Boy can a few bad days change the way you feel about a team.
Coming off of a stretch where they were playing some of their best hockey of the season, the Boston College men’s hockey team had a brutal weekend against Vermont, losing in a shootout on Friday night before dropping Saturday’s game in regulation. Vermont entered the weekend all alone in last place of Hockey East and without a win since December, but they managed to get the best of the Eagles two nights in a row.
AS BAD AS IT GETS
Look there’s just no other way to put it, this was an absolutely awful weekend for the men’s hockey team. Coming into the weekend on a two game winning streak and playing some legitimately good hockey, this felt like it really should have been two more wins to have the team rolling into their upcoming home-and-home series with BU. Instead we got two games from the Eagles that were mostly just uninspiring. They scored a total of three goals across their two games against a team that has allowed four or more on eight separate occasions so far this year and it never really looked like Vermont was struggling to defend them. They also struggled mightily on the penalty kill, but there’s a whole lot more coming on that later.
BC now sits pretty solidly in seventh place in Hockey East and these two games did a lot of damage to their place in the Pairwise Rankings as well, as they fell from 16th and right around the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament to 23rd and well on the outside looking in. And outside of just what these games did to their placement in the standings, they really served as a reminder of exactly what the team is this season. A good team comes away with at least one win out of these two games, probably with two. It’s not like Vermont was playing great hockey, these were two very winnable games for BC. But they just weren’t good enough to get it done. Their recent stretch of four wins in five games had me feeling pretty positive about the direction this team was trending and forgetting about some of their flaws that were on display earlier in the season. Those flaws were back with a vengeance on Friday and Saturday, and it’s going to be really difficult to get any of that optimism back after seeing these two games.
BAD AT FIVE-ON-FIVE...
These were two ugly, ugly games to watch at five-on-five. There were long stretches when just nothing was happening for either team on offense and where the goalies barely had anything to do. And in fairness to Vermont, that’s probably exactly the kind of game they wanted to play coming into this weekend. They’re a team that has struggled to score all season, so kudos to them for slowing down a BC team that had actually been putting up some goals in recent weeks.
As for the Eagles, they certainly had the puck at even strength more often than Vermont did, but they just weren’t able to do anything with it. There were very few odd man rushes in transition and their cycle game didn’t generate much of anything either. And it’s not like the coaching staff wasn’t looking for answers. Greg Brown was juggling his lines all over the place, moving different players up and down the lineup to try and find something that worked. But nothing that he threw out there really clicked and the truly dangerous looks were few and far between.
These kind of games happen over the course of a season, but it’s disappointing that the Eagles couldn’t figure anything out for Saturday after being shut down on Friday night. And while it’s true that they didn’t let up anything at even strength in either game, that didn’t matter in the end because of another huge issue that was on display.
...EVEN WORSE ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Let’s get the few positives out of the way early here. The Eagles scored a power play goal in both games against Vermont. Cutter Gauthier and Nikita Nesterenko both fired home wrist shots early in the first period on Friday and Saturday respectively to give the team a 1-0 lead. And even their second goal on Saturday night came just a few seconds after a power play had ended. On the PK, the Eagles killed off a five minute major penalty in the third period on Saturday night while trailing 3-2 when allowing a goal pretty much would have ended the game on the spot. So it wasn’t ALL bad.
But man, everything else was just awful. As in, legitimately hard to watch at times levels of bad.
Let’s start with the power play. Outside of the two goals and maybe a few one timers that Gauthier sent wide on Saturday, I can’t think of many chances that were generated on the man advantage. Most of the shot attempts came from well outside of the dangerous areas and the attempts that were made to get the puck into the slot weren’t quite as crisp as they have been at times this year. The second unit in particular struggled to even control the puck for long stretches, and again, that’s a group that I think has mostly been pretty solid this season.
At no time were all of these struggles on display more than in the third period on Friday night, when the Eagles had a five-minute power play after a player on Vermont was called for a major penalty. If you weren’t watching on Friday night, it’s hard to explain exactly how awful this power play was. BC didn’t get a single shot on goal in the 4:33 they had before Mike Posma got called for interference to mercifully bring the man advantage to an early end. None of their passes were connecting and they got turned away before even getting set up in the attacking zone more often than not. It was about as bad of a power play as you’ll see at this level and outside of Nesterenko’s goal, things didn’t improve much on Saturday.
And then there’s the penalty kill. Vermont came into the weekend with a total of 10 power play goals on the season. They were clicking at just about 12 percent as a unit. This felt like it could be a get right kind of weekend for a penalty kill that had been giving up some goals in recent games.
Instead, Vermont scored all four of their goals while on the power play. That includes a stretch in the second period on Saturday night where they scored on three straight opportunities. Vermont went 4/11 on the weekend and BC’s penalty kill success rate continued to tumble well below the 80 percent mark.
Special teams killed any chance that BC might have had this weekend. Vermont wasn’t able to get any kind of offense going at even strength but it simply didn’t matter. And if this doesn’t get cleaned up almost immediately, the Eagles could be in some real trouble as their schedule doesn’t let up at all in the next few weeks.