Well, that did not go well at all. For the third time in their last four games, the Northeastern Huskies were on the losing side of a Hockey East battle, this time falling to Connecticut 4-1 in Hartford. The victory was UConn’s first over Northeastern in program history- they had lost the previous 8 games, all in the three season prior. It is also the fourth straight game where the Huskies failed to score 3 goals, an uncharacteristic drought for a team whose offense was considered among the best in the nation this season.
It was a very poor performance by Northeastern, and it was coupled by an absolutely dreadful streaming service via SportsLive, the host for UConn streaming. Paying $10 for the game is borderline larceny, as the stream buffered every 3-5 minutes and was grainy when it came back. As a result, the night was a bad experience for fans both at the game and watching from home, so we will break this recap up into three different sections.
The Good: Dylan Sikura scored the lone Huskies goal, a powerplay goal in the second that ricocheted off of a UConn defenseman past UConn goalie Adam Huska. This was Sikura’s first goal in conference play this year, and hopefully seeing one go in will be the trigger he needs to start finding the back of the net again. Adam Gaudette had the primary assist, which was his 100th career point as a Husky. He is the 52nd player to achieve that mark, and only the 22nd to do so in three seasons or less.
The Bad: Surprisingly, Cayden Primeau did not start the game, after performing well last weekend against Vermont and Boston College. Instead Ryan Ruck got the nod and had his worst game of the season, drawing harrowing flashbacks to last season’s performances as he let in 3 goals on 8 shots. Two goals were scored in 90 seconds by Max Letunov and Johnny Austin, and Jesse Schwartz added a backbreaker when he slide a shot under Ruck’s pads and paddle when the goaltender was in a weird semi-down, semi-butterfly position. In any case, it was bad. Ruck was pulled after the first period, and Primeau saved nine of ten shots the remainder of the game, including multiple breakaway opportunities. the lone goal against him was a tipped shot by Alexander Paysuov.
In addition, the penalty kill was successful 2 times out of 3, while the powerplay succeeded one of four times.
The Ugly: This team looks flat and dead right now. There was no energy or life in the first period at all, and there really wasn’t any until late in the second around the time of the Sikura powerplay goal. The third period saw a more aggressive Northeastern team, but it was too little, too late and they could not solve Huska any further. The zone entries for the powerplay have gotten sloppier as teams have started to sit on the drop pass, preventing the Huskies from entering the zone with speed. When the team has possession at even strength, there has been little-to-no presence in front of the net for goalie screens or rebound shots. There were multiple chances last night where rebounds came out into the slot, only to be corralled by 3 UConn Huskies while every Northeastern Husky was around the perimeter.
The offense has gone flat as well, having scored 6 goals in their previous 4 games. UConn was far and away the worst defensive team faced in that stretch, and Northeastern did not start getting a sizable shot advantage against their opponents until the third period. Northeastern has been outshot twice in their last 4 games, and through 2 periods the shots were 12-11 for Northeastern. There is no sense of offensive urgency- lots of drop passes, passes to space rather than to players, minimal cycling from what I can observe, and shots, when they do come, seem to only come from a few select players.
In their last 4 games, Sikura, Gaudette, and Stevens account for 30 percentage of the Huskies’ shots (35/117). Zach Solow has 13, though 7 came in the last Lowell game. Matt Filipe has 6. Grant Jozefek, Brandon Schultz, and Lincoln Griffin, all who have gotten time in the top six, have 9 shots on goal combined, and Jozefek has now been demoted to 4th line duties, playing either Eetu Selanne and Bobby Hampton rather than Sikura and Gaudette. There has been a severe power outage by the forward corps, and it needs to be solved ASAP if this team wants to recover and make a run for good Hockey East Tournament position and possibly the NCAA Tournament.
It is frustrating watching this team underperform to this degree when we know, and have seen, them perform at a much higher level. I can’t imagine what the Coaches feel, but as fans, frustration is the paramount emotion. We had said that Northeastern had little room for error in terms of the PairWise due to the conference’s poor standing against other conferences, and losing to a PairWise anchor like UConn does not help Northeastern’s hopes at all. We had hoped Northeastern would go 5-1 to end 2017, and while that is still possible, the idea that Northeastern could beat Merrimack three times in two weeks, with two games at Merrimack, AND beat Boston College at BC is a tall order to ask for.
The thing is, this team can do it. They just need to get it sorted out. Fast.