I'm going to start this off with something happy, and clearly warn you when the happy part ends, so you can click away if you don't want to read any further and thus avoid negativity. The 2007-08 national championship team started their season with a 3-4-5 record. Yes, 3-4-5 - three wins in their first 12 games. So an awful start does not mean all is lost.
***Avert thine eyes to avoid negativity***
I knew, you knew, and everyone knew (except maybe USCHO poll voters) that it would be unfair and incorrect to compare this year's BC hockey team to some of the juggernauts of the recent past. The performance of this year's team can't be fairly judged by assuming a certain level of performance based on the name on the front of their jerseys. Evaluating this team would require a little more patience and figuring out an appropriate standard to judge them by, and I've been okay with that from the beginning.
But...even by those lowered standards, last night's performance by Boston College was downright putrid, a 6-3 loss to Harvard that knocked BC below .500 (4-5-0) and handed the Eagles their first loss to Harvard since 2006.
The frustrating thing about this game was just just a few days ago, we saw BC play a pretty good game against BU, outshooting the Terriers 30-26, winning battles for the puck, fighting back after BU erased two of their leads, and bringing a solid physical game. They also generally avoided bad defensive mistakes, with some bad bounces sort of doing them in.
Just a couple of days later, they looked more like the team that looked lost against UConn, except unlike UConn, Harvard had the speed and skill to repeatedly punish BC's mistakes rather than be content to defend their lead.
Brad Barone started in between the pipes for BC with Thatcher Demko out with an illness and Brian Billett officially announcing his leave of absence from the program. I can't really blame Barone for anything even though some of the goals seemed a little soft, as once again BC was victimized by deflected goals, including two that had to be reviewed.
The galling thing on Tuesday night was less so the loss and more how long it took for BC to seem really into the game. The Eagles dozed through the first period, getting outshot 10-3 and going 0-for-2 on the power play without registering a single shot on either one of them. Needless to say, Harvard would pounce on their very first power play of the game to go up at 15:02. Then, another one of BC's old bugaboos reared its head again as they yielded a goal in the final seconds before a period ended, with Mike Matheson making an awful pass that basically hit Harvard in stride and sent them on their way for an easy goal to go up 2-0.
Matt Gaudreau, who returned to the lineup last night, gave BC a bit of a spark at 4:56 of the second period, scoring to cut the lead to 2-1, and BC played pretty well for the next stretch of the game. The Eagles outshot Harvard 11-9 in the second period and seemed like they would eventually dig out a tying goal before another turnover led to a Crimson goal, this one against the run of play, to give Harvard a 3-1 lead at 14:08.
From that point on, I don't know if BC was feeling sorry for themselves or what, but they seemed flat-footed as Harvard dominated, scoring twice more--once right at the end of the second period, and once early in the third period. I don't really like to play armchair psychologist, but it certainly look like they had given up on the game at that point.
At 12:03 of the third period, Destry Straight scored on a scrum around the net, as he and Brendan Silk outworked Harvard in a 4-on-4 situation to give BC some semblance of hope trailing 5-2.
From that point forward, it was like a different BC team emerged--one that was skating powerfully and buzzing the Harvard net creating chances. Less than two minutes after Straight's goal, Alex Tuch scored, breaking a bit of a quiet stretch for Tuch and sparking belief that a comeback may be in the cards.
BC continued to dominate and create chances until Straight took an offensive zone penalty at 15:39. Even that didn't stop BC's momentum though, with the Eagles getting more chances on the penalty kill than they seemed to get on any of their six failed power play opportunities. However, it was not to be--the Eagles' surge was too little, too late, and an Alex Kerfoot empty net goal in the final minute sealed the deal.
So here's the thing about this team right now: yes, it's fair to have lowered expectations and to judge them accordingly, but they're certainly better than they showed last night or against UConn, as evidenced by the fact that once they had a little belief, they really look the game to Harvard. It feels like a lot of the problems this team is having have snowballed on them, and a lot of it seems to be between the ears.
The power play is the most baffling thing, with now six full games gone since the last power play goal. There may not be a Gaudreau, Arnold or Hayes on this team but there's a lot of talent--too much talent to look this impotent on the power play. I have to imagine that once they manage to score one, it will get a lot easier, but for now a power play means frustration.
The other really concerning thing to me is the amount of sloppy and ill-timed passes slung by BC either to nobody in particular or to someone who's clearly covered. I hate to ever single players out, but Matheson, the team's captain, stands out as someone who throws a lot of backhanded or no-look passes into traffic. He certainly has the skill to pull off some of the nicest looking passes on the team, but when those go wrong, they go really wrong, as they did against the Crimson.
Matheson is one of a few players who are coming in below the lofty expectations they likely have for themselves. I would include Austin Cangelosi on that list, too: he has an 0-3--3 line in 9 games. I definitely expected him to be a major contributor this year. Zach Sanford is also still searching for his first collegiate goal. The Eagles can get away with not having stars all over the lineup, but they are going to need their highly-regarded players to perform.
Will we see a performance out of the team on Friday night at Michigan State?
Hopefully they look at the tape and see how much faster and stronger on the puck they looked as they were making their too-little-too-late run last night, and come out with motivation to play a full 60 minutes like their hair is on fire. It's a long season, and you can't play every game with desperation like it's the NCAA tournament final, but a loss on Friday would really make things start to slip away.
Oh, and can we get our white jerseys back? LaundryGate continued last night, an amusing subplot to what otherwise hasn't been a very amusing season.
BC takes on Michigan State on Friday night at 7 PM. We'll be back then, hopefully in a better mood.