Three Things I Think, February 21

Posted by: Joe Meloni

During playoff races, it’s not uncommon to hear coaches discuss the value of “controlling your own destiny.” The ability to clinch playoff spot or positioning with wins is the preference for coaches and players in any sport. For Massachusetts and Northeastern, though, that may no longer be the case.

Currently, the clubs are knotted in eighth place in Hockey East, dangerously close to falling subject to the league’s tiebreaking scenarios. The first of which is head-to-head record in conference games. The clubs tied, 3-3, to open the season. UMass defeated Northeastern, 4-2, on Nov. 12 in Amherst, and Northeastern beat UMass, 4-3, in overtime on Feb. 3. So that tiebreaker won’t get us anywhere.

The second tiebreaker is wins in Hockey East play. Both teams currently have seven.

So this is where we get to control of each teams’ destinies being taken from them. The third tiebreaker is record against first-place team. If that’s tied, it falls to record against second-place team and so on. Currently, Boston College occupies the top spot in the conference, which gives the Minutemen the tiebreaker over Northeastern for the time being.

Now, with each team having four games left, it’s likely that we’ll have a clear cut eighth-place team by the time the regular season ends — around 10 p.m. on March 3. However, BC, Massachusetts-Lowell, Boston University and Maine are all still very much alive for the league regular season title. Should either UMass or Northeastern play well enough to separate from the other, the control of their destiny remains in their hand. However, neither has done so to this point, and there’s no reason to believe either will.

Merrimack needs to find its offense

Even after a sweep at the hands of BC, Merrimack is still just two points shy of Maine for the final home ice spot in the Hockey East Tournament. However, the pair of losses continued a difficult stretch for the Warriors, who have gone 1-4-1 in their last six and 6-9-5 since starting the season 9-0-1.

Winning with defense is fine, and that principle has positioned Merrimack to compete for a Hockey East Championship. Still, that feat won’t come without more offense. In its last six games, Merrimack has averaged 1.5 goals per game, going 1-4-1 in that stretch. Only a visit to defensively challenged UMass resulted in a win for the Warriors. They defeated the Minutemen, 4-3, that night. In the other five games of this six-game stretch, MC has scored just five goals combined.

Players, such as Mike Collins, Ryan Flanigan and Jesse Todd, have struggled to contribute in these last three weekends. Collins is without a goal since Feb. 3 and has just two in the second half of the season. Flanigan, similarly, has only netted a pair during the stretch run.

Injury problems have factored into the struggles to an extent. Regardless, Merrimack has fallen out of a home ice spot and is among the last teams out of the NCAA tournament based on the current PairWise figures. The defense, led by goaltender Joe Cannata, has held strong for the most part, but the Warriors need to find their offense to earn home ice in these final two weekends.

With two weekends left, Lowell’s Scott Wilson is the league’s top freshman

BC’s Johnny Gaudreau has overcome his midseason struggles, scoring seven goals and assisting on six more in his last 13 games. His resurgence led BC to its third straight Beanpot, not to mention the top of the league standings and the No. 1 spot in the PairWise. Gaudreau has been one of the best players in the league in the last month and should be for years to come.

That said, UMass Lowell’s Scott Wilson should win the league’s freshman of the year award. Currently, Wilson’s 15 goals and 16 assists place him atop the scoring chart among league freshmen and on the UML roster. Moreover, his role within the UML lineup bears more pressure than Gaudreau’s. BC is clearly the more talented team, allowing BC coach Jerry York to play Gaudreau to his strengths. We don’t have numbers on offensive zone starts or special teams time on ice, but it’s safe to assume Gaudreau does not play the same role in all three zones that Wilson does for UML.

Consistency also favors Wilson in the two-player race. Gaudreau began his collegiate career with five goals and five assists in his first nine games. In his next 14 games, he picked up just five points. It’s not uncommon for a freshman to experience this type of cold spell, and Gaudreau has certainly found his game since. Wilson, however, never experienced the type of scoreless streak that Gaudreau did. He has ¬†gone consecutive games without a point just twice and reached the scoresheet in 19 of his 28 games. This along with his penalty killing duties and a plus-13 rating give him the edge.

Each player has four league games remaining, which gives Gaudreau a great chance to pass Wilson among the league’s scoring leaders. Should that happen, Wilson still gets the nod in my opinion, playing a greater role a less talented team that has achieved a similar level of success.

Gaudreau is going to be a star in Hockey East for however long he remains in Chestnut Hill, but Scott Wilson has been the better, more consistent player this season — and there’s no reason to believe he won’t maintain that excellence for the length of his stay at the Tsongas Center.

Leaman mum on leading goal-scorer Tim Schaller, other PC players need to step up

Following Saturday’s 2-2 tie at Northeastern, PC coach Nate Leaman said defenseman Daniel New will be back in the lineup for the Friars for their home-and-home with BC next weekend. This is good news. However, based on the player whose health Leaman didn’t address, there is also some bad news. Leading goal-scorer Tim Schaller left Friday night’s tie with Northeastern in the first period and did not return during the weekend.

On Saturday, Leaman was asked about his status along with that of New and defenseman Mark Adams. He only provided an answer for New, so the only certainty is that New will play this weekend. Should Schaller remain on the sideline for any extended period of time, the Friars will need to find some offense to replace their first line center.

The Friars are 4-7-3 in the second half of the season, and the absence of Schaller for seven games played a major role in their struggles. He missed six games earlier with mononucleosis and another for undisclosed reasons. In those seven games, PC was 2-5-0, averaging just 1.5 goals per game without Schaller. This, compared to 3.09 per game when he is in the lineup.

Shane Luke, Ross Mauermann and others will need to find their scoring touch with the junior sidelined. Luke’s presence in the lineup after being granted eligibility for the second half has helped PC to an extent, but Mauermann, a freshman, has slowed down drastically in the second half. He has just five assists in his last 10 games, after scoring eight goals and picking up nine assists in his first 20.

The injury and extent are unknown at this moment. Should Schaller be out for the length of the regular season, the Friars will need to find new sources of offense to finish the season strong ahead of the Hockey East Tournament. PC is currently one point clear of New Hampshire in sixth place in the league, but could still miss the playoffs altogether.

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