The real kickoff (puck drop?) of the second half is upon us this weekend, as Northeastern takes the longest trip in Hockey East to visit the Alfond Arena and face the Maine Black Bears. The trip to Orono is usually considered one of the most difficult in college hockey, and this season has been no different, as Maine enters this matchup with just 2 wins in 10 games away from home but a 5-3-0 record on their own ice. The Huskies come in off a shutout loss to Merrimack, snapping the longest winning streak in college hockey at 8 games.
Northeastern needs to find their scoring groove again this weekend after a trio of lackluster games over the break, a 2-1 overtime win over RPI, a 2-0 win over Alabama-Huntsville, and the aforementioned loss to Merrimack, none of which should be classified as games where the Huskies ever really got going. Ryan Ruck performed well in Cayden Primeau’s stead, but the Huskies have their main attraction back now and he shouldn’t leave the starting lineup for the remainder of the season. There’s probably some lineup shuffling to be desired after such a “meh” run of games, but honestly it’s hard to argue anybody is worthy of being shuffled up from the bottom six either. Shuffling the lineup after a loss is a staple of the Northeastern coaching staff though so if I had to guess, I would expect Friday to be no different, especially after a relatively angry Jim Madigan voiced his displeasure with the forwards in his postgame comments on Saturday Night.
The Black Bears are led by the usual suspects, junior Chase Pearson is the main scoring threat with an 11-7-18 line thus far on the season, while classmate Mitchell Fossier has posted his own respectable 1-15-16 line as the other primary attraction. Fossier in particular has been snakebitten this year, after sporting a stratospheric shooting percentage last year he has just one single goal on 42 shots this season. The math always wins in the end, folks. Beyond them, Tim Doherty and Eduards Tralmaks are also worth watching, as are their top two defensemen of Rob Michel and Brady Keeper. None of these names should be news if you’ve followed the Black Bears in recent years, these guys have been running the team since 2017. Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup is their highest regarded newcomer, but he was also a healthy scratch last weekend, so there’s no guarantee he even sees the ice against the Huskies.
In net we find Jeremy Swayman, the second-best freshman goalie in Hockey East last season. Unfortunately, that was last season, and this season Swayman ranks 9th of the 11 qualified goalies in Hockey East with a 2.94 GAA and .913 save percentage. That somewhat speaks to the general ability of Hockey East goaltending this year (or more accurately, the lack of ability of Hockey East forwards) as .913 isn’t even remotely a bad mark, but regardless, he ranks near the bottom. Maine is also a pretty subpar shot suppressing team, as Swayman faces 34 shots on goal per game and the Black Bears have been outshot across all three periods this season.
As a team Maine is shooting just 7.8 percent, which… is actually almost average when you consider that Hockey East goalies are saving about .920 as a group this year. That combined with Swayman’s save percentage gives a PDO of 99-101 depending on the situation you’re looking at, so Maine is about what their record says they are. Their shot attempt numbers are actually pretty even too with a Corsi for% of 50.1 and a Fenwick of 49.7, which doesn’t mesh with their subpar shot-on-goal numbers at all. The only explanations are either that Maine shoots the puck wide of the net an extraordinary percentage of the time or that opposing shots are on goal an extraordinary percentage of the time. Through come cursory looks through their stats, it appears Option B is the answer, that way more of the shot attempts Maine allows become shots on goal than the national average. This could be luck, but the Black Bears also seem to have a relative propensity not to block shots, so the two may well be related. It could also mean they’re giving up significantly higher quality chances that are less likely to miss the net, but you would expect Swayman’s save percentage to suffer if that were the case, and it really hasn’t.
On to special teams, Maine posts a quite lackluster 13.7% power play and a strong 86.2% penalty kill. Those numbers add up to 99.9% which makes the Maine special teams about as average as the rest of this middle-of-the-road Hockey East team. They do take more penalties than their opponents which should theoretically give NU a slight advantage from a pure time-on-special-teams standpoint, but that doesn’t mean much if neither the Maine PP nor the Maine PK allow goals to happen.
In a quick interview with the blog, @BurntBoats, a devoted fan and follower of Maine Black Bears Hockey, described Maine’s penalty kill as extremely aggressive and constantly attacking the points, before lamenting that the Northeastern power play will not be able to execute their normal strategy of passing back and forth across the point over and over against such a setup. He suggested that Tyler Madden, the freshman who plays center-midfielder on the NU PP1 unit and has taken Hockey East by storm, could play a key role in their success against Maine.
I honestly don’t know how else to summarize any of these stats other than like this. What is Maine as a hockey team? They’re an average team getting slightly below average scoring thanks to a snakebitten forward and slightly below average goaltending through no fault of their goaltender, with advanced metrics that are solidly almost average. Their power play is the only bottom-10 team about them, while their PK is the only top 10 thing about them, which combine to essentially take special teams completely off the table in their games. What remains is just a hockey team. That’s what Maine is. They are a hockey team.
- Gordon (16 points)- 2-1 NU; 3-1 NU
- Fallon (15 points)- 4-1 NU; 3-2 NU
- Downie (15 points): 4-1 NU; 3-2 NU
- Davis (14 points): 4-2 NU; 3-1 Maine