Pluses and Minuses: Fourth, second lines shine, penalty kill continues to struggle against Maine

ORONO, Maine — The No. 11 Boston University men’s hockey team got back in the win column with a 5-2 victory over the University of Maine on Friday evening at Alfond Arena.

Two goals and two assists from senior forward Ahti Oksanen and three assists from freshman forward Jordan Greenway stole the show for BU, but there were quite a few more things we took away from the game. Behold, another edition of pluses and minuses:

Pluses

Fourth line

It was mostly cool tonight to see the team’s fourth line — comprised tonight of sophomore Chase Phelps, senior Mike Moran and junior Tommy Kelley — really get in the action tonight. Moran finally notched his first goal of the season at the 12:16 mark of the second period. They were one of the most active lines early, especially.

“I thought they played very well,” said BU head coach David Quinn. “They were physical, they possessed the puck, they kept simple, they got some scoring chances, there was a lot of good things with that line tonight.”

With an injury to sophomore forward Nikolas Olsson, that gave a chance to Kelley to work his way into the lineup, and we’re consistently wowed with his effort. We’ve compared him to former Terrier forward Cason Hohmann before, and we saw that again tonight, in terms of just putting his head down and using his speed to keep up with the play and keep Maine fooled.

“Just play hard, play fast,” Kelley said about how he’s trying to make his way into this lineup. “Take the body, move the puck quick, get it to the net, take pucks to the net. Just stand out in any way I can.”

Second line, too
Everyone had a lot of nice things to say about the second line tonight, too, with Oksanen, senior assistant captain Matt Lane and Greenway taking charge offensively. Judy has more about that in her sidebar tonight.

Settling down

Maine might have hands down the best fans I’ve seen all season. I missed the trip to Orono last season, so this was my first time witnessing the Maine student section in all its glory. And full props to them, they’re certainly something between their chants and antics. It could have been an intimidating environment, but BU quieted things early with a goal from senior captain Matt Grzelcyk 14:19 into the first period.

“I guess you kind of expect that, coming into a building like this, with the students they have, pretty loud, pretty crazy,” Kelley said. “So I think we fended that off pretty well, and then turned it up pretty quick, which is good. Grizzy got that goal, which was huge. So I think that really helped.”

Red Gendron

Maine head coach Red Gendron might be one of our favorite coaches in Hockey East, because he loves to tell it how it is in his postgame press conferences. And basically, this was such a great quote we felt the need to highlight it specifically. In response to whether he was concerned about the quick turnaround of the home-and-home, he said:

“No, because the other team has the same situation as us. If we had to travel and they could be warped to Boston, like Star Trek stuff, then I’d be concerned, but it seems to me we’re both going to be riding down I-95.”

(I grew up in a bit of a “Star Trek”-obsessed household, so I’m a bit sentimental here more than anything.)

Minuses

Penalty kill
Both of Maine’s goals tonight were power-play goals. BU entered the game ranked just 33rd in penalty-kill percentage (.818), and Friday’s showing wasn’t much more encouraging in that regard.

“Obviously we’ve got to tighten things up on the penalty kill,” Quinn said. “We can’t be giving up two power-play goals, unfortunate from that perspective.”

Defense: Still a giant question mark
Sophomore defenseman John MacLeod, by our unofficial tally, missed a good portion of the second period and all of the third period because he was benched by Quinn.

When I asked him about that reasoning, he responded, “I just liked the way the other five guys were going. And just…” then he was cut off by an unrelated question from another reporter.

The benching happened after MacLeod let up way too easy of a chance for Maine while on the penalty kill, and didn’t stick with the play, giving forward Cam Brown all the room in the world to score.

As a side note before we get going: I haven’t really given senior goaltender Sean Maguire his due in this post. He certainly bailed out his team yet again with his 32 saves.

We’ve talked about this a bit previously, but it looks like that sixth defenseman spot is really just being switched off between MacLeod and sophomore Brien Diffley, while freshman defenseman Shane Switzer — who, again, is a sufficient option on the blue line, as we’ve defended many times on this blog — is stuck in no man’s land. I wouldn’t even go as far to say the other five regulars have been stellar, either, as there were some ugly, ugly turnovers throughout the game Friday.

But it seems pretty much based on the pattern to this point that those five core guys will play, unless there’s injury, and MacLeod or Diffley will be the sixth guy. I also asked Quinn about the sixth spot being switched off between subpar play from MacLeod and Diffley, and whether he thinks that’s a tangible solution going forward.

“I don’t think about that,” he said. “I don’t know, whoever plays well is going to play.”

I can possibly understand the reasoning behind not playing Switzer, to the extent that MacLeod and Diffley are older and have played more at BU. As in, I understand that that’s a possible thought. It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s defensible reasoning. Of course, I don’t see practice on a daily basis, and I don’t know what Quinn’s standards are for “playing well.” But there’s absolutely nothing we’ve seen from his limited game play that indicates Switzer is a worse option.

At this point, there’s no way Switzer isn’t a better option than benching a guy midway through a game and overexerting five defensemen that have already taken a bit of a step back this season. It’s mostly just frustrating, overall, to see what was supposed to be this team’s absolute biggest strength this year turn into such a gigantic question mark — and to see the same patterns continue, game after game, with limited change.

3 thoughts on “Pluses and Minuses: Fourth, second lines shine, penalty kill continues to struggle against Maine”

  1. I agree Sarah. Over the summer, I remember thinking that our D could be historically epic this 2015-2016 season. When has a team returned all six members of its top-3 D-pairings and had a future first-round NHL draft pick joining them? They have had their moments, but not nearly consistent enough.

  2. Great observation Sarah. One of the biggest disappointments of this season is the defense in the B.U zone. Loose gap control, poor puck management and poor decisions have created a lot of problems. Surprisingly, it remains inconsistent at best.
    I agree that Switzer deserves an opportunity. I was glad to see B.U.escape with a victory last night, especially early when both teams traded odd man rushes. I expect a tough game tonight.
    Congratulations to DQ for his 50th victory as Head Coach only 950 behind the man up the street.

  3. The poor play of the D is sure a mystery. Thought to be so outstanding at the start of the year they are almost sub average at this point. Maybe MacCloud should have stayed with Grizz on the 1 st D like last year. That D came within two goals of the national championship.

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