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Hockey Banter, Week XIV: Goalie Talk

We talk goalies and look at the expanding conference leads for the men's and women's hockey teams in this week's Banter.

Joseph Gravellese: Last week, we talked about some major lineup changes for BC, designed to keep the already-hot Eagles chugging along.

Safe to say things are looking pretty good. 6 goals against BU, 7 goals against Maine, and the "pedestrian," workmanlike 4-goal effort at Merrimack. Three wins. A big lead in the Hockey East standings. Life is good in Eagle-land.

Teddy Doherty continues to contribute from the point in his new permanent role. The offense looked deeper from top to bottom -- carried by yet another stellar weekend by the GAH! line, which continues to put up simply ludicrous numbers.

Slowly, it looks like the coaching staff is rounding the roster into the shape they want it to be in come tournament time.

Grant Salzano: It does indeed, and right on time. Funny how it happens like this in each year (or at least our successful years. Last season never did feel right).

I know a lot of us were clamoring for Linell to play F and Doherty to get in the lineup at D, but it's nice to see how the lineup is shaping up now that that's happened.

Linell gives you that additional piece to play with on the non-GAH lines, and Doherty has been something of a Matheson-Lite. A Matty Lite, if you will.

JG: Last season felt right only for a brief period of time. York juggled up the lines right before the Beanpot. BC won the Beanpot games sandwiched around a blowout win at, I think, Vermont? and things started to look like they were turning a corner. Then the next weekend they played at Merrimack and we found out that Kevin Hayes got suspended. That was the beginning of the end.

But yes, it does seem like good timing for the roster to be shaping up.

As for the "Matheson-lite" comment... well, I'm not sure I would compare the two. They have different styles. Matheson is an offensive juggernaut who also has the speed and physicality to make good defensive plays. I see Doherty as a more two-way guy who is also capable of contributing offensively, though he doesn't quite have the physical gifts of Matheson. Suffice to say, I'm happy to have both.

Now we spent plenty of tl;dr space last week talking about our happiness over Doherty's insertion into the lineup. The big story this week is between the pipes. After months of a straight rotation, York moved away from it to give Demko his second straight start on Tuesday night at Merrimack.

So let's talk about it. What are your thoughts on the goalie situation right now?

GS: Lots of room to improve.

Demko seems to take half a period lately to get up to speed. I thought he was borderline to start the Maine game. The first save was a soft shot that deflected off his glove. There was the early goal at Merrimack too.

But then he really turns it on and looks pretty good. So I don't know what the deal is with that.

JG: Well part of that can be chalked up to inexperience and inactivity, probably. It's easy to forget how long he went between games before playing at Brown a couple of weeks ago.

Also, he's the youngest player in college hockey. So nobody suspects we're getting the finished product right now.

The big question is, which goalie gives you the best chance of winning the big games?

Given that the two games this week are Merrimack and Penn State, it's safe to say @ Merrimack for two league points was the bigger game this week. And honestly, Maine was a bigger game than BU last week. So two weeks in a row, York has given the nod to Demko in the week's bigger game... potential signs of a transition.

Of course, this is assuming the rotation continues and Billett plays on Saturday. It's possible Demko plays again, and that would really be saying something.

But I'm not ready to endorse that course of action yet.

Billett's save percentage this year is .926 to Demko's .915. And Billett hasn't lost since the @Maine debacle in November. So I'm not ready to close the book on the goaltending debate. But I'd be more than happy to see Demko in net if, say, the Beanpot opener were tomorrow night.

GS: I don't think either goalie has been the reason for any victory during our winning streak. I'm sure you would agree.

JG: Well, that's for sure. A trash can in net would probably be good enough to win for BC on most nights with the way the offense is clicking.

But both goalies have put in some good performances. They haven't stolen a game... but they haven't had to. So it's hard to blame them for that when the offense is putting up 6 goals.

The closest example of a BC goalie "stealing a game" this year was probably Demko's stellar performance at the Whittemore Center when BC edged UNH in the last game before the break, back in December.

GS: I'm not sure what the answer is. I think York is doing with right thing.

Basically, Billett isn't going to lose you many games. But getting Demko the playing time in tougher games is going to better groom him for a possible late season run of starts. And if Demko does develop in these games, then I think the answer of who will give you the best chance to win is the freshman.

JG: And I think most fans agree with that. There's certainly an element of wishful thinking in the fan sentiment as everyone has such high hopes for Demko, given his pedigree, that he can be an all-time great BC goalie.

At this point my opinion remains basically unchanged, which is that I can't say I'm banking on either to be 2008 Muse and bail BC out in a big game where they're struggling to score, but neither will likely cost them a game. They've both improved throughout the season, though.

Once Penn State is out of the way, next weekend brings two big'ns: at Providence, and the Beanpot opener. So those two will really give us a good look into the state of the goaltending union.

GS: Yes, which makes it even more telling that York "swapped" Demko and Billett's rotation spots. It's now aligned that for a couple weeks now, Demko will get the tougher game without ending the rotation.

Nicely done, Jerry.

By the way, we are going to freaking paste Penn State.

JG: I sure hope so.

GS: They are awful. Their only win in their last 12 was that one goal win over Bobby Morris.

JG: Yes. They had a moral victory against Minnesota though.

GS: That game will be ugly. Johnny Gaudreau stat padder.

I'm calling it RIGHT now, Gaudreau gets his first career hat trick this weekend.

JG: Aye. well, let's hope there's no letdown. As long as BC brings at least their B, B+ game, it should be a nice boon to the average-goal numbers and the Hobey campaigns (Yes, there's now more than one BC Hobey campaign. No doubt Hayes deserves serious Hat Trick consideration. He should be a lock for the Final Ten).

GS: Well if the season were to end today, he would be in a lot of people's Final 3.

JG: Speaking of locks, BC is pretty close to simply running away with the regular season Hockey East title. There's still time for them to stumble, and a few teams have games in hand, but as long as BC plays solid hockey the rest of the way they've got the thing on lockdown already.

There will be another edition of this eventually where I vent my frustrations about the 20-game Hockey East schedule, which has sucked much of the fun out of the league season. Hopefully next year's 22-game schedule with an even number of teams makes things more enjoyable.

But the Eagles have done their part in sucking the competitiveness out by jumping out to a huge lead in an otherwise fairly even conference.

GS: Yes, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the championship race is boring not because of the number of games, but how dominant BC has been.

I was kind of hoping the game against Notre Dame would involve us clinching the conference title, since I'll be there... but it is sure looking like that game will matter for pairwise reasons only.

JG: The whole race is pretty boring, due to no more race to get into the playoffs, and the general meaninglessness of getting a first round bye (IMO) or having home ice in the 8 vs. 9 series.

I guess my opinion might change on that if I were a fan of a team in the midst of one of those battles. But as a neutral...yawn. The 4/5 home ice race and the battle to get in to the playoffs captivated me as a neutral.

GS: Well, there still is a 4/5 home ice race. It's just a 4/5 home ice race for the second round.

I think it will be interesting to see how many upsets there will be in that second round, with the top teams having the week off. We saw what happened in the women's tournament -- they stopped giving the top teams byes in the first round because they lost half their games in the second round from sitting for a week.

JG: Anyway, we'll take a deeper dive into this some other time, probably during the offseason. But my issues are compounded by the fact that there's like two league games per night most of the time. It still barely feels like the league season has even begun.

GS: That's an argument I'll definitely give you.

JG: Yeah I think the first round byes will eventually be eliminated or modified when top teams start getting cold and losing to teams that had a week to tee off on the league's cellar-dwellars.

Or when the fourth place team in Hockey East goes from 15th to 17th in the pairwise on the week when it's idle due to a first round bye.

I could go on about this all day though, so I'll restrain myself.

Speaking of regular season titles, the women's team now controls their own destiny on that front, opening up a lead on BU thanks to BU losing games to Northeastern and Providence last weekend with BC holding serve against Vermont. It looks like BU is finally coming back to earth a bit.

At this point, BC probably still needs to win the Hockey East tournament title to ensure themselves a spot in the NCAA field, but the regular season title would be nice, especially since it's one of the few things a BC team can do to literally raise a new banner to the rafters in Conte (rather than stitching new years on an old banner).

GS: I hesitate to say that we will HAVE to win Hockey East, because a strong run and a loss in the finals could reasonably have us end up 6-7th. But let's just make it easy on ourselves and win.

Interestingly, a Women's Beanpot that looked like it would be hellish is suddenly not that scary with BU and Harvard coming back to earth.

And honestly, NU beating Harvard in the first round wouldn't be surprising. Though I would rather play Harvard for the RPI points and possible TUC win.

JG: Yeah I'm still not going to count my chickens in that one. Those are going to be high-stakes, high-pressure games, for reasons far more important than the Beanpot trophy. BC will need to keep up their recent good play. Much like the men, they're finding more scoring balance lately, which is a good sign.

GS: I'm not saying we're locks (or even favored)... but it's not nearly as scary a tournament as it was a few short weeks ago.

JG: One thing's for sure, another stupid loss would be a killer. BC needs to keep beating the dregs of Hockey East like a drum. They have two games against UNH this weekend and they really need to win both, especially after losing to the Wildcats back in October. But winning at the Whitt is never an easy proposition.

Basically, the league race has taken a form that will be familiar to anyone who follows a hideously unbalanced 2-team soccer league like Spain's or Scotland's (back before they went from being a 2-team league to a 1-team league). If you blink in one of the games against the other, overmatched teams you put yourself behind the eight ball.

Should be interesting to watch. We're in the home stretch now.

Check back later this afternoon for Final Thoughts and Predictions on the Penn State game. Here's a preview of the preview: I'm guessing everyone picks BC to win.