Weekend work-up, Dec. 5, 2011: It's sweeps week — almost

Every team in the league played this past weekend, and with one exception, someone won two games and someone got swept. Putting aside the only nonconference series for a moment, such decisiveness provided a little distance and clarity at the top of the league’s standings while muddying the waters further down.
First is first. With their home sweep of Lake Superior State, the Buckeyes put five points between themselves and second-place Notre Dame, seven between first and third-place Western Michigan. The further down you go in the standings, the more difficult the task appears for teams to catch Ohio State; now there are 10 points between first and fifth, and the only team with games in hand on OSU is Michigan State, a full 11 points behind. True, in this season of strangeness and parity, that may not be insurmountable, but if the OSU defense — backstopped by Cal Heeter (1.89 GAA, .932 SV%) — continues to allow two or fewer goals as it has during its current 11-game unbeaten streak, it’ll be difficult to catch the Buckeyes. They won 5-2 and 2-1, and they have the sixth-best defense (1.94) in the nation. Their scoring margin (1.38) is fourth nationally.
Somewhere in the middle … is everyone else. Well, not really, but it sure feels that well. Second-place Notre Dame has 24 points; second-to-last place Alaska has 14. The nine teams between OSU and last-place Bowling Green are so tight that no more than two points separate teams from place to place in league standings. Kudos to Western Michigan, Michigan State and Northern Michigan for solid sweeps. For the Broncos, Friday’s 4-2 win over Ferris State broke a five-game winless streak. For the Spartans, 5-1 and 4-1 wins over Bowling Green extends an unbeaten streak to four games. For the Wildcats, 2-1 and 5-1 wins over Miami extend their win streak to three games. Other than winning, what do these teams have in common? Each allowed just two goals on the weekend. This season in the CCHA, it appears, defense does win games.
Finally, let’s skip the good and the bad and get right to the ugly. After Notre Dame dropped a 9-2 game to visiting Northeastern Friday night, coach Jeff Jackson told the South Bend Tribune that the game was “maybe the worst loss” in his tenure with the Irish. Northeastern scored in the first and last minutes of the game — and, seemingly, ever minute in between — and netted those nine goals on just 20 shots, with all three of the Irish goaltenders allowing at least two. Notre Dame went on to lose again Saturday, 2-1.
Here’s a part of the story that won’t be discussed on the record. During the past two weeks, several little birdies have passed along news of a virus, and each little birdie has done so independent of all other little birdies. The Lakers had it bad the first night they hosted Notre Dame Nov. 25, and I do not know if they brought it back from their road trip to Buffalo Nov. 19-20. The Irish were quite sick last week.
Northeastern and Massachusetts-Lowell play a single game next weekend, Dec. 10. As someone who previewed this nastiness herself in late September, I hope that it ends there — the last game before the holiday break — for all involved.