Analysis: What to Make of Northeastern's Impressive Start

Jim Madigan, second from right, has his Northeastern Huskies at 4-0-0 to start the 2013-14 season.

Jim Madigan's optimism in the preseason doesn't seem so far-fetched any longer.

Northeastern is off to a 4-0 start, the latest in a season the program has been undefeated since the 2008-09 season. That year also happens to be the last time the Huskies advanced to the NCAA Tournament

Expectations were about as low as possible heading into this season, but third year head coach Jim Madigan was optimistic.

Is Madigan going to prove doubters wrong or is this hot start just a smoke screen? It's tough to tell for sure, but there are certainly some positive signs for the Huskies.

Northeastern has now swept Alabama-Huntsville and Holy Cross in consecutive weekends. Those two teams aren't exactly who you think of when you think college hockey juggernauts, but wins are wins. That is especially true for a team picked to finish last in Hockey East, a club that hasn't necessarily beaten the teams they were supposed to beat in recent years.

Sophomore forward Kevin Roy, coming off a promising rookie campaign, has been dynamic in the offensive end. The Anaheim Ducks prospect has five goals and four assists.

The heralded freshman class has lived up to the billing. "I think we have four or five forwards that contribute to our team," said Madigan in the preseason. The coach appears to be right on target.

Mike Szmatula has a goal and seven assists to lead the group of rookies. Szmatula, a Clark Cup Champion with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL last year, was the rookie that Jim Madigan seemed to be most excited about in the preseason.

"I saw Mike Szmatula all last year [in juniors]. Now watching him play on campus the last two weeks, there's a reason he was the leading goal scorer in the USHL. He plays the game fast, plays up-tempo, and he's good offensively. He's a heck of a player. I expect him to make an impact right away," said Madigan before the season began.

Zach Aston-Reese has five helpers. Forward John Stevens and defenseman Matt Benning are also off to good starts while Dalen Hedges and Torin Sydeman have gotten into the scoring as well.

The concerns in the preseason were more geared towards the defense than the forwards, but Madigan was confident in both even heading into the season.

"I like our offense. I like our defense, but we just need to play better team defense and cut down the numbers of goals allowed from last year," said Madigan at the Hockey East Media Day.

The goaltending duo of senior Clay Witt and redshirt freshman Derick Roy have been the real surprise. Most skeptics, including this writer, argued that Northeastern's goaltending would let them down. Witt and Roy have combined for a 1.50 goals against average and a .946 save percentage.

"Witt, [Bryan] Mountain and Roy are all capable goalies and have come back in great shape ready to go," said a confident Madigan before the season began.

The competition has been weak, and until the Huskies get into the meat of the Hockey East season, there will remain questions. This weekend's trip to the North Country to take on St. Lawrence will be a good test for a young and relatively inexperienced team looking to prove themselves.

The offense should be better and more consistent than it was a year ago. There is plenty of firepower up front so that the Huskies should never have too much trouble finding the back of the net. The goaltending appears to be better and more steady than last season when Chris Rawlings had a tendency to give up the most inopportune goals. The biggest concern going forward is whether the defense can hold down the fort against the upper echelon teams in Hockey East.

The jury is still out, but Northeastern appears to be vastly improved.

Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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