The theme for this week's hockey conversations centers around one big question: At 7-7-0, is the Boston College hockey team underachieving? Or are they just a .500 team and their record is a reflection of the reality of their roster?
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. The dead horse that is the struggles on the power play will continue to be beat. At 6-for-61—with four of those goals coming in the first four games of the season, and one power play goal for the entire month of November—it's safe to say that that's an area where BC has underachieved. There's no lack of talent on the power play. They should be doing better, and I think they will at some point. But we keep waiting for that point to arrive, and it hasn't yet.
Some players who we expected to increase their productivity up front haven't done so yet. Zach Sanford only has one goal. Austin Cangelosi, incredibly, has yet to score at all. Calnan, Fitzgerald and Gilmour all have good point totals but none of them have really surged. No BC player appears in the Top 22 in Hockey East scoring. Is that going to keep up all year, or will one of those players emerge?
Defense was expected to be a team strength this year, but at 2.71 goals allowed per game, the Eagles are in the bottom half of Hockey East in that category. Mistakes and turnovers continue to plague even the most talented defensemen on the team. But with such a star-studded corps, you would think the pieces are there for that number to go down. Some nights, BC does look like a lock-down defensive team, such as on Saturday when PC was limited to one goal and not too many great chances. (Of course, BC scored 0, so the 1 was enough to lose).
But by the same token, anyone who has watched the team knows that waiting for the offense to start firing at a high level at even strength is probably going to be fruitless, at least against good teams. There's just not enough speed and depth, and there aren't enough finishers, to really put much fear into opponents right now. Quinn Smith (4-3--7) and Destry Straight (5-3--8) have both had pretty good stretches recently, but nobody is expecting them to convert into uperstars overnight. Smith and Straight putting in a strong effort and chipping in some goals is ideally a complementary piece to stars carrying the bulk of the load.
Is there a right line combination or system tweak that's going to suddenly turn this offense into a high-powered one? Probably not. I thought BC was going to be somewhere around 12-15 in the country this year when all was said and done, though right now they're looking to be quite a bit off of that. They're just one good, solid winning streak away from being in contention for a tournament spot, though, and they have that in them if the aforementioned aspects that are underperforming start to improve.
In some respects, Saturday night's loss to Providence was the most important loss of the season so far. It's starting to look like Providence is one of those teams BC is going to be fighting with to edge into a top 4 spot in a pretty weak Hockey East. Losing to Minnesota was expected and didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. BU, Vermont, and probably Lowell are distancing themselves from BC at this point, and that's OK. But the Providence loss showed that big improvements are going to be necessary in order to climb that ladder toward a top 4 spot.
This weekend it's back to work against a team BC should be able to handle: UNH. The Wildcats are 4-8, and 1-4 in Hockey East competition. They just lost to RPI last week, not long after being on the receiving end of Northeastern's first win of the year. While I'm a little concerned about this team and its lack of speed on the big ice sheet at Whittemore Center, I do think this is a series BC should be able to sweep. If they do, they'll stay in that zone where they're within striking distance going in to the break. But if they don't, things are going to be even trickier.
Friday night's game is on NBC Sports at 8:00; the home game is Saturday at 7:00. We'll be here to talk about it all week and break things down over the weekend. Until then, let's hope the team's power play drills are going well.