Goaltending is the focus this week in Hockey East. As it often is throughout all levels of hockey, goaltending could make or break a team's season.
1. UNH sophomore goaltender Casey DeSmith was the talk of college hockey the first two months of the season. The Rochester, NH native had played well down the stretch last season after taking over for Matt DiGiralomo. DeSmith had posted three consecutive shutouts at the beginning of November as his save percentage continued to rise. His slide began in a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Colorado where he surrendered four late goals and squandered a lead against Colorado College before getting pulled a night later against Denver. DeSmith struggled throughout the month of December, at least by the lofty standards he had previously set. He was pulled again last Saturday night in a 6-5 loss to Providence. With a home-and-home series looming against Merrimack, DeSmith needs to find his game and return to tiptop form in time for the stretch run. With Merrimack's inconsistent offense, this might be a good weekend for the former Indiana Ice (USHL) stalwart to find some regained confidence.
2. Boston University has relied on two freshman goaltenders to carry the load between the pipes this season. Both Sean Maguire and Matt O'Connor have been terrific in goal at times, but have struggled as well. Both goaltenders put up clunkers last weekend in home losses to Northeastern and UMass-Lowell. This weekend BU faces Providence in a home-and-home series. The Terriers and the Friars are tied for third place. Providence also has a freshman goaltender, Jon Gillies, who has been the backbone of their squad. BU has a fairly large advantage in skill over PC up front and on defense. The only way this series could swing PC's way is if BU lets the goaltending battle fall to Gillies.
3. UMass heads to Burlington this weekend for a pair with a struggling Vermont team. This is a big series for the Minutemen. John Micheletto's team has an easier schedule than most of the teams around them in the standings. UMass needs to take advantage of the momentum they gained with a 5-2 upset win at Boston College last Friday night. The biggest question mark for the Minutemen is goaltending and consistently showing up every night. Sophomore goalie Steve Mastalerz has played well the last two games, stopping 43 of 47 shots faced. He started off the year with three less than stellar outings. On the other hand, Kevin Boyle was terrific for the first two months before some clunkers in December and the beginning of this month. UVM has given up four goals or more in four straight games so as long as the UMass goaltending is consistent, this could be four points in the standings heading back down Route 91.