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Hockey Banter, Week XX: Catching Up

BC was up and down last week against Vermont. They'll need to tighten things up for the stretch run.

BC Heights

Joseph Gravellese: I'm concerned right now about the way the last two weeks have gone. Not *panicked*—I am not really capable of *panic!* because my expectations are pretty well in check—but the high I was riding through January has certainly fallen off. The last four games have been uneven at best.

That said, they're right in the mix. Which is all you could have asked for two months ago.

Grant Salzano: Yes, that's a good point about having expectations in check. We're in a very very good spot right now relative to the beginning of the season and that's important.

For a while it looked like we weren't going to have the fun of a tournament run at all but at the very least, we have a ride to enjoy.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm writing the season off. I'm not. I still think we have an upset in us to make it to the Frozen Four or to win Hockey East. But even if we get neither, at least we have the fun of a grind it out season.

JG: We do. It's not written in stone. They really need to finish strong here to punch their ticket, and the schedule is tricky.

I'm worried about how the team has played in the last four games at such a critical time in the season. It feels like BC really got into a groove in January and things have flatlined since then.

Between the Northeastern game, the @ Merrimack game, and the first Vermont game, BC basically went 8 out of 9 periods looking abysmal 5-on-5 in terms of generating offense.

That's really troublesome.

Then on Saturday night, the offense came to play, but there was a real lack of focus in their own end that allowed a pretty mediocre Vermont team to hang around. The sharpness hasn't been there.

GS: At Merrimack was, Merrimack.

The Northeastern game wasn't terrible. Northeastern has been on an absolute tear.

JG: They have been, which is why I chalked the "meh" even strength performance there up to NU's strength. But then they followed it up with more meh against two meh teams. That's a lot of meh.

GS: The first UVM game was a legitimate dud, but this is a really young team, and they're college kids, so you can't expect them to be professional-quality heads-in-the-game-all-night-urr'-night guys.

JG: I don't think it's a coincidence that the unevenness has been combined with the absence of Linell and Silk, which has led to BC moving Teddy Doherty up to forward and rolling 5 D.

GS: Errr...could be. But you weren't really getting much out of that line to begin with.

JG: You weren't. It's not so much the loss of what those guys bring, it's the trickle-down effect on the rest of the lineup—especially the impact of shortening the bench.

Doherty has actually been pretty good up front, with a goal and an assist. He has the skill to make it stick there. But I think it's really hurting BC in their own end, especially in terms of transition ability.

GS: I see what you're saying. Yeah, you aren't so much losing a third liner as you are a top end blue liner.

It's similar to the middle third of the season when we lost Santini, except we didn't really "lose" Doherty; he's just being forced to fill in elsewhere.

JG: And, just, I know it's unfairly singling out one guy but really, Matheson is a -5, and keeps getting seemingly more and more minutes in more and more situations.

Now I know he's always out there against opponents' top players. But I just find it strange that the staff moved Doherty forward, who has the best +/- on the team, but continues to rely on Matheson as the defensive anchor...who, uh, seems to find his way into a lot of your GIFs.

GS: Watching from home so often it's hard to see names on our grainy stream (Hi, Bates! Can we work on a new platform please?), buy when I convert to GIFs and watch what's happening...Matheson really is involved in the opponents goals way, way too much.

Do you think he could do with a night in a suit? Or is that too extreme?

JG: Well, I don't think BC could afford that.

GS: Can they afford NOT to?

JG: He's too valuable to what they do, with the way he transitions from defense to offense. He leads the team with 17 assists and is crucial in what semblance of offensive dynamism the team has.

Also...they won't even play Travis Jeke instead of basically-benched Peter McMullen as the 6th D. So how do they replace Matheson and his minutes?

GS: ......With Jeke?

Unless he has Ebola.

JG: They can't sit Matheson. Not this year. You've got what you've got.

There's obviously something up with Jeke that we don't know about. There's no other explanation for the staff's complete unwillingness to play him.

Maybe this is an Evan Richardson-type situation where there was some sort of disconnect between the staff and the player in terms of role or whatever and it's leading to him getting shelved. Because BC is essentially choosing to play shorthanded rather than dress Jeke.

Anyway, back to Matheson. Yeah, they can't afford to bench him or even really reduce his minutes. But they also can't afford to see him continue to be so error-prone.

Want to hear an optimistic take?

GS: I do!

JG: In December, I looked at this team and thought "They will get better, because there's almost no way the power play doesn't improve, and guys ilke Gilmour, Sanford, and Tuch don't start scoring at least a little bit more." We basically had that exact conversation. And it came true!

Well, the only two things I can identify where I feel like there's an X factor where BC can really improve are penalties (taking fewer of them, and killing the ones they take), and Matheson's contribution.

I'm not entirely convinced they are even capable of taking fewer penalties. This has been a long-term trend. But they were killing penalties well earlier in the year, so I feel like they can improve. And Matheson can play better as well.

GS: That is a pretty good take. Yeah, I think where they can improve the most dramatically is on the penalty kill. That has cost them a couple games here I think.

JG: It sunk them against Northeastern and really made their task tougher against Vermont. They're lucky it hasn't cost them more games.

GS: But I do like how we've seen (other than a clunker here and there) that they have the work ethic where it's not inconceivable that they could make a run.

JG: Yeah, no, absolutely. I thought the game against Vermont stunk on Friday night, but they were right back to flying around and outworking their opponent on Saturday (even if it was a shaky performance overall).

GS: We're in a good place—the ability to make something happen in the tournament without the expectation of it. That's...well, not stress-free, but lower stress anyway.

JG: So while I was looking up Matheson's +/-, I got a list of who's "minus" in the +/- stat right now.

GS: Alright let's see it.

JG: I'm mildly surprised by some of these names, and don't have any hot takes, but throw this out for you to chew on.

Fitzgerald -1
Linell -1
Straight -3
Savage -4
Matheson -5
Smith -7

I really don't have any #analysis of that. Savage and Matheson, you can sort of tell by watching them that they've had their struggles from time to time. Fitzgerald you can chalk up I think to being all over the place in terms of line combinations. He has been fine. I think with Smith, it's a case of often being rolled out there on a defensive unit against higher-flying lines, though odd that Sit is a +3.

GS: Wow, well, most of those fit, but 1) I can't believe Fitzgerald is there at all, and 2) I'm really surprised Smith is SO minus.

JG: Me too. Obviously +/- isn't infallible, there are lots of variables in there, but I do find it to be one of the most useful tools we have in the statistical toolbox, at least in terms of what data is available at the college level.

GS: Honestly I think we're unimpressive enough of a team where just by normal variance some guys are just going to be down there.

How about +/- for the new year only?

JG: That's a great question.

Here are the minus guys since January 1:

Linell (-1)
Straight (-1)
Gaudreau (-1)
Calnan (-2)
Matheson (-3)
Sit (-3)
Smith (-4)

This looks a bit more even. Calnan, Smith and Sit have often been on a line together.

GS: Okay so pretty close.

JG: Fitzgerald is +3 in the new year. Tuch, Gilmour and Sanford are leading the way among the forwards. Noteworthy, though is that Calnan has four goals in that negative stretch.

Which leads me into a wrapping-up point:

I expect Pirate Jerry to make some tweaks right as the playoffs start, because he always does. But he has limited tools to work with. Linell is probably not coming back—he broke his pelvis. Which sucks for him, because he's a senior and he was having a pretty solid year.

But Silk might be back. If he is back, I assume he slots in at forward and Doherty goes back to D, and I think you see Calnan moved into the top 6, effectively loading up the top 6 forwards again.

GS: That sucks for Linell. But hopefully Silk can contribute.

JG: Tuch, Gilmour and Sanford have been excellent and imposing in the second half. I think you try to find some lightning in a bottle with Fitzgerald, Cangelosi, and Calnan. Then you have two lines where you really don't have a whole lot of production, but guys who have had some flashes of good play.

I think that's probably what you have to roll with when the playoffs come. But Pirate Jerry is full of surprises. And his ideas are usually a lot better than mine, what with the 970ish NCAA wins.

GS: Indeed.

Optimistic for Lowell?

JG: I don't know. I have no prediction. Lowell is hard to peg right now. They just whooped UMass to bust out of their slump...but it's UMass, so it almost doesn't count.

GS: It's getting to be that time of year. Hope springs eternal, man.

JG: Let us hope. There is potential. Get into the right regional and the Frozen Four is not out of the question. But neither is falling apart here. So that should make things fun.