Photo credit: Matthew Healey via Boston Herald
BOSTON – The Hockey East home stretch continues for Northeastern this weekend with a home-and-home set against the Merrimack Warriors. This is a prime opportunity for the Huskies: the Warriors currently hold the #8 seed in Hockey East, the final home-ice playoff slot, with 7 points. They sit 2 points ahead of NU with 2 games in hand. These games are crucial for the point-starved Huskies, but Mark Dennehy’s club will pose an interesting challenge.
Merrimack has had a thoroughly “Merrimack” season to this point. They are a middling 8-11-3 overall and 2-5-3 in conference play. They’re 6-5-1 at Lawler Rink, but just 1-5-2 on the road. They had been up and down for nearly the entire season, until recently sliding into a losing skid with a 2-5-0 record in their last 7 games.
Like most Dennehy squads, team defense has carried the load. Merrimack sits 19th in the nation at 2.64 goals allowed per game. This can be attributed in large part to the team’s possession abilities. The Warriors are 23rd in even strength CF% nation-wide, checking in at 51.5. On average, they also outshoot their opponents 27.6 to 26.3. On top of this, the Warrior defense may actually be getting better thanks to a goaltending change. Sophomore Drew Vogler started 12 of the first 13 games of the season, playing to the tune of a .908 save percentage. Junior Collin Delia has since started 7 of 9 games, improving on that number significantly (.926 in those 7 starts).
As always, though, scoring has been the Achilles heel in North Andover. Merrimack is tied for 51st out of 60 Division I hockey teams in goal scoring, posting a measly 2.23 goals per game. For perspective – Merrimack’s opposition has played defense at a level that would rank 10th in the country for goals allowed per game. That is truly impressive for a middle-of-the-pack Hockey East team. The individual statistics aren’t pretty either. Junior forward Brett Seney (a Devils draft pick) leads the team with 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists). This number doesn’t even crack the top 80 scorers in the country. Senior forward Hampus Gustafsson leads the team with 9 goals (16 points total) and junior forward Jace Hennig has 10 points (7 assists) as well. Otherwise, the stat sheet is pretty barren for Merrimack. No one else has more than 10 points and just 4 players total have more than 3 goals.
The road map for Northeastern here is clear. The Huskies need to nab a quick goal or two and make Merrimack beat them with the worst phase of its game. It should also be noted that Merrimack doesn’t play well from behind. The Warriors are 6-1-1 when leading after one period, versus 2-10-2 when trailing or tied. Northeastern should also be able to build on this advantage with special teams. For a strong defensive team, the Warrior penalty kill is rather mediocre (36th in D1, 81.5%). The power play is also abysmal (56th, 11.21%). This all adds up to a Hockey East-worst -11 net special teams mark, while NU is a conference-best +16.
Merrimack’s schedule is mixed the rest of the way. The club has 7 games against NU, Connecticut, Maine, and UMass; it also has 5 games against BU, Vermont, and BC. There are still a lot of points for the Warriors’ taking, though, so this weekend’s games are absolutely crucial for the Huskies’ playoff hopes.
Davis (9-9-2) : NU sweeps, 6-2, 3-2
Downie (10-7-3) : NU wins 7-4, Ties 2-2
Fallon (12-6-2-): NU 3-2, Merrimack 3-2