It is finally here. Boston College will step onto the ice at Matthews Arena on Saturday night for a dogfight (yes, a pun was intended) against Beanpot rival Northeastern University. At the time of this post, the Huskies are currently ranked #2 in the Hockey East with BC maintaining the top spot. That’s right folks, its going to be a classic #1 vs #2 matchup and it for sure is going to be a thriller. To get you all prepared adequately for the game, I reached out to Mike Davis at the NU Hockey Blog to analyze what we should expect to witness on Saturday.
1) Northeastern is off to a pretty hot start this season with them holding a 6-3-1 overall record and a 4-1-0 record in the Hockey East standings going into Friday's game against UVM. What has led to the team's success thus far in the season?
Northeastern has been scoring goals like no other team this season. The Huskies lead the nation in goals per game (4.3) and have the best offense overall in the nation (43 goals). They also have had much more effective defense keeping teams away from high-scoring chances, and that has translated to the 15th-best defense in the nation (2.6 goals allowed per game). The goaltending has been vastly improved as well (we'll address that momentarily). Simply put, the Huskies have been thriving in nearly all areas of hockey- even strength, powerplay, defensively, and in net. Their biggest weakness that their penalty kill is only successful ~77% of the time, and that has the potential to come back and bite them if they do take too many penalties.
2) NU had two huge wins against a powerful BU team with them essentially wiping the ice with the Terriers by outscoring them 10-2. What did NU execute well in order to dominate the Terriers?
Against BU, the Huskies dominated for nearly the entirety of both games- I would estimate for 100 of the 120 game minutes, the Huskies were in complete control. They forechecked well, forcing BU turnovers and poor breakouts; they broke plays up in the neutral zone, preventing BU from accelerating and gaining any semblence of an organized attack; they clogged the front of the net where BU likes to park Greenway and Tkachuk, forcing much of their offense to come via their defensemen; they killed off all but one penalty; and most importantly, in each game when BU slashed the NU lead to 2-1 early in the second period, the Huskies did not falter and collapse, like we have seen in the past. Rather, they regrouped and locked down the Terriers, shutting them out for the rest of the games after that first goal. These were two of the best games that I saw Northeastern play in many years, and games that give me reason to believe they can compete with the best in Hockey East this season.
3) Goal-tending has been a struggle for the Huskies in the past. In the past three seasons, NU's goaltenders have averaged save percentages of .905, .903, and .898 respectively, which has been well-below the national-average. How has freshman and future Montreal Canadian Cayden Primeau stepped up to the plate to guide this ship in the right direction? Do you predict that he will be able to correct NU's goal-tending situation and get them back on track?
So Primeau and Ryan Ruck have actually split the games started this year, with 5 each. The first BU game Ruck was injured by Patrick Harper throwing an elbow that Macho Man Randy Savage would be proud of, leading to Primeau coming on in relief and pitching a shutout for roughly half the game. When they have played, both goalies have performed well, though. Ruck has a .910 SV% in his games, while Primeau has a .908 SV%, but that is deflated due to an abysmal performance where he allowed 6 goals on 15 shots to Quinnipiac. Obviously all stats count, but outside that dud of a game, the goaltending has performed quite well for NU. In their conference games, Ruck's save percentage is near identical (.909) while Primeau's skyrockets to .951. So in short, there simply hasn't been a need for Primeau to play all the time. I expect Ruck to be healthy for this weekend, and I expect the goalies to split this weekend's games and going forward so long as quality play from both continues.
4) Aside from Primeau, who are some other NU players that we should take note of? In what areas will they look to capitalize against BC?
One area of improvement for the Huskies this year comes via secondary scoring, and not being reliant on Gaudette/Sikura/Stevens for all their goals. We've seem Grant Jozefek emerge as a legit top-6 forward now that he's healthy (concussion and post-concussive symptoms last year), and Matt Filipe is a top-six presence as well, even though he's been quieter this year. Bobby Hampton has played in the bottom six but has 3 timely goals and is one of the better bottom-six guys in recent memory, giving NU a scoring punch where other teams may not expect it.
5) How is the buzz on campus for this game? Will you expect there to be a huge turnout from the students?
I live in Providence, RI, so I can't speak to campus in Boston, but I am hopeful for a packed DogHouse Saturday night. The team is performing well, and we had a sellout with over 2000 students on had for BU last week. I imagine most of those students would want to come back for the other cross-town rival. However marketing for this game seems to be lackluster, especially compared to BU, for reasons I can't understand. In addition Saturday games tend to be more poorly attended than Friday games. So while I am hopeful that the DogHouse fills their normal end of the balcony, I wouldn't be shocked if they didn't. I'll be there though!
6) Prediction time! What do you think is going to happen in this cross-town rivalry?
Call me a homer, but I think Northeastern wins this game. At Matthews, their offense is deadly, and Boston College, to my eyes, has not played well against good teams this year. NU will be their stiffest task since Denver, and I'm not convinced that BC has the skill to match Northeastern this season (jeez, when has that even been said?). Between NU's offense and BC's questions about the offense, I predict a 4-2 NU win.
Thanks again to Mike so speaking with BCI!