The Northeastern Huskies have Friday Night off this weekend before playing their next “series” with Boston University, with the first game at Agganis Arena on Saturday Night before the return matchup at Matthews on Homecoming next Friday, November 10th. The Terriers are, besides a rival, a perennial NCAA Tournament team that features an annual showcase of present and future first round NHL picks, and thus always a good gauge for finding out whether your team has a chance to make noise on the national landscape.
While the Huskies are off to a 2-0-0 start in conference play for the first time since 2012 and sit at 4-2-1 overall, things haven’t gone quite as well for the Terriers, who enter the weekend with a 3-4-1 (1-1-1) mark. However, they have played a significantly harder slate of games than Northeastern thus far, including matchups with #1 Denver, #6 Providence, #9 Minnesota State twice, and #11 Quinnipiac. While BU is 0-4-0 in the games against top ten opponents, they did pick up a win aganst a Quinnipiac squad that would go on to sweep the Huskies, and are still a team that can’t be taken lightly despite the underwhelming start.
Unfortunately for Northeastern, the advanced metrics reinforce that thought and point to a BU team that has played well despite tough competition and haven’t gotten many bounces through the first month of the season. While their Corsi for is sitting at 49.4% it bumps up to 51.1% in close situations, the Terriers’ star-studded lineup is shooting just 8.2% overall, with a mark of 4.2% at even strength and an almost unfathomable 1.7% in close situations. That kind of bad shooting luck would be unsustainable for Sacred Heart, nevermind a team as talented as BU, and their .942 PDO in close situations (for a team that has regularly surpassed the 1.02 mark in recent seasons) reinforces that not a whole lot has gone BU’s way. It’s actually kind of impressive that they’ve won 3 games in spite of that, honestly.
Star returnee Jake Oettinger has been the definition of “okay” in net so far this season, posting a very average .907 save percentage while playing every minute for BU between the pipes. The offense is being led by Bobo Carpenter, who somehow has 6 goals on 30 shots this season despite exactly 0 coming at even strength (4 power play, 2 shorthanded). Although 5 of those goals came in one weekend against UConn, and that particular team of Huskies seems only midly more impressive than an AHC squad at this point. Patrick Harper and Shane Bowers are tied for second on the team with 4 goals a piece, though once again with a caveat, Harper hasn’t scored since October 8th and Bowers hasn’t found twine since October 13th. Star freshman Brady Tkachuk has yet to score since joining the Terriers while Jordan Greenway has only scored once thus far.
Though bad luck is certainly a factor in the Terriers’ scoring woes, it should be noted that they also take a disproportionate number of shots from the point. Three of their top four players in shot attempts are defensemen and Kotkansalo isn’t far behind (for comparison, only three of the top eleven Huskies in shot attempts are defensemen, and Davies, arguably their best defenseman so far this year, ranks seventh). It goes without saying that point shots generally go in at a lower rate and that shooting from closer to the net generally provides higher scoring chances, but Carpenter, Greenway, and Tkachuk have still combined for 76 shots on goal in 8 games, so the top line firepower hasn’t exactly been lacking in effort regardless of that tidbit.
The special teams battle may well decide the contest between these two talented teams, and BU’s special teams are here to light the lamp, whether it’s theirs or their opponents. Their power play is operating at a blistering 26.5% clip while their penalty kill, not to be outmatched, is allowing goals at an even higher 29.8% rate. Add in the two shorthanded goals by Carpenter and 21 of the 45 goals in BU games have come on special teams ths year, over 2.5 goals per game. One more tendency to keep an eye on is that the Terriers generally come out of the gate hot, with a +21 shot differential in the first period this year and a -14 after, while 12 of their 24 goals against have come in the second. If the Huskies get into the locker room tied or, preferably, in the lead, they should be in good shape.
It’s always a fun weekend when the Huskies and Terriers get together, and the Hockey East Unbalanced Schedule Memorializing Notre Dame has given us an extra week to soak it in this year. While it isn’t quite a Monday Night in February yet, these games should provide a picture of whether the Huskies are a threat at the top of Hockey East this season, and should also provide an interesting opportunity to compare where this team goes with (on Saturday) and without (next Friday) Dylan Sikura this year, as he misses the second game to compete for Team Canada in what’s likely a preview of where he’ll be playing in February.
Predictions: (2 points for correct result, +1 for correct score, -1 for incorrect result)
Downie (3 points): BU 5 Northeastern 4; Northeastern 3 BU 2
Fallon (2 points): BU 5, Northeastern 3; BU 4, Northeastern 2
Davis (2 points): BU 4, Northeastern 2; Northeastern 3, BU 1