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Hockey East: What's Wrong With Northeastern?

Northeastern is 4-13-2 since the start of last February.

Jim Madigan's Northeastern Huskies are off to an underwhelming 0-7-1 start.
Jim Madigan's Northeastern Huskies are off to an underwhelming 0-7-1 start.
Matt Dewkett

It's hard not to be shocked by Northeastern's 0-7-1 start. The Huskies were picked fourth in the preseason in both the coaches' and media polls. Jim Madigan's squad returned many of its key pieces offensively and would once again have the services of goaltender Clay Witt.

It's not too hard to explain Northeastern's extremely underwhelming start. An inept defense, lack of puck possession, top players not finishing scoring chances, undisciplined play and key injuries have all added up to a winless stretch through eight games, putting this year's Huskies in the NU record book for worst start in program history.

Northeastern lost its leader and top defenseman in Josh Manson who left a year of eligibility on the table to sign with the Anaheim Ducks. Let's be honest. Last year's Huskies weren't exactly a defensive juggernaut, but were bailed out by an absurdly impressive run of standing-on-head performances by Witt between the pipes.

It's not easy to forget Northeastern's dismal 8-8 tie at Dartmouth in the consolation game of the Big Green's tournament. Sloppy turnovers, defensive breakdowns, mental and physical errors all added up over the course of the season.

This year's defense has been much of the same. The glaring problem with Northeastern is its top defenders are more offensive oriented than they are in their own zone. An early season injury to Colton Saucerman hasn't helped matters.

Witt, last year's savior, got off to a tough start and then suffered a concussion that has forced him to miss the team's last six games. The Huskies are hopeful the Brandon, Fla. native can return to the ice soon, but his absence hasn't been the cause for the woes.

Derick Roy's .895 save percentage certainly won't earn him any accolades, but having seen the Huskies in action, his low save percentage is just as much due to his defense leaving him hung out to dry than it is his inability to make saves.

Northeastern's puck possession numbers have been equally brutal. The Huskies are giving up 32.12 shots on goal per game, fourth worst in Hockey East. That is in part due to Northeastern being the most penalized team in Hockey East by a wide margin at 15.12 penalty minutes per game. NU loses more face-offs than it wins so it is starting off behind the eight ball in the puck possession game. The lack of possession time has also been caused by inefficient backchecking by the forwards.

Mike Szmatula had all three of his goals in a stretch of two games, but he is one of just two Huskies players with more than a single goal. The skill of some of NU's forwards is undeniable, but players with the ability to finish just aren't producing right now. As much as the defense gets ridiculed, it's hard to win games when your offense is producing at a rate of 1.50 goals per game.

The bottom line is that Northeastern's struggles shouldn't come as too big of a surprise. The goaltending numbers of a season ago were unsustainable and the defense is poorly inefficient at the Division I level. That being said, Northeastern's forwards are too good to continue producing at such an abysmal rate. The Huskies will get better, but it might not be enough.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.