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Analysis: Northeastern Exploited BU’s Weaknesses

John Corneau/SB Nation

BOSTON — The final score was emphatic. Northeastern had crushed its crosstown rival for a second consecutive game. This time it was 6-1 at a sold-out Matthews Arena.

The Huskies won despite the absence of Dylan Sikura and Garrett Cockerill. However, Jim Madigan’s team has no shortage of firepower up front. Adam Gaudette scored two goals on seven shots on goal while Lincoln Griffin also lit the lamp twice. Nolan Stevens found the back of the net for a fourth time in two games and Bobby Hampton scored to bring his goal-scoring streak to three games.

Last Change Pays Off

Madigan shrugged it off in the post-game press conference, but the Huskies exploited BU’s fourth line. Northeastern scored three even strength goals on Friday night. All three came with the line of Ryan Cloonan, Chase Phelps and Ty Amonte on the ice.

“[Associate Head] Coach [Jerry] Keefe changes the forward lines. Going in, we’re always talking about trying toget certain match-ups when we’re at home, but then as the game flows you’re looking to make sure we have the right match-ups against the [Jordan] Greenway line or the [Shane] Bowers line,” Madigan explained.

“At times there were mismatches and we’ll take those,” he acknowledged.

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s followed BU this season that the bottom six has been a disaster, but Friday night it was right out there in the open for everyone to see. On Stevens’s goal that gave Northeastern a 1-0 lead, Cloonan blew a tire leading to a turnover, and Amonte showed no urgency or engagement to pick up a player on the backcheck.

Gaudette’s goal a few minutes later was a case of Northeastern wanting the puck more. BU’s fourth line was just manhandled to pucks and was caught watching as Gaudette picked up a loose puck in the shot and rifled it home.

The fifth goal, scored by Griffin, was a play where he won a race to a loose puck. BU goaltender Jake Oettinger came out to play the puck and collided with Amonte. It led to an easy goal for Griffin into an empty net.

While Oettinger was pulled after the goal, he should not take any of the blame for BU’s lopsided loss. He was perpetually hung out to dry.

No Sense of Urgency

Boston University didn’t score a goal over the two games against Northeastern while the teams were at even strength. The lone goal last Saturday was a Greenway power play tally and Friday’s only strike came by way of Patrick Harper with the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker on a delayed penalty.

While plenty of blame is to go around, a lot of BU’s skilled players who should be scoring goals aren’t. The line of Bowers centering left wing Brady Tkachuk and right wing Patrick Harper has elite, highly-thought of talent. They combined for four shots on goal Friday night. The other top line had six shots on goal, four of which came off the stick of right wing Bobo Carpenter. A player like Greenway should be able to use his size and strength to dominate down low and generate scoring chances on a consistent basis.

“Obviously we’re having trouble scoring goals. We have to keep at it. Off the initial rush we don’t go to the net hard enough. We have guys looking for passes instead of going to the net,” said BU coach David Quinn.

“That’s something we’re going to keep pounding on. We’re going to do it. It’s ridiculous we’re not doing it right now. That’s a problem. We’re not going hard enough on the rush and we’re not going to the net hard enough in the [offensive] zone,” continued Quinn.

Huskies Defending Better

Even without Cockerill, a mainstay for the past three years on the blue line, the Huskies deserve credit for keeping BU’s vaunted forwards at bay.

While Northeastern largely has the same defense as a year ago, an added year of experience and getting players back into game shape is one major reason for the improvement.

“[Ryan] Shea and [Jeremy] Davies played a lot of minutes as freshmen. Now they’re sophomores. Garrett Cecere missed the first four or five games last year because of sitting out from the transfer situation. He’s really rounded out his game. Eric Williams has and Trevor Owens,” Madigan said.

Shea’s eight assists on the season come as no surprise to any long time observers of the Chicago Blackhawks prospect. He’s always exuded poise and vision with the puck on his stick. One thing that really stood out Friday night was his defensive zone coverage. He was on the right side of the puck and had a good stick defensively.

Davies has an innate ability to control possession when he’s on the ice. He does a terrific job jumping into the rush and moving pucks north. It’s cliche to say, but when a team has the puck on their stick, they don’t have to defend.

While freshman goaltender Cayden Primeau made 33 saves on 34 shots faced, a majority of them were from outside the circles. There weren’t a whole lot of game-stealing saves that he had to make. Outside two to three juicy rebounds, the Montreal Canadiens prospect was solid. With the firepower NU has, Primeau just needs to make the saves he’s supposed to make.

Often overlooked, success in the defensive zone also hinges on forwards backchecking and doing the little things to gain possession back. Wingers need to chip pucks out at the walls near the point. All three forwards need to engage and win battles. Northeastern did that well Friday night. Gaudette made a few eye-catching backchecks even after recovering from being deep in the attacking zone.

“We spend a lot of time during the week on our ‘D’ zone coverage with a lot of different drills to get better and defend faster and quicker. We’re getting to defend faster and there’s an emphasis on it,” said Madigan.

Up Next

The wounded Terriers head back to Agganis Arena to take on New Hampshire Saturday night while Northeastern goes for the season sweep of UMass Lowell at the Tsongas Arena.

What should be a scary thought for opposing Hockey East coaches, the Huskies are 4-0 in league play and have even more weapons at their disposal. Transfers Liam Pecararo and Brandon Hawkins both become eligible at the semester break. Sikura and Cockerill should be back before too long.-