Three Things I Think: Hockey East

Posted by: Joe Meloni

When both Massachusetts and UMass-Lowell left the ice on Saturday night, each club likely expected its victory to be the most surprising result of the evening.

In Amherst, the Minutemen defeated Boston College, 4-2, for its first Hockey East win of the season. The victory was UMass’ first over Boston College since Casey Wellman’s overtime winner gave the Minutemen a 4-3 decision on Nov. 22 2008. Meanwhile, about 80 miles to the east, Lowell crushed Boston University, 7-1, to pick up its own first league win of the season.

Which win was bigger for which team? Next week will give us more insight in that regard, but, for now, both teams have more confidence than they did when the weekend began. Other results throughout the league told us a few more things, and here’s just some of what I gleaned.

Ryan Flanigan is the most underrated player in Hockey East

Bill Arnold. Chris Kreider. Matt Nieto. Stevie Moses. Brian Flynn.

These are the players people like me talked about in September when we named the premier forwards in Hockey East. Flanigan, however, quietly put together a fantastic junior campaign in North Andover a season ago, including a nine-point performance in the Warriors run to the Hockey East Championship game.

Saturday night, the senior scored the game-winning goal in overtime, as his club overcame some wildly undisciplined play to beat Northeastern. Flanigan took a beautiful chip pass from Rhett Bly, skated in on NU goaltender Chris Rawlings and beat him stick-side with a perfect wrist shot as he burned through the slot.

Flanigan’s 10 points — five goals and five assists — lead the Warriors, who currently sit in second place in the league standings. At 5-0-1, Merrimack is a point behind BC, with one game at BU on Friday night ahead for the weekend. Even more impressive than the points, though, Flanigan’s plus-nine rating is tied with BC defenseman Patch Alber and BU forward Charlie Coyle for No. 1 in the league.

Warrior coach Mark Dennehy counts on Flanigan to lead the Warriors in every situation. Other players may generate more headlines, but Flanigan may be the most important player to his team in Hockey East.

BU’s reeling, but the Terriers will be just fine

I was not in Lowell Saturday night. To be honest, I didn’t really have to be. Twitter told me everything I needed to know about BU’s latest exercise in apathy.

Lowell has been better than most expected in the early going this season, still, there’s no way that UML club should beat this BU team by six goals. The Terriers may have the most talented top six forwards in the league and the most experienced goaltender in the country. Despite that, in the five games this season where they were the clear favorite (two against UMass, one against Holy Cross, one against Providence and the contest with Lowell) the Terriers are 1-3-1.

This is hardly good enough for BU coach Jack Parker, who spat a few quick words at reporters following the loss and left the press conference before returning to take questions. Obviously frustrated, Parker has tried several things this season to spark his team, including benching forward Alex Chiasson for the second game of the home-and-home pair with UMass two weekends ago. Nothing has worked to get the Terriers playing the way they can.

With all of that said, BU is more than capable of moving past its current woes and becoming one of the premier teams in Hockey East and the country. The Terriers have five days to get it together and find their rhythm with perhaps their toughest weekend of the season coming up. Merrimack visits Agganis Arena on Friday night before the Terriers make the short trip down Commonwealth Avenue for their first game against BC this season Sunday afternoon.

Northeastern is in serious trouble

Eight minutes and four seconds into Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Merrimack, Northeastern seemed a lock for its second Hockey East win of the season.

Captain Mike McLaughlin and sophomore Rob Dongara each scored, staking the Huskies to a 2-0 lead. For the next 50 minutes, both Merrimack and Northeastern did everything they could to give their opponent the two points available. These things included: a five minute major and game misconduct on Northeastern’s Josh Manson, a five minute major and game misconduct on Merrimack’s Carter Madsen with 5:44 remaining in a 2-2 tie, Northeastern going 0-for-7 on the power play, including the five minute major to Madsen, the Huskies managing just 19 shots in the game and a series of other generally bad statistics.

Now, every team in the country will play in at least one game like this. The issue for Northeastern is that it lost this game after taking an early 2-0 lead and absolutely dominating the Warriors for the first period. Merrimack took bad penalties throughout and turned the puck over in every part of the ice. Still, the Huskies failed at making anything happen.

This marks the second time in their last four games that the Huskies watched a multi-goal lead against a Hockey East team evaporate at home before losing overtime. The Huskies should have taken four points from those two games. If they did, they’d currently be tied with Providence for third place in the league. Instead, they’re deadlocked with UMass in seventh place.

It’s still early, and the Huskies have 19 league games remaining, but many of the early season problems it experienced have remained issues. Through eight games, the Huskies are two-for-37 on the power play — a robust 5.1 percent conversion rate — and average 2.3 goals per game. It’s still unclear what exactly Northeastern’s ceiling is for this season — at times the Huskies look like a home-ice team and other they look they should miss the playoffs entirely. If the final 52 minutes of Saturday night’s game are any indication, NU coach Jim Madigan’s first season may be a forgettable one.

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