It's Trophy Season, but playoff seeding is still a much hotter topic.
As we reach the month of February, momentum is a big word. Every team is looking to pick up momentum and take advantage of that added boost. That is especially true this weekend, as teams like Maine look to keep moving in the right direction or teams like BC look to pick up the pieces after a few lost weekends. The push for the Hockey East playoffs is certainly in full gear.
1. Maine is still in last place, but closer to having a legitimate shot to make the league playoffs following a road sweep of first place Boston College. Can the Black Bears take advantage of the momentum gained in Chestnut Hill to win for the first time all season in Orono? Tim Whitehead's team will have two chances to do so this weekend with Providence visiting Friday night and Lowell coming to town Sunday.
Martin Ouellette has been incredible in net, holding the high flying albeit shorthanded Eagles to just two goals on the weekend. For the month of January Maine did not lose a game with Ouellette playing and posting a save percentage of above .900. The two games his save percentage fell below .900, the Black Bears lost.
The offense scored seven times on the weekend. Although Connor Leen is leading the team in scoring with seven goals and five assists, the key to the offense will be the freshman line along with Joey Diamond, Mark Anthoine and Kyle Beattie. Is it possible the talent is finally jelling and Maine will make a late-season push?
2. Boston College is 2-5-1 since Christmas and 1-4 in their last five games. The Eagles have been hit hard by injuries, especially on defense. There is no arguing the top two offensive lines are explosive, but BC lacks scoring depth and is very young on defense. It is hard to suggest that a game in the first weekend of February is a must-win for a team in first place, but it's close. BC hosts Vermont Friday night before the opening round of the Beanpot. Jerry York's club has a huge talent advantage, and there is no excuse for them to lose three straight on home ice.
An area of concern lately for the Eagles has been in net. Parker Milner had three rough outings in net, leading Jerry York to give Brian Billet the start Saturday against Maine. He was less than pedestrian as well. Expect Milner to be back between the pipes. This is a chance for him to regain confidence against an offensively challenged UVM squad.
Johnny Gaudreau was held scoreless just once in the first fourteen games of the season before he left for the World Juniors. He was spectacular in Ufa, Russia as the Americans won the Gold Medal. Since returning, he has been held scoreless in three of the six games. He needs to step back up and lead BC fans off the ledge.
3. UMass-Lowell and Merrimack took different paths to get there, but both teams are 8-6-2 in Hockey East games and tied for 5th place, one point in back of Providence for 4th place. The two teams will begin their season series with a single game Friday night at Lawler Arena broadcast on NESN.
For Merrimack, the biggest question is what offense will show up? Mike Collins is the undisputed leader upfront, but the Warriors need the supporting cast to step up if they want a chance at home ice. Collins has 17 points more than any other Merrimack player.
Sam Marotta has started give games in a row after he and Rasmus Tirronen had rotated each game for the entire season. Marotta had been terrific in that stretch before Saturday night. It will be interesting to see if Dennehy goes back with Marotta or if he gives Tirronen a chance to prove himself again.
UMass-Lowell has really hit its stride, unbeaten in 11, having gone 10-0-1 in that stretch. Last weekend, the River Hawks gave up eight goals. They had to overcome a 4-1 deficit to squeak out an overtime victory over Northeastern on Saturday.
The offense has come together, but the goaltending is a concern. Doug Carr is not the goalie he was a season ago. Freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck has missed the last three games to an injury. If he is healthy, he will most likely get the start Friday night.