Coming into Saturday afternoon, the No. 8 Boston University men’s hockey team had a chance to make a statement.
The Terriers (3-3) had dropped their past two games, suffering back-to-back losses for the first time since Feb. 21 and 22, 2014. They were routed 5-2 by the University of Connecticut on Tuesday and stymied at No. 17 Merrimack College on Friday evening 4-3.
Saturday they were scheduled to face the No. 5 University of Denver and played well for the first two periods of the game, leading 4-2 as the puck was dropped for the third. In those 20 minutes, though, Denver (3-3) struck twice to tie things up. The teams went to overtime, and after sophomore defenseman Brandon Hickey blocked a shot on the Pioneers’ first rush, BU took it back up the ice the other way.
Senior forward Ahti Oksanen, freshman center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and senior assistant captain Danny O’Regan were streaking up the ice before Oksanen fired at goaltender Evan Cowley and ended things just 21 seconds into overtime.
Here’s a look at what we thought was good and bad in a pretty lame attempt at a Halloween edition of pluses and minuses.
It took 28 shots on net, but Oksanen finally scored his first goal of the season. He also tallied the game-winning score on his 29th shot of the year in overtime to defeat Denver. To read more about Oksanen’s night, check out Sarah’s sider.
Connor LaCouvee and the penalty kill
The Terriers did not have the third period they might have liked to (see below), but the way they played in the first two periods and the way sophomore goaltender Connor LaCouvee fared in net was a little more encouraging.
By game’s end, Denver took 38 shots on net and cashed in on four of them. When the Pioneers really kept on the Terriers and held them in their own end for much of the third period, LaCouvee stood tall.
“Obviously the story of the third period was our goalie,” Quinn said. “I thought he was outstanding.
“He certainly did a great job tonight,” he added. “That was a Division I goaltending performance and a really good night. … He’s a really good goalie, and so is [senior] Sean [Maguire]. I know we’re going to get great goaltending. Statistically it doesn’t look that way right now, but to be 3-3 with the save percentage we have, with two guys that I know are really good, that I know are going to be able to win big games like we did tonight, I have no doubt. It’s the least of our concerns.”
The netminder was also a large part of the penalty kill. BU took six penalties throughout the game and gave Denver five power play opportunities. The team held the Pioneers without a power play goal and are now perfect in their last 10 penalty kills. However, the last time I included a stat like that (last Saturday), the Terriers gave up four power play goals in seven chances in the next game (Tuesday), so who knows what next Friday will hold.
Still, Quinn said he liked the way the PK blocked shots and kept things on the perimeter.
But even so, the Pioneers managed nine shots with the man advantage in the third period alone that LaCouvee turned aside to help his team hang on.
The defense as a whole looked better as well. While the blue line unit played a more “helter-skelter” game in the early goings of the season, things are beginning to settle down some. BU allowed Denver 38 shots on net, which is not ideal, but it blocked 26 shots, of which the d-men had 15. Hickey and freshman defenseman Charlie McAvoy led the way with four apiece.
Hickey himself said he thought through the first few games, the defense was trying “to do a little bit too much, trying to get a little bit too offensive and trying to run out of [their] position.”
Now they’re focusing on good, team defense, solid sticks, being tough to play against in the corners and winning one-on-one battles.
“Our D corps is starting to look like it did last year,” Quinn said. “I thought last night and tonight they were back to doing what they were doing last year, which allowed us to have a successful season. And we’re gonna need all of them, not only to match their games last year, but be better than they were last year, and I really, really liked what I saw the last two games out of our D corps.”
BU’s second goal of the night came off the stick of junior center Robbie Baillargeon, his first tally of the year, assisted by sophomore winger A.J. Greer, who got his first point of the season on the play.
Greer and Baillargeon, along with linemate freshman Bobo Carpenter combined for six shots.
Some of our readers expressed concern about a lack of production from Greer and Baillargeon, which we discussed in our podcast this week.
According to Quinn, the final frame of the game served as “a microcosm” of where the team is mentally right now. He said he doesn’t know if BU is really ready to win and put teams away, but part of that had to do with the way Denver responded.
When teams are down in the third, they tend to find a surge, Quinn said, and the opposing team sits back on their heels. It happened to the Terriers on Friday when they put pressure on Merrimack in the third period in an attempt to knot things up. They got the third goal, but unlike the Pioneers, could not get the fourth to send things to overtime.
BU let Denver dictate much of the play in the final period and was outshot 16-5. The Terriers were out-attempted 36-10 as well and let DU come at them instead of taking the play to them. When it came time for OT, though, they were ready to make the shift.
“We just wanted to respond,” Hickey said. “We kind of wanted to have a little push-back because they kind of dominated the third period, we kind of sat back on our heels a little bit.”
“We knew both goals they scored [in the third] were just individual mistakes,” Oksanen said. “Their tying goal was completely my mistake, so we knew that we’re a better team and if we keep pushing hard, we’re going to win.”
The difference in the period, Quinn said, was that Denver’s power play was energetic and got chances while the Terriers, who had a pair of power plays in the third, gave up a shorthanded goal and were anemic with the man advantage and couldn’t get anything going.
“We got a little bit deflated,” he said. “That can do that, special teams can do that to you.”