These are the three things I think I learned this week.
1. Four points can’t get any harder than this.
Coaches have long bemoaned the difficulty of getting four points against any Hockey East opponent, regardless of position in the standings.
Well, this weekend became their quintessential example. All five league series ended in splits. (With an 11-team league, someone has got to be the odd man out and this time it was Boston College, which defeated Penn State in its lone contest.)
Arguably, the scheduling helped produce splits. Three of the five series were of the home-and-home variety and matched teams closely positioned in the standings: Providence vs. Massachusetts-Lowell, Maine vs. New Hampshire and Merrimack vs. Massachusetts.
The other two series involved teams with a sizeable gap in their records but both of those two-game sets were held at the barn of the school lower in the standings: Northeastern at Notre Dame and Vermont at Boston University.
All that said, it’s been a long time (as far as I can recall) since every single series resulted in a split.
2. Maybe Lowell simply isn’t as good as I’ve thought.
The River Hawks looked so dominant last year once the first 10 or so games were out of the way. And with almost everyone coming back this season, they were an obvious pick to again be one of the league’s top teams.
I’ve been waiting and waiting for them to hit their stride this year and perform like last season’s edition, but I’m wondering if perhaps that just isn’t going to happen.
To be clear, splitting in a home-and-home with Providence is no embarrassment. In fact, it’s a pretty predictable outcome. And Lowell is still ninth in the PairWise.
But the way the River Hawks lost at Providence on Friday is a concern. Leading 4-2 with eight minutes left in regulation, they gave up three goals in less than four minutes. And not one of them was a power-play goal.
Three even-strength goals in the latter half of the third period to blow a two-goal lead? The River Hawks? And Connor Hellebuyck (who didn’t give up more than three goals in any contest last year following his inaugural game) surrendering five to a team not named BC?
I’d have bet the ranch against that happening.
3. Maybe Notre Dame isn’t as good as I’ve thought and Northeastern definitely is better.
I’ve said it before (and then picked them to lose), but the Huskies have earned a ton of respect. They’re in second place and tied for seventh in the PairWise. They win at home (6-3-1) and on the road (8-4-1).
For the second time in as many weeks, they’ve won while getting outshot by a considerable margin. On Friday, 15th-ranked Notre Dame outshot them 30-14, but the Huskies did more than prevail, shutting out the Irish, 4-0, in their own barn.
For Notre Dame, I’m feeling the same concerns I have about Lowell. Last season, the Irish finished second in the CCHA and then won the league tournament.
This year, though, they’re still under .500 within Hockey East. I was expecting a contender. Yes, they’ve suffered injuries during key stretches, but that’s true of just about everyone. (See New Hampshire beating Maine on Friday without Trevor van Riemsdyk and Grayson Downing.) And yes, they’re still 12th in the PairWise due to strong nonconference results.
But we’re getting to the point where expectations based on last year’s results no longer make sense.