Trading Shutouts, Huskies Split with UMass

In a weekend of shutouts, the Huskies split a home-and-home series with the UMass Minutemen, losing on Friday at the Mullins Center by a score of 3-0, before taking the Matthews Arena portion of the weekend 5-0 on Saturday. Cayden Primeau started both games for Northeastern, saving 19 shots in his shutout performance Saturday, including multiple UMass breakaways.

It was a day-and-night performance for the Huskies, with Friday being arguably the worst-played game of the season before countering with one of their finest performances on Saturday. On Friday, the Huskies put 29 shots on net but could not get one past goaltender Matt Murray. Mitchell Chaffee scored twice for UMass, who tallied 3 goals on 29 shots of their own.

For Friday, it’s tough to find positives to write about. The penalty kill got plenty of work- Northeastern accumulated 38 penalty minutes as a result of two five minute majors with game misconducts, one by Biagio Lerario for a late check on Cale Makar, and one by Jeremy Davies for slashing Murray near the helmet late in the game. Davies’ penalty resulted in a one-game suspension handed down by Hockey East. The penalty officially kill killed five of UMass’ six powerplays.

The powerplay for Northeastern went scoreless in two chances, putting six shots of net in total. One massive criticism for the team as a whole was a lack of net-front presence, and while that is impossible to quantify, watching the game it was evident that the Huskies were not getting to the crease enough, not causing enough traffic, or generating enough rebounds to make Murray uncomfortable.

One of the few positives that can be taken from the game were that it was one of Matt Filipe’s best games to date, showing off speed and quick decisiveness on the ice while also getting five shots on net, the most he’s had since putting up five against Quinnipiac in October. Filipe has had a disappointing season so far, with only eleven points (four goals), but with nine shots on goal this weekend, the Huskies are hoping he can be a catalyst for secondary scoring down the stretch. The final positive is that the Huskies dominated faceoffs this game, winning 32 of 52, led by Adam Gaudette‘s 15 wins out of 21 draws.

Saturday: The Huskies ended their scoring drought only 31 seconds into the game, when Lerario, now centering the top line with Dylan Sikura and Nolan Stevens, found Sikura in the slot who one-timed the puck past Murray’s shoulder. This was the eventual game-winner, but the star of the night was Stevens, who would score three of the Huskies’ next four goals for his second hat trick of the season, all three of which belong on his highlight reel. Sikura, not to be outdone, chipped in with four points total this game as well. Brandon Schultz scored his first collegiate goal off of a marvelous cross-ice feed from John Picking.

The Huskies as a whole played much better this game. all five of their goals came when their players were between the faceoff circles, getting in close to Matt Murray and spreading the defense out to give the Huskies plenty of space to work in front of the goalie. Their forecheck was arguably the best we have seen all year, causing turnovers in the UMass zone, re-establishing offensive possession for the Huskies, and preventing UMass from getting a clean breakout. I was particularly impressed by the efforts of Picking, Paddy Schule, and Lincoln Griffin on the forecheck and along the boards to maintain possession.

Special teams clicked well for the Huskies on Saturday- they killed off all three UMass penalties, and connected officially on one of five powerplays. The Huskies were relatively disciplined, taking only three minor penalties before emotions ran high between both teams again, resulting in Stevens getting a game misconduct and Billy Carrabino taking a soft interference call. For the second night in a row the Huskies dominated faceoffs, winning 37 of the 59 draws, led by Gaudette winning ten of eighteen, and Lerario winning eight of eleven.

Going Forward: The Huskies are now in sole possession of first place in Hockey East, one point ahead of Boston College. The Eagles have a game in hand on Northeastern, and will play UMass on Tuesday to even up the games played category. The Huskies also finished the weekend 14th in the PairWise, inside the NCAA Tournament bubble but far from comfortable. The Huskies will take on Providence, who sits 10th in the PairWise, this weekend in a home-and-home, with huge implications for both the PairWise and the conference standings.

We will have a Providence preview coming later this week. As always, Go Huskies!