expect BC to win. No matter where the game is played.

I'm not saying BU is a bad team (though you probably are).

They're pretty good. But I don't put them in the top eschelon with Lowell, Providence and BC. And the results have reflected that so far. They've lost a lot and are in a bit of a rebuilding phase.

GS: I don't think they're "bad" -- just not a tournament team.

Having said that, everything about their program is garbage and I hate them. NO ONE DENIES THIS.

I enjoyed that a BU troll posted in the Heights article about the "F*** Northeastern" chants to point out that we are "NOT IN BOSTON!!!! 111one11"

JG: I'm curious to see their approach to playing BC in person on Friday night. We certainly saw Parker's teams mix up their looks quite a bit for games against BC; it always seemed to be like they were more willing to engage in an open, offensive game at Agganis, which can maybe partially explain why BC has had so much more success at Agganis than at Conte or TD Garden (against BU).

It usually seemed like Parker's teams would come to Conte looking to clog it up.

An advantage BU has had, also, in some of the games where they've come out and stuffed BC at Conte has been them taking it to BC physically in the early going.

That's certainly going to be something to keep an eye on Friday night. BC more than held their own in the hitting department against NU last Friday.

GS: THE GREAT SANTINI is sure to become a BC fan favorite in the coming years. I fully expect him to JACK UP some poor BU fellow.

JG: That's a great segue into a topic I had in mind: who will be the next great BC villain that all of the BU fans cry about? (Weirdly, Gaudreau has seemingly avoided the full-blown villain status that Gerbe and Gionta had, maybe because of his US national team heroics. USA, mofos. But needless to say, he'll probably be public enemy #1 at Agganis on Friday night.)

GS: Well until he goes pro, Gaudreau will clearly top the list.

But my vote definitely goes to Santini. He'll break some BU player in half and suddenly everyone will be whining about it, and that will be the start of it.

JG: Any other substantive thoughts on the game? This is normally when I'd throw in the cliche "stay out of the box" but let's be honest, a BC-BU game with Hockey East officials will pretty much always mean that officiating will be a factor. They need to be prepared for a lot of special teams situations. Hopefully the newfound shorthanded prowess continues to be a weapon.

We are also playing Army on Sunday, which is a thing. Unless there's a government shutdown.

What an awful home game. At the same time as the BC-UMass bouncybaskets game at TD Garden,t oo, so way to make sure neither gets much of a crowd.

GS: I forgot about The Army. They are currently last in RatingsPI. So... we'd better win. Who wins by more "scores": BC football vs. NMSU, or BC hockey against Army?

JG: I'm going to say football, but that's a toughie.

GS: We should include a poll. We can do that right? I think I'll do it.

JG: Watch us lose one of those games.

GS: There's not a chance. This is one if those #UNJINXABLE things.

JG: Well, that's about enough for this week. Beat BU on Friday, gentlemen.

GS: Eviscerate BU.

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