Warriors Put Themselves In A Good Position

Okay, I know this isn't normally a sports blog, but...

And pretty soon I hope I can stop prefacing every statement with, "it's still early, BUT..."

So far the statistics on Merrimack's performance and the performance of their opponents in games against Merrimack have been a pretty good predictor of what happens. In tonight's win over BU, the ones that weren't actually turned out in Merrimack's favor.

Merrimack so far had been outshot and BU was outshooting its opponents (but not scoring).

In this game, BU outshot MC in the first but after that Merrimack had the edge. Shots for the game ended up even, despite BU having 12 powerplay opportunities compared to Merrimack's 7-- including several 5x3 opportunities.

Merrimack's power play continues to be more efficient, going 2/7 to BU's 3/12. Same goes for the kill.

But this game wasn't decided by special teams play. If it had been, BU would have won, 3-2. Merrimack's play at even strength after the first 20 minutes won the game, starting with a string of three straight even-strength goals spanning the end of the first and the beginning of the second periods, then adding a powerplay strike and another even-strength goal to take a commanding 5-1 lead.

BU would turn up the pressure and the game would get chippy, but after that BU got two more powerplay tallies to Merrimack's one. Maybe it doesn't feel that way because of the way it plays out. Playing BU, even when you have a lead, feels like holding a tiger by the tail. The end result, though, is a win with a higher margin of victory than the home win over BC two weeks ago.

Merrimack and Coach Dennehy have put themselves in a great position going into tomorrow night. Cannata got the win for them at home, and now Braithwaite can try for the one on the road. His stats have been slightly better, and anything BU learned in the game tonight against Cannata won't be relevant. In the meantime, Coach Parker across the rink has a problem: does he start the backup, Kraus, who gave up only one goal in relief, or Millan, the starter, who gave up five?

I think all Merrimack really needs to do is stay calm and not let their enthusiasm run away with them-- make sure contact stays clean and don't get drawn into any foolish penalties, and they'll be fine.

With the win Merrimack, idle last week, vaults into a 2nd place tie with UMass-Amherst, and trails 1st place UMass-Lowell by a single point but with a game in hand. Amherst's and Merrimack's records are both 3-1, but Merrimack has outscored its opponents 19-12 over that span for a league-high +7 figure over four games. UML is +5 with the same number of goals over five games, and Amherst is +4 with fewer goals scored but also two fewer goals allowed than the Warriors.

UPDATE: Since I posted this before all the evening's results were in, as it turns out UMA and UML have moved into sole possession of 1st and 2nd place respectively, and Merrimack and Maine are tied for 3rd.

Merrimack is one point behind second-place UML with one game in hand. Merrimack is two points behind first-place UMA with one game in hand. Merrimack is tied with Maine for third... but (you guessed it) has a game in hand. It doesn't look like last week's weekend off did the Warriors any harm, and they're in the thick of things a quarter of the way into the season with at least one game in hand on everybody except Providence. The offensive and defensive ratings for the top four teams in Hockey East all look very similar: 18-19 goals for, 12-15 goals against. Of those teams, though, Merrimack has the most goals of any (19, tied with UML) and the fewest goals allowed (12).

So things still look good.

Once you get into fourth and fifth place and UNH, things get close to even. UNH is +1. BC and Vermont are even. PC, BU and NU are underwater. NU is a league-worst -11 and BU is next at -6, but is tied for last place now with only one win through six games played. The entire league has games in hand on them: Vermont, BC and UML have one game, Providence has three games, and the rest all have two.

Dave Hendrickson at USCHO said that he doesn't see BU being a last-place team, and in his weekend preview, predicted a sweep for the Terriers. (Check the sidebar, it's not in the main text.)

Now the Terriers are a last-place team, and they're the ones who need to worry about being swept.

They might not be a last-place team, but they may need most of the rest of the season to prove that, and they don't have as much of their season left as the rest of the league does.