BOSTON — Boston University defeated Merrimack, 5-2, Tuesday night at Agganis Arena. The win ended a five-game home winless streak for the Terriers. Meanwhile, the loss extended Merrimack’s own winless streak to three games.
Matt Nieto scored twice in the game and added an assist to pace the Terriers’ offense. Freshman goaltender Matt O’Connor made 32 saves to earn his first victory since Dec. 6 against New Hampshire.
What I Saw
- BU eliminated the issues that cost it so many points in January and February. The Terriers were efficient in their own zone for the most part. They didn’t give Merrimack anything in transition, nor did they allow any second or third chances. Basically, the Terriers played as well as can be expected of them after playing as poorly as can be expected for most of 2013 thus far. Tuesday night was a positive step for BU. Allowing X shots on goal may seem like a red flag, but Merrimack quickly found themselves with a multi-goal deficit to erase. At that point, they started sending everything toward the goal. O’Connor was up to it all.
- Merrimack created offense for most of the game, including the first period. In the early portion of the game, the score could’ve been flipped in Merrimack’s favor. O’Connor kept the Warriors scoreless, and the Terriers worked well in transition to create some chances. As the deficit swelled, the Warriors inflated their shot total by basically sending everything they could at O’Connor. There were rebounds to capitalize on, but the Terriers defensemen kept the low slot and goalmouth clear before the Warriors could generate much.
- BU’s best scorers were present and accounted for all night. Nieto picked up two goals, Cason Hohmann, Evan Rodrigues and Wade Megan added the others. BU scored on the rush, jamming rebounds home and with some nice shots. Tuesday was the type of offensive effort BU needs to play as late into March as it wants to. Depth scoring is important, but BU needs its best players to lead the way offensively as they did against Merrimack.
What I Thought
- I don’t think Jordan Heywood left the ice this game. The junior captain had to have played more than 30 minutes. His role with the Warriors essentially calls for him to play major minutes in every situation. Even down 5-0, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy deployed the yeoman defender to quarterback the Warrior power play. He scored to cut the deficit to 5-1, then against 1 minute, 53 seconds later to make it 5-2. The Warriors wouldn’t get much closer, and Tuesday wasn’t Heywood’s best night of the season. It was, however, another example of the importance of Heywood on this Merrimack roster.
- BU adjusted well to Merrimack after some potentially rough stretches in the second period. When BU had numbers up ice, Merrimack didn’t have much of an answer. During breakouts, the Warriors took away certain options that BU often focuses most heavily on. Last weekend, Lowell presented similar issues. BU didn’t recognize those mistakes and tried to pass their way through the perfectly aligned River Hawks. BU took what Merrimack presented them on Tuesday and created strong possession below the circles after winning races and puck battles. There were many positives in the 5-2 win aside from the score for BU. Even as Merrimack tallied a few late ones to erase the shutout and tighten the came, BU finished the game without much of an issue.
- Merrimack will have a hard time winning in the Hockey East tournament and beyond without more scoring. Mike Collins has carried the Warriors for long stretches of the season. The junior’s 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) lead Merrimack and are 18 greater than Heywood’s 17, which are second on the team. The defenseman chipped in a pair of goals on Tuesday, but there wasn’t much else in terms of quality looks for the Warriors. Among forwards, Shawn Bates’ six goals are the second highest on the team. Teams key to shut down their opponents’ best players in the season’s defining games. Merrimack needs someone to create offense if its going to win anything this season.
What They Said
“Four games left and we’re one point out.” — Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy
Dennehy was noticeably unhappy after the game. His team wasn’t at its best, and there were other factors affecting his mood — mostly officiating. Regardless, Dennehy is certainly correct. The Warriors could be in much worse position. With two games apiece remaining with UMass-Lowell and UMass, the Warriors are in position to control their own playoff fate with some big wins. It will take more than the effort they displayed on Tuesday, though.
What They Didn’t Say
Mark Dennehy was very careful not to say too much about the officiating on Tuesday. BU had eight power plays in the game. Merrimack had six. Neither team was lacking for chances, and I didn’t think any call was particularly poor, nor were there any missed that seemed obvious. Coaches, fans, players, everyone, really, is going to have issues with officiating. Dennehy seemed to have a greater issue than usual on Tuesday night.
What Else You Should know
- BU’s win, paired with Massachusetts-Lowell’s win over Boston College, creates a four-way tie atop Hockey East. BC, Providence, New Hampshire and UML all have 28 points. Merrimack is in fifth place, one point off first. BU, meanwhile, is in sixth place, two points out of first place. It’s not strange to see a league so close this late in the season. With this many teams fighting over the league’s four home ice spots, though, it’s should make for a fantastic finish.
- The win also lifted BU back into a more favorable Pairwise position. The Terriers are now 18th in the Pairwise, beginning the night at 23rd. Merrimack went the opposite falling from 22nd to 29th in the rankings. All any team hoping for an at-large bid can do is win the games in front of them with so many other factors impacting the Pairwise.
- BU hosts Vermont for a pair of games starting Friday night at Agganis Arena.