NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Merrimack’s perfect start and 11-game home winning streak came to an end Friday night, as Northeastern forced a 1-1 tie at Lawler Arena. Merrimack’s Rhett Bly opened the scoring at 14:20 of the second period when he took a Jesse Todd pass, snuck behind the Husky defense and beat Chris Rawlings (34 saves) five-hole. After killing off six penalties in the first two periods, including a five-minute major, Northeastern (1-4-2, 1-4-2 HE) tied the game 57 seconds into the third when Justin Daniels knocked home a rebound for his team-leading fifth goal of the season. Joe Cannata made 30 saves for the Warriors (6-0-1, 4-0-1 HE).
What I saw
-Northeastern lacked discipline and was playing with fire by taking so many penalties. Two of the Huskies’ penalties came in the offensive zone — a hook by Vinny Saponari as he was trying to force a turnover, and a trip by Joseph Manno after he gave the puck away. Additionally, Manno’s trip came just 20 seconds after the freshman had served an elbowing penalty. Another freshman, Adam Reid, received a five-minute major and game misconduct in the second for hitting to the head. Then in the third, Cody Ferriero negated a hitting after the whistle penalty on Kyle Bigos by retaliating with a slash.
-The Huskies looked like a totally different team from when they were here two weeks ago. In that meeting (a 4-1 loss), Merrimack dominated time of possession and wore the Huskies down, ultimately scoring three goals in the third to seal the victory. This game was much more of a back-and-forth affair — at least, it was when the Huskies weren’t in the sin bin. Instead of wearing down as the game went on, this time it was the Huskies who controlled play in the third. They outshot Merrimack 15-10 in the frame (and then 2-0 in overtime), and had more chances to capture two points than the Warriors did.
What I thought
-Northeastern’s penalty kill embodied the bend-but-don’t-break mentality. Merrimack entered the game with the best power play in Hockey East and had plenty of chances to score on the man advantage Friday night. The Huskies didn’t do a great job of clearing the zone on the PK, but they did congest it. For the most part, they just packed it in and did their best to take away shooting lanes. The Warriors still got 14 shots through on their six power plays, but the Huskies blocked almost just as many (they blocked 19 overall in the game). Chris Rawlings playing great in net certainly helped the PK, too.
-Speaking of Rawlings, both goalies looked very good. Rawlings’ most notable save came early in the first when Ryan Flanigan (Merrimack’s leading scorer) blew by the Northeastern defense only to have his backhand bid denied by Rawlings. Cannata wasn’t tested as much as Rawlings through the first two periods, but he made some big saves down the stretch to keep the game tied.
What they said
“That was a hard-fought game. You had to expect that, coming off three losses, Northeastern was gonna be fired up. I thought they played a great game. They did a lot of things that gave us problems. But I was proud of our guys. We found a way to get a point.” -Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy
You would expect that there might be a little disappointment from the Warriors, given that it was their first non-win of the season and that it came at home (where they’ve been so good the last few years) against a one-win team. But that wasn’t the case. Dennehy, Rhett Bly and Jesse Todd all seemed, maybe not thrilled, but at least content with the effort. They obviously all pointed to things Merrimack needs to do better — cycle the puck, convert on the power play, win more 1-on-1 battles — but they certainly weren’t disappointed.
What they didn’t say
A couple of the calls against Northeastern might have been a little questionable, including Reid’s game misconduct, but coach Jim Madigan didn’t even mention officiating in his postgame press conference. He just said his guys needed to do a better job avoiding penalties, which is also very true.
What else you should know
-Merrimack forward Shawn Bates left the game in the second period with what appeared to be a left arm injury and did not return. Bates was seen later in the game walking around with a sling on the arm. Dennehy said after the game that he didn’t have any update on the extent of the injury or on how long Bates will be out.
-With his assist on Bly’s goal, Ryan Flanigan now has a 14-game point streak dating back to last season. He leads the Warriors in goals (4), assists (5) and points (9) this season.
-The Warriors and Huskies conclude their season series Saturday night at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m.