After a solid sweep of the Vermont Catamounts, the Huskies turn their attention to the north as they travel to the Granite State to take on the surging New Hampshire Wildcats. New Hampshire is coming off a bye last weekend.
Wildcats Lately– Before their weekend bye, the Wildcats had gone 3-2-2 in their previous seven games. The Wildcats are a surprising team this year in Hockey East, predicted in the preseason poll to finish ninth in the conference. As of this writing, the Wildcats are eighth but have been playing better than many expected. Their season holds signature wins over Boston College and Maine, and their best out-of-conference win was against Miami. In conference, they are 7-7-5, and are 11-10-8 overall.
Team Statistics– UNH is a below-average possession team, sitting 42nd in the nation in Corsi% at 48.3%. They have a shot differential of -102, or -3.5/game. They perform marginally better at even strength (49.4%). Their powerplay is once again an asset, performing at a 21.5% success rate, one of the best in the nation (16th). Their penalty is similarly successful, at 84.2%, 17th in the nation. Finally, UNH is one of the worst teams in the nation at faceoffs (47%), which should play into Northeastern’s hands well.
Players of Note– Their leading scorer this year is junior Liam Blackburn (10-14-24). He is followed by their top freshman performer and Ottawa Senators draft pick Angus Crookshank (9-13-22, 136 shot attempts) and senior captain Ara Nazarian (12-10-22), giving the Wildcats a well-balanced scoring attack at the top. They have some scoring depth as well, with Charlie Kelleher (3-17-20) serving as a great playmaker like his brother Tyler used to be for the Wildcats, as well as contributions from freshman Jackson Pierson (7-11-18) and former 20-goal scorer Patrick Grasso (7-8-15, 137 shot attempts). Their defensive attack is led by Max Gildon (5-14-19, 114 shot attempts) while three other defensemen have seven points.
Their goaltending has been anchored by sophomore Mike Robinson, a former third round pick of San Jose. Overall he has saved an excellent 92.3 percent of shots faced, and allows 2.25 goals per game. His conference stats are slightly worse than that. He actually has a save percentage over 91.5% at even strength and when shorthanded, which is rare for a goaltender to do- not even Cayden Primeau has stats like that.
Final Thoughts– Similar to last weekend, this is a series that NU cannot really afford to drop any games from a PairWise perspective. The Huskies will play UNH three times out of their remaining five games, so those six points will be huge in influencing the final standings in Hockey East. Winning two of the three should be realistic, but all three need to be the goal. The Huskies came out flat in game one against Vermont, and absolutely cannot replicate that the remainder of the season. If they play like they did in the Beanpot, they can surely beat anyone.
UNH has much better special teams than either UVM, BC, or BU even, so the Huskies will need to capitalize their even strength chances and continue to play disciplined hockey. They finally cashed in on a powerplay against UVM, which has a top penalty kill unit, and UNH will similarly be a tough challenge even up an extra man.
As mentioned earlier, UNH has scoring depth, but nearly all of it is in the forwards- outside of Gildon, who is one of the top defenseman talents in the conference, the defensemen leave a lot to be desired offensively. So keying in on the forwards will be important. I want to highlight Grasso, who started the season ice-cold but has turned the heat up recently, scoring ten of his fifteen points since the New Year, including five goals. He has history as an excellent scorer and powerplay threat. With passers like Crookshank and Kelleher, the Huskies need to be aware of where Grasso, and fellow goal scorers Nazarian and Blackburn are at all times.
Finally, these games will be played in Durham, meaning the BIG ICE will be a factor. UNH plays on an Olympic-sized rink, which is wider than a standard NCAA or NHL-sized rink. The open space has previously been a poor fit for the Huskies, but recently their fortunes have turned. The Huskies certainly have the skill to use the larger ice area to their offensive advantage; maintaining proper positioning defensively will be crucial for them to escape with Hockey East points.
Fallon (29 points)- NU wins 3-2, Tie game 2-2
Davis (23 points)- NU wins 3-2, Tie game 2-2
Downie (23 points)- NU sweeps 3-1, 3-1
Gordon (21 points)- NU sweeps 4-2, 3-2