Depth helps Providence claim a key road sweep

Brian Pinho’s development has been key for Providence, coach Nate Leaman says (photo: Melissa Wade).

Teams that can sweep a weekend series this time of year tend to make significant moves in the Hockey East standings.

For one, the three Hockey East Beanpot teams — Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern — all played single games in each of the last two weekends to avoid having to play three games in four nights when you include the tournament games.

But it seems the later we get into the season, the more difficult it becomes to take all four points from two-game series against each team.

That having been said, the two series last weekend played between the same opponents — Notre Dame at Vermont and Providence at Maine — were both swept by the visiting team, an impressive feat regardless of the records.

Neither came easy, particularly the Friars’ sweep at Maine. Friday’s series opener proved to be the tighter of the two games on the scoreboard as neither team mustered a goal in regulation.

It wasn’t until Nick Saracino potted the overtime game-winner that the Friars left Alfond Arena with the victory. A 4-2 win a night later completed the sweep, one that Friars coach Nate Leaman knew was four difficult, and valuable, points.

“We weren’t expecting an easy series at all. We mentioned that to our guys last Tuesday after we had watched Maine on tape,” said Leaman. “I was really impressed with their work ethic. I’m very happy for our team to come out of there with four points.”

The Black Bears, who entered last weekend with a respectable 5-5-3 record at home, put forth a strong enough effort that Providence couldn’t just provide two average performances. Knowing that, in hindsight, further pleased the Providence bench boss.

“Maine’s a team that was playing very, very well at home,” said Leaman. “I was really happy with our grit level. I was really happy with our ability to persevere. Maine worked extremely hard and I was really happy with our ability to match that.”

Part of the Providence success in Orono was the ability to have five different players net the five Friars goals over the weekend. That balance up and down the lineup — 17 players have scored goals, three with double-digit totals, while 11 players have double-digit point totals — has become a hallmark for Leaman’s Providence teams.

Asked about that balance, Leaman pointed to some individual players who have evolved from last season. One in particular is Brian Pinho, who scored his sixth goal of the season (matching his total from last year’s freshman campaign) in Saturday’s 4-2 victory.

Leaman said that Pinho is following the development curve that he anticipated, something that when those expectations are met can make for a successful team.

“The development of Brian Pinho has helped [our depth],” said Leaman. “Here is a guy who had to grow into a role, a top role. Our balance dictates that guys grow into their roles really well.”

With three weekends left in the regular season, the Friars are in good position in the standings to earn a first-round bye and are still in the race to win the regular season title. And while looking at the standings is inevitable for any coach or athlete, Leaman is careful to not let his players get wrapped up in the pennant race.

“There’s only one way to approach things, and that’s to focus on ourselves,” said Leaman. “It’s taking it one day at a time. If you get caught up in all the races you’re going to get distracted because you’re not going to be playing your best hockey.

“We just want to make sure you put your best foot forward and are playing your best hockey. That’s why I was excited about the Maine series. We were trying to improve and we did.”

Mathematically dissecting the home stretch

Northeastern and Boston College have the two easiest remaining schedules among Hockey East teams (photo: Melissa Wade).

If you haven’t peeked at the Hockey East standings in a while, let me remind you of something both Dave Hendrickson and I have mentioned a number of times in recent weeks: There are two distinct groupings of teams that have formed: a top five-group that will contend for the Hockey East title and the four first-round byes and a bottom seven group that will vie for the remaining three home-ice spots in the first round.

(Note: From what my basic mathematical mind can assess, it is impossible for any team currently sixth place or lower to move up the standings far enough to jump into fourth place and grab the last bye.)

Using that premise, I’ve calculated the average winning percentage of each team’s remaining opponents. Every team still has six league games remaining except Massachusetts and UMass-Lowell, which each have four.

The average winning percentage mathematically depicts how difficult each team’s remaining schedule is. Here are the results:

TeamRemaining opponents' winning pct.
Boston College.451
New Hampshire.469
Notre Dame.562
Boston University.614

Northeastern’s remaining schedule is the easiest, followed by Boston College. UMass-Lowell and Boston University, which play each other in a home-and-home series this weekend, have the two most difficult remaining slates.

Wanting to find a way to use numbers to predict how the Hockey East standings will shake out, I then employed a pretty inexact formula. I took each team’s winning percentage and subtracted from it the average winning percentage of its remaining opponents. I then awarded a percentage of each team’s remaining points in direct proportion to the differential. If a team has a positive differential (i.e., that team’s winning percentage is higher than the average winning percentage of its opponents), it will receive more than half of the remaining points. If the opposite is true, a team receives less than half of the remaining points.

Based on that math, you come up with the following:

TeamPossible pointsPotential points won
Boston College128
Notre Dame127
Boston University126
New Hampshire125

Not surprisingly, Boston College is mathematically slated to earn the most points in the remaining three weeks, although just one point more than Notre Dame. Still, mathematically, it would break the tie with the Irish and give BC the regular season title.

Adding these points to the current standings creates the following for the final Hockey East standings.

TeamFinal points
Boston College34
Notre Dame33
Boston University27
New Hampshire17

Using this math, beyond BC taking first, you can see that UMass-Lowell would earn the final first-round bye by a single point over BU. More interestingly, New Hampshire, Vermont and UConn would finish tied for seventh place, requiring a three-way tie breaker to determine the final two teams to host an opening round game (a tie we can’t break right now not knowing the actual outcome of the remaining games).

I mentioned earlier that this is an inexact statistical analysis as it doesn’t verify if the points awarded are appropriately distributed based on which team plays which. But it gives us a quick look, using winning percentages to date, at how many points each team should expect to earn over the final three weekends.

Then again, this is Hockey East and hardly anything ever goes according to plan.