In the span of five days last week, the BC women’s hockey season went from being full of promise for a postseason run to being out of the NCAA tournament field entirely. From November 27th through December 1st, the Eagles were dealt three straight losses to drop all the way to 10th in the Pairwise — well out of a postseason spot even if you disregard automatic bids.
Tuesday’s loss against Northeastern was at least on the road against a top five team, and while I sort of lost my marbles after we blew it, it wasn’t the sort of unforgivable result other top teams have had, like Clarkson losing 5-1 to one of the worst teams in the country.
The problem is that the Eagles followed that up with a couple stinkers to rival Boston University in a home-and-home this weekend (including blowing another lead in game two) to raise more than a few eyebrows. The Eagles trailed by two goals at one point in both games — not the kind of bounce-back you’re hoping to see after a tough loss to a good team.
So... what the hell?
The Eagles came into the season with a lot of hype. They were certainly hyped by me, personally (oops). “WE’RE STACKED,” read my season preview, in all caps. BC returned the vast majority of their offense, including the reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner, and replaced their graduating defender with three of the best players on the planet to bolster the blue line. The loss of NCAA wins queen Katie Burt in net was the biggest question mark coming into the season, but even she was replaced with one of the most talented goalie recruits in the country, starting Canada U18 goaltender Maddy McArthur.
So all the pieces are very clearly there. And yet, from a results standpoint, the Eagles have actually managed to regress from last season. BC had five losses all season in 2017-2018 and they already have six.
There isn’t really one big thing tripping up the Eagles so far this year, it’s more that every little part of their game isn’t quite good enough.
- On offense, BC’s superstars are way down year over year in scoring. Daryl Watts, Caitrin Lonergan, and Makenna Newkirk — three of the top six scorers in the country last year and the players you would expect to carry the load — are still having nice seasons, and yet they’re down a combined 2.51 points per game (!!!!!!!) year over year. That’s insane, and while some of that can be attributed to Coach Crowley spreading the talent across all four lines, that’s a massive drop in production.
- Beyond the top players, BC’s puck possession has not translated into scoring. The Eagles have gone from only being +3.87 in shot margin per game last season to a whopping +15.17, 3rd in the nation behind Wisconsin and Minnesota and far, far ahead of 4th place. And what’s even more frustrating is that despite going 0-3 in the past week, their shot margin is actually improved from what it was before the losses! The Eagles are just not getting good looks. BC’s made a habit of making average goalies look amazing the last few weeks as a result of taking whatever shot comes their way. It’s felt like every recent BC goal has been a gritty goal from the crease, and while those are goals you love to see, it feels like it’s been a month since the Eagles have been able to score a pretty, thread-the-needle, tic-tac-toe goal as a result of sharp play.
- On defense, the Eagles have been... pretty good, on the whole. Coming into the weekend, BC sat 2nd in the country in team defense at 1.27 goals allowed per game, behind only Wisconsin. Those numbers have obviously bricked after giving up 12 goals in 3 games. And yet, game after game, even in their wins, the Eagles have found a way to slip up and allow a Grade A opportunity for the opponent against the run of play. No one is expecting perfection, but with so much puck possession, BC should be smothering opponents.
- Funny enough, BC’s biggest question mark coming into the season — goaltending — has been the least of the Eagles’ worries. Before this week, freshman Maddy McArthur sat an impressive 9th in save percentage and 4th in goals against average. But after the disaster of a weekend in which she was repeatedly hung out to dry by the defense (or, often, the penalty kill), she’s dropped down to 25th (!) and 10th, respectively — in just three games.
- Lastly, special teams were a complete disaster this week, especially against BU. BC went just 1 for 10 on the power play and allowed an absolutely ridiculous 5 goals on 11 opportunities to the Terriers, which is just... unfathomably awful, and even worse when you consider that BU was 38th out of 40 on both the power play and the penalty kill this year. This is such a statistical anomaly that it feels impossible.
Obviously, most of BC’s stats took a turn for the worse over the past week. Things had been looking pretty good, although the low goals total on such a high shot margin has been an issue all season. So it could be that the Eagles just had everything fall apart at once for a weekend. Certainly most of the top teams are looking for answers after one of the nuttiest weeks the sport has ever seen — no hyperbole — so BC wasn’t alone. But the stakes were higher for the Eagles with such high expectations for this season, and BC’s three losses in five days were part of what made the week across D-I women’s hockey so nuts.
BC has not played well enough to be a national championship threat this year, certainly not with Minnesota and Wisconsin separating themselves from the pack. But maybe a little bit of adversity is what BC needs. In their past “juggernaut roster” years, they rolled through the regular season without much of a challenge and were exposed when faced with some resistance in the NCAA tournament. Two-time defending national champion Clarkson does not roll through their regular season, relatively speaking (they had 4 losses and 5 ties in their national title season two years ago), but they have a reputation for improving along the way and playing their best hockey in the tournament. Even in BC’s near-perfect season in 2015-2016, the Golden Knights held a 2-0 lead halfway through the game in the Frozen Four and took the Eagles to overtime.
It could very well be that this rough stretch of hockey teaches BC something important for tournament season. But they do have plenty of things to fix to even give themselves a shot. Cleaning up the defensive breakdowns is obvious, but the Eagles defensively were still far improved from where they were compared to last season before it all fell apart this week. More important for BC is that they need to figure out how to convert their high shot totals into more goals, and they need get their stars running on all cylinders to take the pressure off the lower lines.
Fortunately, we’re only halfway through the season. BC plays two with Merrimack before having a month off for the winter break, which, frankly, couldn’t come at a better time, since the Eagles seem like they need to clear their heads a bit. It would be foolish to bet against Coach Crowley and Coach Kennedy, who built the program from the bottom up in the late ‘00s to be where it is and now have an opportunity to really make a coaching impact with so many talented players on the roster not playing up to their ability.
Because it’s not that BC doesn’t have the talent — it’s just that the talent is currently taking the form of a Godzilla-sized chicken thrashing around with its head cut off. This is a new challenge for the team and for the coaching staff.
While everything is a mess right now and they are far from contender status, the roster certainly has enough raw talent that if they figure out how to put it all together, they could come away with some hardware. The women’s hockey season is still one that only requires three wins to take home the big trophy. If BC can figure out that it takes more than stepping on the ice with natural talent to win games, they can be there when all is said and done.