TMQ: Looking at Harvard, Boston University rankings in national poll

The Crimson celebrate Henry Bowlby's (Harvard - 28) first collegiate goal that opened scoring in the game. (Melissa Wade)
Harvard started out 2-1, but has since lost four straight games (photo: Melissa Wade).

Each week during the season, we look at the big events and big games around Division I men’s college hockey in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Jim: It was another interesting week of games and some mixed results for the top teams meant that the top three in the poll (it’s almost time to rename the top 3 the “NCHC 3”) remained the same.

But I don’t want to talk about the top of this week’s poll as much as the bottom.

Most notably, there is a team missing from the top, bottom and middle of this poll that just a month ago was ranked No. 3: Harvard. The Crimson have fallen apart in the early portion of this season coming out of the gates 2-5-0. Since winning 5-0 in its opener against Dartmouth, the Crimson has only once scored three goals in a game and, after being swept by Minnesota, has now lost four straight, averaging 1.5 goals a game in that stretch.

While I understand this is a team that has played just seven games this season, that’s one quarter of the Crimson’s season. It is four games into a nine-game stretch away from Bright-Landry and now must take on the nation’s hottest team, Boston College, in a post-Thanksgiving matinee.

Is it just me or does it seem this is about the right time for Harvard to begin pressing the panic button?

Paula: I think that this is precisely the point in the season at which Harvard should be pressing the panic button – or at least the we-need-to-get-back-on-track-in-a-hurry button. Yes, they’ve only played seven games so far, but that is one more game than they lost for the entirety of the 2016-2017 season.

Last year, the Crimson averaged 4.06 goals per game, second in the nation; this season so far, Harvard is tied for 52nd, averaging 2.29 goals per game. Incidentally, 2.29 goals per game is what the Crimson averages against as well – just a shade off of last year’s 2.14, so team defense isn’t the issue.

In 2016-2017, Tyler Moy, Alexander Kerfoot and Sean Malone accounted for 56 of Harvard’s 146 goals – a full 38 percent of the Crimson’s offensive production. Moy had 10 of those goals on the power play, Kerfoot had eight, and last year Harvard’s man advantage was clicking along at 26.4 percent. This season so far, it’s 16.7 percent. Harvard is in danger of becoming an object lesson for what happens when a team is too reliant on just a few players.

This is especially troubling for the Crimson if you look at the strength of other teams in the ECAC. Clarkson looks tight and has from the start. Colgate is solid if inconsistent. Cornell is starting well enough and after dropping its first five games of the season, Union has gone 7-1-0 in its last eight games.

Speaking of teams that appear to be in trouble, I don’t know how Boston University is still hanging among the top 20 with the 3-3-0 November that the Terriers have had. Is it by reputation, or am I missing something here that someone from out east can explain to me?

Jim: I have said it a number of times, particularly on our weekly USCHO Live! show, but I believe BU is still ranked for two reasons: reputation and potential.

Reputation is something we’ve discussed here before. But I also think that voters continue to give Boston University the benefit of the doubt because of how much potential this team has.

There are plenty of talented players – some of which are certainly young – that still don’t seem to be playing up to potential.

I feel like one night in every weekend, I’m wondering why BU is still ranked. The other night, I’m telling myself I still can’t take the Terriers off my ballot. It was the same again this weekend. BU went to Orono and lost 5-2 to Maine on Friday. Then on Saturday, playing on neutral ice in Portland, Maine, BU crushed the Black Bears 7-0.

I will admit that I have a difficult time understanding any Jekyll & Hyde-type team. I get that teams go through funks and might lose two or three games, but if they’re quality clubs, they put together multiple wins (Boston College, starting 1-5-1 and then winning seven straight is a perfect example). But when you put the same players on the ice and get a mediocre effort one night and a five-star effort the next night, it confuses me when I try to classify this team as a contender or an also-ran.

Paula: Ah, yes, the Jekyll & Hyde Syndrome.

I always struggle with this as well, Jimmy, and wonder what factors off the ice are contributing to that. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than that these are young college students as well as hockey players, and college is challenging – and, at the risk of sounding condescending, youth itself can be challenging.

You and I have discussed this before as well, but sometimes inconsistency is contagious. We’ve seen how winning can breed winning and, psychologically, losing can be a tough thing to overcome, but that lack of consistency must become increasingly difficult for players when they begin to overthink the situation.

And speaking as we were of reputation, we know too well that once a good reputation has been squandered, it’s difficult to regain. I’m thinking of two teams I cover regularly — Michigan and Michigan State. The Wolverines are loaded with talent and are improving weekly under Mel Pearson, are still struggling with a little consistency issue, but are 13th in the PairWise Rankings and 17th in the poll. They will need a good little run to prove themselves to voters – but I don’t think they need to prove anything to themselves.

The Spartans, though, are another story. Michigan State is another team that believes in itself but will require a lot of time before proving to the rest of the Division I that it’s really turning a corner. The Spartans are seventh in the PWR and receiving votes in the poll but are not ranked yet. (Full disclosure: I have not yet voted for Michigan State.) The lack of confidence in MSU is, in part, because of the program’s recent years, but also because the Spartans went 1-3-0 against Minnesota and Wisconsin and I don’t think that poll voters fully believe in the Big Ten – and I get that. But Michigan State is 7-5-0 after finishing the entire 2017-2017 with seven wins overall.

In the case of both the Wolverines and the Spartans – both once-dominant programs – I think college hockey aficionados are waiting to see if each isn’t just getting a bounce out of having a new head coach. I also think that people want to see if B1G hockey is at all competitive nationally this season.

A Tip of the Cap…

Jim: …to Boston College goaltender Joseph Woll, who has put forth an early-season candidate for save of the year. It didn’t just help maintain BC’s 3-2 lead over New Hampshire, it was also recognized as No. 2 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10.

Personally, I think it should have been No. 1 – any save like this is better than a basketball slam dunk.

Have a look:

Paula: What a great play — and what a nearly impossible thing for any goaltender to do. After starting the season 1-5-1, the Eagles are riding a seven-game win streak and Woll’s return to consistent play has been a big part of that, as five of those seven wins are his.

Yes, better than any slam dunk — any time.