It was not a good week for the Boston College men's hockey team. After going into the break with a wave of confidence and just two losses, a pair of defeats in Florida sees the Eagles riding a three-game losing streak and, alarmingly, sitting on the wrong side of the pairwise bubble going into a massive weekend home-and-home against Providence College. What did we learn from BC's losses to Ohio State and Providence?
1. Miles Wood has a penalty problem: To be fair, the entire team has a penalty/discipline problem, and you can't single out Wood. However, Wood has been the biggest contributor to the Eagles' nation-leading 345 penalty minutes. Wood has racked up 60 penalty minutes in 16 games, meaning that on average he's racking up just shy of a double-minor per game. It's pretty clear at this point that Wood and Colin White are probably BC's two most important offensive players, so the Eagles can't afford to have Wood spending so much time in the box. And they especially can't afford him getting himself ejected or suspended. Having Wood in the lineup against Providence could have tilted the game in BC's direction. That result could loom large come March. BC needs to do better on the discipline front and it needs to start with one of their offensive MVPs.
2. College hockey is straight-up bananas: This isn't really a BC-specific point, but it's important to keep in mind as we're seeing all these crazy results. Some of the things that happened over break: BC lost to Ohio State; Ohio State BULLDOZED a top-5 Cornell team; #1 Quinnipiac tied #51 Northeastern; Providence lost to Brown yesterday; UMass-Lowell lost to Robert Morris. This is just on the east coast. The only "national power" in the East that hasn't suffered a strange blemish in the past few weeks is Harvard. And I guess BU, since they wisely elected to just not play during the winter break.
The two larger points here are "don't panic" (though don't not be worried either—BC has played themselves into a dangerous spot and needs to rack up some wins) and also parity continues to reign supreme, so really don't expect BC or anyone to start dump-trucking the competition in the second half. Yale and Providence, two of the last three national champions, squeaked in to the NCAA tournament as the very last at-large team. Don't be surprised to see a similar tournament result this year. There's just not a lot separating all these teams aside from the bottom of the AHC.
3. BC continues to allow a lot of goals from long distance, and it's a little strange: In his always excellent goal by goal series, Grant has diagnosed a particular problem for BC over the course of their three-game losing streak: allowing goals from long distance. The BC defense continues to do a good job closing down the prime scoring areas and honestly played pretty well for the most part in the Florida tournament. But BC's forwards haven't done a good enough job aiding the defense in closing down opposing snipers who shoot from distance. It's been a recurring theme, and we've seen Thatcher Demko victimized by being screened by both opposing players and his own on key goals allowed throughout the last few games. Let's see if BC makes needed adjustments to prevent being torched from distance again this weekend.
4. Michael Kim can play: Michael Kim probably won't see regular ice time for the rest of the season barring injuries, but in his first collegiate appearance he very much looked ready for the pace of play. He can skate well, seems to have solid positional awareness, and had earned himself a good amount of playing time in his first appearance. We'll see if his number gets called again at any point this season.
5. The top teams in Hockey East are very, very close: What is both encouraging and scary about the next two weeks is that given how tight the top teams in Hockey East are, BC could just as easily go 4-0 or 0-4. BC and Providence looked pretty darn even (and this in spite of BC missing two top players, though Providence was missing one as well). They each had 19 shots over the last two periods of play, and it was just the power play* (PC went 1-for-4 while BC went 0-for-4), and possibly a quick whistle on BC's potential game-tying goal with 8 seconds left, that separated the two teams. (*Speaking of the power play, Coach York might want to consult with Women's team coach Katie King Crowley on how to get his forwards to play a little more "loosey goosey" with the man advantage. BC's PP is 38th in the country at 15.9%. With the talent the Eagles roll out with the man advantage, they really should be doing much better. With all four of their losses coming by one goal, plus one tie, a top-15 power play probably gives BC two more wins this year so far.)
It's going to be a crucial and likely razor-tight weekend. BC, Providence, Lowell, Notre Dame and even BU haven't shown much to demonstrate there's much separation between them. It wouldn't be surprising if one or two of those teams end up on the wrong side of the pairwise bubble but still end up playing themselves in to the NCAAs via the Hockey East tournament—and then win the whole thing.
What will likely determine who's able to make a run is who is able to play with confidence and a killer instinct in big situations. Over the last few games, BC has struggled on that front. They've led in the third period of every game except their early loss to RPI, and yet have failed to win in 4 of their last 5. But they still have time to find that killer instinct, and you'd rather see them have to work on that than constantly be playing catchup hockey.
It's not time to panic, but there's certainly a real urgency to this weekend's games.