On Friday, the Northeastern Huskies will face off against the #13 Merrimack Warriors over at Lawler Arena. The Huskies face off this weekend against 2 drastically different teams. Merrimack is a grinding, blue-collar team. They play solid defensive hockey, don’t have tons of breakouts, and battle along the boards.
Offensively, Merrimack lost 3 big parts from last year’s team: Stephane Da Costa, Joe Barton and Joe Cucci. They were the top 3 scorers on the team, and provided a lot offensively. Merrimack needs guys like Ryan Flanigan and Jesse Todd to step up, and Mike Collins to build off a impressive freshman year. While not scoring as much as Northeastern (5 goals in 2 games for Merrimack vs. 10 goals in 3 games for Northeastern), Merrimack has succeeded in spreading out their scoring threats to all 4 lines. As a result, while no one has racked up big points, there’s a lot of guys on the scoreboard. Northeastern will also look to do what they did last year: spread their scoring out and make a lot of threats across all 4 lines. Northeastern looks to have more depth on the 3rd and 4th lines, so if the Huskies want to win, they’ll have to keep them active.
Defensively, Merrimack had used the same defensemen for both games, and has solid experience on the blueline. Northeastern looked a lot better this past week defensively, so my guess is there might be similar lines, with Bitetto-Eibler broken up and paired with freshmen. Northeastern will have to do a similarly good job defensively, blocking shots, breaking up plays, and poke-checking aggressively. Merrimack will not play as fast a game, and will try to keep constant pressure instead of trying for odd man rushes. The Huskies will need to breakup their system, force the puck out of the zone, and get in their passing lanes in order to shut them down.
Goalie-wise, this will pit 2 solid goalies against each other. Cannata is a good goalie, and plays very consistently. Rawlings has a bigger swing in terms of preformance: if he has a similarly solid defense he’ll be just as good if not better than Cannata. If Rawlings plays a solid game it’ll go a long way to getting Northeastern a win.
On Special teams, Northeastern is significantly inferior. The Huskies Power Play is dead last, standing at 7.7%, while Merrimack’s is more than double that at 15.4%. On the PK Merrimack ranks 2nd at 92.3%, while Northeastern has a middling 82.3%. Northeastern needs to do two things here. First, stay out of the penalty box. They need to limit Merrimack’s chances on the PP. The Huskies PP looked better last week, even though they didn’t score, and I imagine that was something they worked on this week. If Northeastern can limit the Warriors opportunities (which goes back to the getting in passing lanes and applying pressure to Merrimack’s system). and manage to convert on one of their PP, it’ll go a long way to a win.
I think this game comes down to who can get out there and take the lead first. If Merrimack gets on the board, they’ll be able to turtle, and play a defensive game, pouncing on Northeastern’s mistakes. If NU can get an early goal, they’ll be able force the Warriors to be more aggressive and force them to make mistakes as the game progresses. In the end, I say 3-2 Merrimack. I think Merrimack has a more cohesive unit. Northeastern needs to prove that UNH wasn’t just pouncing on a down on their luck team. Until then, I still consider the Huskies an underdog (pun intended)