Earlier this week I talked about team defense being the statistic of champions. Well, if tonight’s game between Boston College and New Hampshire was any indication, you can crown the Eagles now.
They held UNH, the seventh best offense in the country, to only 12 shots (while piling up 42 of their own). As for grade A chances, the shot charts confirmed what the eye test perceived. Namely, that BC goaltender John Muse wasn’t tested much at all. The shot charts showed almost all white space in the grade A area in BC’s defensive zone.
“They did a good job defensively and just beat us all night,” UNH coach Dick Umile said.
It didn’t happen by accident. BC’s team defense is tied with UNH’s as best in the league, giving up an average of 2.12 goals per game and appears to be ratcheting up the intensity as the postseason nears.
“It started this week in practice,” Brian Gibbons said. “It was something the coaches really harped on, something we worked on. We realized they have a real good offense and we have to be ready for their transition game. The guys bought into the game plan and it worked out.”
Not only did the BC penalty killers shut down the league’s second-best power play (22.3 percent in Hockey East games), they scored a pivotal shorthanded goal to extend their lead to 2-0 in the second period. Then they scored another one — a highlight reel special by freshman Bill Arnold — to seal the game late in the third.
With those two man-down goals, the Eagles have more than lapped their nearest competition in Hockey East. They now have an eye-popping 10 shorthanded goals. No other team had more than four entering the weekend. Gibbons and Cam Atkinson, who combined for the first one both pointed to assistant coach Mike Cavanaugh who runs the PK unit.
“He definitely preaches defense first, but we try to put the pressure on and force teams to make mistakes,” Gibbons said. “When the PK is flying at you, it’s tough on the power play because you don’t have time and space.
“We try to take that away as much as possible and a lot of times you can get two-on-ones off that. We’ve done a good job of capitalizing on that.”
Having BC’s personnel certainly doesn’t hurt either.
“We have some pretty fast, skilled guys that are playing on the PK,” Atkinson said.
And to finish off the Defense and Special Teams equation, BC’s power play struck in the first period, yet another no-surprise because as good as UNH’s man advantage is, BC’s is even better (23.8 percent).
Defense and special teams wins playoff games and with the Hockey East regular season title on the line, playoff hockey started one weekend early.
“We’ve got a lot of good players who are playing well at this time of the year,” BC coach Jerry York said. “It’s good to see from our perspective.”