It's hard to believe, but we are very much in the stretch run of the college hockey season. Boston College sits in a solid (but uncomfortable) #11 in the Pairwise rankings, meaning their fate is very much in their own hands as they prepare for the last six games of the regular season. It starts with two games at home this weekend against a struggling Vermont team, which started the season red hot and near the top of the national rankings, but is now down to #19 in PWR after going 2-7-1 in their last 10 games.
Here's a look at the BC-UVM matchup by the numbers.
Vermont sits smack dab in the middle of D1 offensively with 2.89 goals per game. However, the difference from before and after the holiday break is stark, with Vermont only putting up 2.33 goals per game since January 1. Has the difference been in luck, or in how they've played? While it's not the be-all, end-all indicator, it's worth noting that even when their offense was flying a little higher, they were averaging about 30 shots per game, just as they have been recently. Their shooting percentage since January 1 is 7.7%, which seems to me like it's probably unsustainably low; they're better than their offense has looked over the past 6 weeks.
Not unlike BC, Vermont's offense lacks a specific standout offensive threat, but they have a number of players who have produced at a solid clip. Defenseman Mike Paliotta leads the team with a 8-19--27 line. The very talented Mario Puskarich, a sophomore, has put up 11-13--24. Co-leading the team in goals is Brady Shaw, another sophomore, who has also potted 11.
Neither one of these teams butters its bread with offense—it's team defense that's the key. But BC does have a slight edge, averaging exactly 3 goals per game, good for 18th in the country. Like Vermont, BC averages just about 30 shots per game, so don't expect one side to have a distinct territorial advantage.
Defense and goaltending
Team defense is the number one reason why Vermont has fallen off in the second half of the season. After starting the season as one of the nation's very best defensive teams with a 1.63 goals against average through December 31, Vermont has dropped off substantially defensively, averaging 3.11 goals per game—a staggering difference. After giving up about 25.6 shots per game in the first half, the second half has seen opponents generate more chances, to the tune of 28.89 shots allowed on average.
The biggest drop off in defensive numbers though has to do with the save percentage of the goaltenders. Mike Santaguida was on fire in the first half but has fallen back to earth with a .926 save percentage in the second half. He's still #2 in the country at .943 on the season, but that's a bit misleading.
Senior Brody Hoffman, who has played about half of the games this season, has been even worse, with a .875 save percentage. Among goaltenders who get anything even resembling regular playing time, only Minnesota's Adam Wilcox has a worse save percentage since January (which, what?).
On the lip side, BC's defense has really tightened up as the team has climbed the national rankings. They are at the exact magic number of 2.00 goals allowed per game since January 1—good for 6th in the country in that span of time, elevating BC to #17 overall in team defense after a pretty bad start to the year.
Part of Vermont's defensive downfall can simply be attributed to having a pretty light non-conference schedule, facing Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Air Force, along with "non-conference" games against Maine. I think it's fair to say that they're not nearly the defensive team they looked to be early in the season.
BC's power play woes (13.2%) are well-documented on this site, though obviously things have looked much better since the long and awful power play stretch through November and December. Vermont, on the other hand, relies heavily on the power play, chiming in at #8 nationally at 22.1%. It's actually been, remarkably, *even better* in the second half, at 28.9%, which says a lot about their even-strength offensive woes. So needless to say, staying out of the box and not letting UVM's potent power play go to work will be essential.
It's particularly essential given that the penalty kill—so often a team strength for BC—has been a real weakness in recent weeks. During the second half, BC is #22 in the nation at killing penalties (84.3%). That's not good enough, especially not when you're one of the most penalized teams in the country, chiming in at #7 nationally in shorthanded attempts.
In recent weeks and overall, BC has the statistical edge over Vermont in most categories, and it's fair to hope for 4 points this weekend, even though Vermont will be tough, particularly having to face them twice. That power play for Vermont is the one thing that really sticks out as a strength and it's a huge key to keep an eye on.