Northeastern’s Path to the Playoffs

January 26, 2012

News

Photo Courtesy of Dave Luca

It has been well documented over the past two weeks that Northeastern is in serious of danger of missing the playoffs.  And after getting swept by Lowell, that danger has never been more apparent than it is now.

The reason the Huskies find themselves in this position is their awful start.  When they lost at UMass on November 11th, the Huskies fell to 1-7-2 in Hockey East.  At the time we tweeted that Northeastern was very likely to miss the playoffs because we couldn’t see them finishing ahead of anyone besides Vermont.  The Huskies then went 7-0-1 with wins over Notre Dame (twice), Michigan, and Minnesota, and everyone forgot all about that awful start.

But now the Huskies have lost four straight since that streak and now everyone is beginning to realize that as great as that streak was, it meant very little in terms of the Hockey East standings.  As of today, Northeastern finds itself with just 10 Hockey East games left to improve their 4-11-2 conference record and find a way back into the playoffs.

It won’t be easy.  Jill Saftel has a piece on the recent struggles and what they mean.  And Alex Faust has begun his yearly look at the playoff picture.  Both of these are good reads and they show that Northeastern is in quite the hole.   Judging by their play and the play of those around them, Northeastern looks like a longshot to make the playoffs, but there is hope.   And we have that hope right here.

This is the 7th season that the Hockey East has had 10 teams.   In the previous 6 season, the 8th place finisher (the last playoff spot) has finished with anywhere from 16 to 25 points. Over those 6 years, the average point total for the 8th place finisher has been about 20.7.  For 9th place its been about 17.3.

Only twice has a team gotten over 20 points and missed the playoffs .  In 2007, UNH ran away with the title by 8 points and there was just a 10 point gap between 2nd and 8th.  Maine had 21 points but finished 9th.  UMass finished 8th with 23.  That kind of occurrence is pretty unlikely this season as no team looks like they are head and shoulders above the rest (you could argue BU is, but I think its still wait and see mode with them.  If they sweep Maine this weekend, then I think thats a possibility.)

The other time that has happened was one you may remember as it happened to Northeastern.  In 2010, Northeastern finished with 24 points and still finished 9th.  Vermont grabbed the last spot with 25.  The weird thing was that Northeastern was just 4 points away from getting home ice.  That was a crazy year.  UNH won the league with just 36 points, and the 22 point gap from 1st to 10th was easily the smallest gap since the league expanded to 10 teams.  This scenario could happen again this year with the middle of the pack bunched so closely together.   But separation is very likely to occur in the final third of the season.  UNH, PC, and UMass are just not going to keep up with Maine and BC.

So if we can rule out those two occurrences because they are unlikely to happen this season, we can say that you need about 20 points to get into the playoffs.   Northeastern currently has 10 points and 10 games left to play.  So if they can managed 10-12 points out their last 12 games they can probably get in.

Here is who they have left to play: @Vermont, @Vermont, vs UMA, @UNH, vs PC, vs PC, vs Maine, vs Maine, @BU, vs BU

Maine and BU are going to be very tough series and I don’t think anyone wants a repeat of  ’09-’10 (NU needs just 1 point out 2 games against BU in the final weekend to make the playoffs.  They didn’t get it, and UMass swept Maine leaving NU out of the playoffs with 24 points).

If you expect no points from the BU series, and maybe 1 against Maine since they are at home both nights, then you need 9 from the other games.

Obviously this weeked at Vermont is huge because it should absolutely be 4 points.   But I’d argue the other 4 games (UMA, UNH, and PC x2) are even bigger.  Those three teams are the ones NU is chasing for that last spot, so any losses to those teams is not only a lost opportunity to pick up points, but it also increases the deficit.  Losses in those games could be the end of all hope for the Huskies.

UNH still has 2 games each  with UMass and PC.  Thats good for the Huskies as it will ensure that not every team they are chasing is picking up points.   UNH is also the closest team in the standings to the Huskies, but they are also unlikely to be caught.  They still have 2 games with Vermont and they are 2-2 in their last 4 HE games with both losses coming in OT against top 4 teams.  They also have a game in hand on the Huskies.

UMass is 4 ahead of NU, but has 2 games in hand.   In addition to the 2 with UNH, they still have Maine, Merrimack, and Lowell twice, as well as one with PC and BU.  PC is 7 ahead plus a game in hand, but also maybe the most likely to be caught.   The Friars looked to be stumbling after getting run over by BU, but bounced back by beating Lowell on Tuesday.  IF (and thats a big if) the Huskies can sweep the Friars when they visit Matthews, then NU could definitely be in a position to pass them as PC finishes with Lowell x2 and BC x2.

So its not great for the Huskies, but its possible.   If they can get 20-22 points, they should be ok.   That all starts with picking up an absolutely vital 4 this weekend though.   If they don’t take care of business this weekend, its going to be a very tough task.  3 points is a minimum.

Just for the record, here is how I think Hockey East will finish

1. BU

2. BC

3. MAINE

4. LOWELL

5. MERRIMACK

6. UNH

7. UMASS

8. NORTHEASTERN

9. PC

10. VERMONT

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