Handicapping The Stretch Run
Last year I introduced DUMBEST (Dave’s Unbelievably Moronic Barometer to Estimate Standings and Titles). For the most part, it was greeted with thunderous silence. The exceptions were one reader who said it “shows what totally useless things you can do with numbers” and another who changed the last three letters in the acronym (“E” to “A”…) so that it better suited its author.
As I noted a year ago, DUMBEST may well be the dumbest thing to ever grace this column, but you shouldn’t be too quick to judge. It’s got lots of competition.
It’s a trivial attempt to predict the stretch drive in Hockey East. It simply looks at winning percentages in league games and assumes that each team is likely to continue that percentage relative to its opponents. So if two teams with identical winning percentages face each other, then each would expect to come out of the game with 1 point for a tie. If a team with a winning percentage of 90 faced a team with a percentage of 10, then those numbers would point to the stronger team getting a predicted 1.8 points and the weaker one getting 0.2.
(For the math majors out there, I’m assuming that a team would get (1 + (its winning percentage – opponent’s winning percentage)) points out of each contest.)
Admittedly, this is so absurdly simplistic that it’s not going to do a terribly accurate job of prediction. It doesn’t try to assess who’s hot and who’s not, what team has injuries or who matches up well with whom. It doesn’t even look at who the home team is.
As I reminded my detractors last year, there’s a reason it’s called DUMBEST.
Even so, it gives a thumbnail view of each team’s chances, focusing on the relative difficulty of its remaining opponents.
Here, then, are each team’s remaining opponents. All two-game sets are home-and-home series with the exception of Maine’s.
BC: UMass(2), UML (2), UNH(2), @Maine(2)
BU: @MC, @PC, UMass(2), NU(2), UNH(2)
Maine: @NU(2), PC(2), @UML(2), BC(2)
UML: UNH(2), BC(2), Maine(2), MC, @PC
UMass: BC(2), BU(2), NU(2)
MC: BU, NU, PC(2), @UML
UNH: UML(2), NU, BC(2), BU(2)
NU: Maine(2), @MC, @UNH, BU(2), UMass(2)
PC: BU, @Maine(2), MC(2), UML(2)
Now let’s look at each team’s current position in the standings, its winning percentage and the winning percentage of its remaining league opponents. Note that the points column factors in Massachusetts-Lowell’s forfeits, but the winning percentages and predictions do not. That’s based on the points being the reality of the standings, but the strength of a team and its schedule should be based on the pre-forfeit, on-ice results.
Using DUMBEST to predict the number of points that each team is probable to earn in its remaining contests gives the following results.
So there’s DUMBEST for you. It ain’t rocket science. It ain’t brain surgery. It’s one of those rare commodities these days; it’s exactly what it says it is.
Beanpot: Winners And Losers
In assessing the fallout from this year’s Beanpot the winner is obvious, but the biggest loser perhaps is not. Onward, then, to a look at the three Hockey East teams and how they fared.
For starters, let’s look at the biggest loser: Boston University. Not because the Terriers failed to win the Beanpot for only the second time in the last decade. And only in part because they won’t be receiving the boost of adrenaline usually associated with winning the tournament.
The big reason BU took a broadside is what happened in the two “other” games of Beanpot week. It lost to Lowell, 2-1, and Providence, 2-0.
Prior to the tournament, coach Jack Parker said, “Winning this Beanpot would be very unsatisfying if we didn’t win the two games around the Beanpot. If we didn’t beat Lowell and Providence and buried ourselves in the league, [that would be terrible] whether we won the Beanpot or not.
“To other schools, it might be different because they haven’t won it in a while and we’ve won a lot of them. It wouldn’t salvage our season. We need to salvage our season by doing well in the league.
“We’ve certainly have always had the goal: we want to win the Beanpot, we want to play well in front of this crowd and with this media [attention]. But we have to put games together around the Beanpot as well that are just as important to us to make sure that we feel better about ourselves.”
The sad fact for BU fans is that their team did bury itself in the standings. The Terriers are now in eighth place and barring a miraculous recovery will finish lower in the Hockey East standings than any of their predecessors.
Bouncing back may be made even more difficult in the wake of the championship game loss to Boston College. While they took the number one team in the country into overtime, BU teams expect to win the Beanpot. Losing, even in overtime, was a blow — an insertion of bad karma — in a way that it might not have been for any other school. A team desperately needing to, in Parker’s words, “feel better about ourselves” instead had two weeks that might have it instead feeling sorry for itself. If that happens, turn out the lights. The party’s over.
Yes, the effort against BC was heroic. But the BU offense has gone from anemic to anorexic. Other than the win over Northeastern in the Beanpot opener, the Terriers have totaled only three goals in their last four games.
“One more time we get one goal,” Parker said after the loss to BC. “We’ve played too many games this year where we just get one goal or two goals; that’s been our M.O. this year.”
The power play, which ranks last in Hockey East with an overall percentage of 15.4, managed only a single shot in six opportunities against BC. It evoked memories of the game against Maine at Walter Brown Arena several weeks ago when the BU power play surrendered two shorthanded goals in 32 seconds. The BU fans in Section Eight triumphantly counted down the end of the Terrier power play.
Which is what they ordinarily do when BU is almost through killing a penalty. A subsequent infraction called on Maine led to a chant of “We decline” along with the appropriate football signal for declining a penalty.
Putting the BU Humpty Dumpty back together again for a playoff run will be a major challenge for Parker. The man has worked wonders before, but the more you look the more you become convinced that this team simply isn’t going to get it done.
Northeastern did lose the opening round game to BU and had to play the Mausoleum Game at five o’clock last Monday, but the Huskies did play well while defeating Harvard and, perhaps more importantly, didn’t get shut out in its other games the way BU did. They squeaked out an important point from Lowell, a point which could dictate whether they’re playing or not a month from now.
“I thought it was a real nice character win for our guys,” Crowder said after beating Harvard, 3-1. “I think they came to play and they played hard.”
Whether that continued effort pays off in a playoff berth or not remains to be seen. But after two weeks of treading water, more or less, Northeastern remains alive.
The big winner, of course, was Boston College.
The Eagles got their second championship in four years and did so in impressive fashion. If not for the heroics of Sean Fields, BC would blown BU out.
“I thought our team really played a remarkable game,” BC coach Jerry York said. “We were good in all facets — our forecheck, our d-zone coverage. We were deep-into-our-lineup good — all four lines and all six defensemen.”
The stranglehold BU has held on this tournament may be loosening. Considering the talent at Chestnut Hill year in and year out, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles go on a Beanpot run of their own.
“They call this the ‘BU Invitational,'” Tony Voce said, “but I won this thing two years ago, so in my era, they’re not too big.”
And BC did it without rushing Ben Eaves back. When he returns, it’ll be hard to envision the Eagles not playing in the FleetCenter when the Frozen Four convenes there in early April.
As Providence coach Paul Pooley says, “You look at BC and how good they are and then there’s the rest of us.”
Making A Move
Heading into their last three games, the Providence Friars were a near-immaculate 8-1-1 in nonconference play, but at the same time in big-time trouble within Hockey East with a 2-8-5 mark. As Northeastern cast its hungry eyes about for potential victims to leapfrog over to escape the cellar, PC was a prime candidate.
What a difference three games makes. With two wins over Massachusetts-Lowell sandwiching a third over Boston University, Providence now stands in fifth place in Hockey East.
“It shows how tight the league is,” coach Paul Pooley says. “Three wins and you make up ground and move ahead of people. We’re very excited about the wins, but we’ve got a long way to go as a hockey club and have a lot of games left that are going to determine where we finish and where we fit in with everybody else.”
The Friars aren’t blowing anyone out of the building with offensive pyrotechnics, but are instead winning by shutting down their opponents. Over the last six games, during which they’ve won five of six, they’ve allowed only a total of nine goals. Four of those goals came in the lone loss at the hands of Boston College, which has been known to fill a few nets this year.
Five wins, five total goals allowed. That’s a winning formula.
“We’ve had to commit to play defense,” Pooley says. “That’s the key. Teams that do well this time of year in the league are teams that basically have good goals against average and are good on the PK. There’s no secret to that. Your top four or five teams, it’s all goals against average.
“Goals-for are important, but we’re not at the point where we’re getting four or five goals a game. We’ve stopped scoring as much because of the style of play we’re playing. It’s not as open as it was; it’s more structured. Our kids like to play that and it’s what we’re doing right now.”
Despite the move forward in the standings, Pooley isn’t thinking at all about the possibility of home ice in the playoffs, which is just four points away.
“We’re just worried about the next game on Saturday night against BU, which is obviously a very good hockey club,” he says. “We played them on Friday and beat them, but they outshot us and they’re a very good hockey club with a lot of talented kids. So the only thing I’m worried about is today’s practice.”
That said, Providence’s remaining schedule contains mostly very winnable games. with the exception of a two-game set at Maine, all other contests come against sub-.500 teams.
“Who is Providence?” Pooley asks. “We have not established ourselves consistently enough throughout the year to say, ‘Hey, we can look at this team to beat them.’
“We just have to play every game like it’s our last game. That’s the mentality that we have to have because this league is so demanding night in and night out.”
If the Friars do go on a run and have some success in the playoffs, they could conceivably play themselves onto the bubble for the NCAA tournament. Currently, they are tied with Notre Dame for 18th in the PairWise Rankings.
“I haven’t even looked at it,” Pooley says. “For us, it’s not even an option right now. Last year it became a little bit of a distraction when we started playing well. But we just need to continue to play the game we’re playing.
“We need to get better. That’s the only focus I have right now. We need to fine tune our forecheck and our neutral zone and offensively we need to do some things better. We’re just trying to play the best we can at this point because it’s been an up-and-down year for us and we’ve had a hard time winning in the league.
“You take a few of those ties and put them as wins and now it’s a whole different perspective. But we don’t have the luxury of doing that. So we just have to focus on what we’re doing.
“We need to get everybody playing well; we don’t have everybody playing well right now. we need to have four or five other guys really pick their game up in order for us to keep playing.”
Quote Of The Week
From Lowell’s Blaise MacDonald, whose River Hawks have gone 0-2-1 since the announcement of their forfeited games:
“To use a Herb Brooks quote, ‘We’re playing worse and worse every game, and right now we’re playing like it’s next year.'”
Tony Voce on winning the Beanpot in the FleetCenter, where the Hockey East and Frozen Four tournaments will be held:
“We have two more tournaments here. We might as well take them both.”
I Wasn’t Ignoring You
My apologies if you’ve emailed me and I never responded. I’ve replied to any messages I’ve seen.
The problem, you see, is that Yahoo mail’s spam detector is the single most useless product in the history of the universe. My USCHO mail is automatically forwarded to my Yahoo account and, until recently, I only looked in its spam folder if something seemed to be missing.
A recent look in that folder, however, was an eye-opener. Not only was a message from son in there, but also one from myself. Yeah, that’s right, from myself. I’d sent an email to all the USCHO staffers and since that distribution list included me, I got a copy of my own message. In the spam folder.
My inbox is flooded with advertisements that offer, among other things, to make my breasts larger, but messages from myself and my son are treated like spam.
So if you’ve thought my lack of a response was rude, I offer my apologies. I just never saw it.
Last week, Scott Weighart offered the following three-part question:
1. Which former Hockey East centerman wore No. 19 for his college team and also wore that number last year while playing in the British Ice Hockey Superleague?
2. For three seasons, one Hockey East team had a pair of defensemen whose combined height exceeded 13 feet! Name the towering teammates.
3. There are at least two pairs of NHL teammates this year who also were Hockey East teammates once upon a time. Name the two pairs.
First to get all three answers was Chris Sayles, who enters the Trivia Hall of Fame with his fourth win. Chris’ answers were:
1. Steve Thornton wore number 19 for Boston University from 1991-95 and last season wore number 19 for the Belfast Giants of the British Ice Hockey Superleague.
2. From 1993-96, Merrimack had two defenseman whose height totaled over 13 feet. The two defensemen were Steve McKenna, who was 6-8 and played from 1993-96, and John Jakopin, who was 6-5 and played from 1993-97. The total height of these two is 13 feet 1 inch.
3. The first pair of college teammates to be teammates in the pros this year is Eric Nickulas and Eric Boguniecki from UNH. They were teammates at UNH from 1994-97 as Nickulas played there 1994-97 and Boguniecki from 1993-97. They are now teammates with the St Louis Blues in the NHL this year. The second pair of college teammates to be teammates in the pros this year did it for only one game. They are Scott Clemmensen and Brian Gionta from BC. They were teammates at BC from 1997-01. They both appeared for the New Jersey Devils in a game on Jan. 20, 1994 vs. Pittsburgh.
(Another correct answer for part three was Dan Lacouture and Tom Poti, who played together for one season at BU and now are on the New York Rangers.)
Whew! Chris’ well-earned cheer is:
This week’s question asks what is the only team to score four or more goals in its last four meetings against UNH’s Mike Ayers? Email my trivia account with the team, scores and dates of those games. The winner will be notified by Tuesday; if you haven’t heard by then you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
There’s a train leaving nightly
called when all is said and done
Keep me in your heart for awhile.
Thanks to Scott Weighart for filling in last week and his continued contributions as well as Jim Connelly.