TMQ: Massachusetts-Lowell gaining in PairWise, but there’s a caveat

Todd: We’re entering the time of the year when teams can really start making meaningful moves in the PairWise Rankings, and the biggest mover last week in the NCAA tournament picture was Massachusetts-Lowell, which went from a No. 4 seed to a No. 2 seed. Nine wins in row have the River Hawks in a good position now; what’s the key to making it stick?

Jim: Obviously, Lowell is playing some very good hockey, similar to what a lot of people expected from this team coming into the season. Having just watched them on Thursday, I can confidently say that they have begun moving the puck much better and also are taking care of the defensive zone quite well.

My concern with Lowell is in the PairWise. The River Hawks are just 3-6 against teams under consideration. Because they haven’t played the magic 10 games against TUCs, that criteria isn’t being compared right now. If they lose a few more games against TUCs, there likely will be a drop in the PWR. So while it feels great to be tied for sixth right now, Lowell has to keep playing well — particularly against the best teams — to maintain that solid ranking.

Todd: While Lowell is on the rise, Notre Dame is going the other direction. The Fighting Irish have lost four in a row and five of their last six and are down to a tie for ninth (and actually 10th) in the PairWise. In four of those last six games, they’ve been held to one goal and in four they’ve allowed four goals or more. It’s not panic time yet in South Bend, but that’s a bad formula to be playing with.

Jim: I didn’t even realize how dire things had become for Notre Dame until Monday morning as I filled out my ballot. Seeing that the Irish had played three games last week and lost them all made me realize things aren’t pretty right now in South Bend. You’re correct that it isn’t panic button time but if things don’t change very soon, Notre Dame will play itself out of the top 16.

Come to think about it, last weekend was hardly a good weekend for any team at the top of the Division I Men’s Poll. The top 10 teams from a week ago went a collective 3-12-1 (with Quinnipiac idle). You have to go all the way down to No. 12 Yale to find a team that swept the weekend. That’s about as bad a week I can remember for the top-ranked teams.

Todd: Here’s how bad it was: Even one of the more remarkable streaks going was broken. Denver had played 60 two-game WCHA series without being swept until it lost both ends at St. Cloud State last weekend. The last time the Pioneers were swept in a WCHA series was Nov. 14-15, 2008, also at St. Cloud.

Now I wonder whether last weekend’s losses are the start of another dip of the roller coaster that has been Denver’s last two months or just a bump in the road. The Pioneers went into the break winless in eight games but came back with a five-game unbeaten streak before last weekend’s losses. Strange days, indeed.

Jim: This has been a streaky year for many teams. We’ve mentioned Lowell and Denver, but could also include teams like Boston University, which at times I feel have looked like a national title contenders but over the past two weeks has blown big leads, given up massive amounts of goals and looked pedestrian. At times early this year I thought Colorado College could be a strong team but it has just two wins in its last 11 games.

Then of course you have Quinnipiac, which hasn’t lost since the first week of February. There really is a part of me that feels as if the later this season rolls on, the more possible it will be to have a changing of the guard come April. Do you get that feeling?

Todd: I do, and I think some of the close games the Bobcats have been involved in lately will help them down the stretch. Two weeks ago they had to come from two goals down in the third period to beat Union. They went OT to beat Dartmouth early this month despite losing a two-goal lead in the third. Those are the kinds of experiences that make a team tougher.

Let’s look at this week’s games. There’s a fairly light schedule of games between ranked teams but plenty of games important to the standings. No. 1 Minnesota and No. 14 Minnesota State finish their season series with a home-and-home set. No. 5 North Dakota hosts No. 16 St. Cloud State for a pair. And Friday, No. 18 Cornell hosts No. 8 Yale. What games do you see as being key to conference standings?

Jim: I’m really interested in how the top teams in Hockey East respond to last week’s disappointments. Boston University leads that list, having lost both games last week and three of its last six. The Terriers take on a Providence team that is tied with BU for third place. New Hampshire looks to rebound with its own critical series, a home-and-home versus Merrimack. Both of those clubs need some wins as we enter a critical point of the season.