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Takeaways: Merrimack’s underlying statistics show exponential improvement

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BOSTON ā€” Since the start of the season’s second half 10 days ago against Denver, in all three zones, the Merrimack men’s hockey team looks like a totally different unit. Changes made in the defensive zone are limiting chances from the opponent and between the pipes, Craig Pantano and Drew Vogler have combined to give the Warriors the goaltending necessary to compete for a playoff spot in Hockey East.

Let’s simply compare the numbers.

Through 17 games in the first half of the season, the Warriors went 4-12-1, scoring 2.0 goals per game and allowing 4.1 goals per game. Merrimack averaged 25.5 shots for and 29.8 shots against.

Merrimack shot 7.8 percent while opponents were shooting 13.6 percent (Merrimack’s team save percentage was just .866).

Skip ahead a few weeks and the Warriors are 1-3 in the second half. That’s not a great record, but the underlying analytics look much improved.

The Warriors are averaging just 1.0 goal per game, a number which clearly needs to come up, but the goals against have come down to just 2.5 per game. The Warriors are taking more shots (27.5 per game) and while allowing more (32.5 per game), not many have come off second chances or from inside the grade-A portion of the ice.

Why is that?

Well, changes in the defensive zone have kept opponents contained to the perimeter for the most part. Northeastern had 42 shots on Craig Pantano on Saturday night, and I’m having a hard time remembering more than three or four that were really high-quality chances.

Merrimack’s 3.6 shooting percentage in the second half is so low, it’s going to regress back to the mean sooner than later. Meanwhile, opponents have seen their shooting percentage drop six points, down to 7.7 percent, meaning the Warriors save percentage since the Denver game is a .923.

If Merrimack shot its same 7.8 percent in the first four games of the second half, which is a more reasonable number for this team, then the team’s goal differential would be (rounding) -1 (9-10). That’s an expected winning percentage of just below .500.

There are signs the changes made have worked, and while it hasn’t reflected itself in a higher winning percentage yet, it will. Especially if the Warriors keep getting .923 goaltending.

  • Northeastern had a lot of shot volume in the first 30 minutes (27 shots on goal) but not many of them were high-quality chances. Merrimack was almost allowing Northeastern to dance the puck around the outside walls and near the top of the zone, and the plays looked fancy, but they weren’t turning into many offensive chances. The D-zone changes Merrimack made coming out of the holiday break were perhaps most noticeable here, comparing how Northeastern rolled against the Warriors last month and this game was much closer and the Huskies didn’t generate nearly as many scoring chances as they did previously.
  • The call on August von Ungern-Sternberg early in the third period was absolutely horrific. Von Ungern-Sternberg barely made contact with Picking, and his stick was barely off the ice.
  • Dominic Dockery was arguably Merrimack’s best skater against the Huskies, and I think he had one of the best weekends of his young career logging huge minutes while filling in for Johnathan Kovacevic. Especially on Saturday night the Warriors mainly rolled five defensemen and Dockery was taking the bulk of those extra minutes.
  • The game-winning goal was a big goal by Chase Gresock and it was a goal-scorer’s goal. Gresock beat his man off the draw and was able to rifle the puck through Ryan Ruck’s legs. It was the type of quick decisionmaking the Warriors need to display more of in the second half.

About Mike McMahon

Mike McMahon is in his 13th year covering Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report. Mike also serves on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN

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