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Through seven games, Northeastern has used three totally different combinations of lines offensively. But the lack of production has not subsided.
Unfortunately, head coach Jim Madigan has learned the hard way that line combinations do not work like a Magic 8 ball – you can’t just keep shaking it until you get the answer you want.
The Huskies are averaging just two goals per game, which puts them 45th out of 59 Division I teams, tied with the University of Vermont and American International College. It’s not all that surprising when you consider the Huskies’ 27.9 shots per game that they are dead last in Hockey East in that category.
Chemistry can’t be forced and it doesn’t happen overnight. Madigan gave the first combination just three games before pulling a major switch. It seemed like a knee-jerk reaction after the Huskies were shut out by a Boston College team that outplayed them in every aspect of the game.
The next combination didn’t fare any better. They managed just four even-strength goals in three games compared to the six goals the first combination managed. This past Saturday, Madigan rolled out yet another combination. In their lone game, they managed just one even-strength goal.
The same issues have plagued Northeastern regardless of what combination is used. Out of the 14 goals they have scored, 11 have come in the first period. Those three third period goals? An empty netter in the season opener against Merrimack, a fluke goal from the neutral zone that BC goalie Parker Milner inexplicably missed and a power play goal this past Friday to cut the Merrimack lead down to 4-2 with six minutes left in the game. The importance of quick starts has not been lost on this team. Unfortunately, they just don’t know what to do afterwards.
It’s hard to drill the issue down to a single problem. Madigan has mentioned that the team is trying to be too cute and he is right. Instead of looking for goals, the players seem determined to make the perfect pass. No one is driving the net and there really isn’t much more being done in the dirty area in front of the goalie. Even the best Northeastern possessions usually amount to about 25 seconds of good cycling before settling for a low shot percentage. On the rare occasion someone does try to beat a defender, the rest of the team usually stops moving and becomes a spectator. It has led to a very predictable offense that has made opposing defenses and goaltenders look like world beaters.
Six freshmen have accounted for 45 percent of the Huskies scoring. While it’s good to see freshmen like Kevin Roy and Mike McMurtry fitting in so quickly, it is worrisome that there has been almost no production from the upperclassmen.
As a sophomore, Cody Ferriero had almost a point per game in an injury shortened season. The junior has no goals and just two assists this season. Sophomore Ludwig Karlsson, last year’s leading scorer, has just one goal and one assist. Just two players have scored more than once this year: Roy, a freshman, and sophomore Joe Manno, who had just 2 two goals all of last season.
The upperclassmen haven’t been producing either. Senior Garrett Vermeersch has shown a willingness to shoot, but the results haven’t come yet. He leads the team with 25 shots and despite having just two points, he has created a lot of chances. His teammate Robbie Vrolyk has been great as a forechecker and has looked more dangerous offensively this year than at any other point in his career. Junior Braden Pimm has made an impact in all three zones and, until this past weekend, has probably been the best forward not named Kevin Roy. But even these guys have combined for just seven points. That’s not good enough.
Changing the lines isn’t the answer. Changing the mindset is. Madigan needs to pick a combination and stick with it. Let the players get used to playing with each other instead of making drastic changes after every bad game. You are taught at a young age that if you get pucks and bodies to the net, good things will happen. If the Huskies can just get back to doing simple things like that, they might be able to start living up their offensive potential.
– Andrew Stukas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org