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Takeaways: Northeastern pulled away after even 40 minutes

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NORTH ANDOVER — Northeastern defeated Merrimack 7-2 on Friday night after scoring five goals in the third period. Exclusively for TMR VIP members, Mike McMahon brings you his takeaways from the game …

  • The lopsided score wouldn’t suggest a closer game, but until the wheels came off the bus in the third period, I thought the game was fairly even. Shots through two periods were 19-14 Merrimack and shot attempts were 30-21 Northeastern after two periods. Scoring chances were even.
  • The wheels fell off for Merrimack in the third period after the Huskies scored just 47 seconds into the frame. From there Merrimack mismanaged the puck and it resulted in a shorthanded rush and goal for the Huskies and then Northeastern scored on a 5-on-3 power play. Once that ball got rolling downhill on the Warriors, they weren’t able to stop yet, let alone push the momentum back in their favor.
  • The second period was one of the best periods Merrimack played in the last month. They were faster than Northeastern, winning puck races and taking the game to them physically. Shots in the second period were 11-4 Merrimack and the Warriors had the Huskies on their heels. Now the challenge becomes sustaining that level of play over a 60-minute game. Merrimack proved tonight that they can do it in flashes, but they need to find more consistency. It’s easier said than done and is probably the biggest challenge facing most teams in the bottom half of the KRACH this time of year.
  • Every year there seem to be one or two instances of questionable scheduling from Hockey East. This weekend is a good example. Merrimack plays Friday and Saturday while both Providence and Northeastern — Merrimack’s opponents — play one-game weekends. There was no effect last night, but I don’t think it’s ironic that the Warriors collapsed in the third period against a Northeastern team that, theoretically, had fresher legs in the third period against a Merrimack team that had to play one of the harder, heavier teams (Providence) last night. It’s not the reason Merrimack lost, but I don’t think it helped.
  • Jeff Solow had a solid game. He had a big block in the second period while the game was still close and I thought covered in the defensive zone well.
  • Johnathan Kovacevic has been the best player on the ice for Merrimack in every game this season. In probably half of Merrimack’s games, he’s been the best player on the ice for both teams. It was noticeable tonight in the third period when the Warriors were under siege how much Kovacevic looks like a pro hockey player. He skates like a pro. He positions like a pro. He has pro size. Everything about him screams pro hockey player, and he’s going to be a good one at the next level. He’ll require some AHL seasoning but he has a future with the Winnipeg Jets.
  • Cole McBride had a nice goal in the first period and continued to up his physical play on the weekend. That’s what is going to keep McBride in the lineup. He has plenty of skill, but the harder, edgier he plays the more effective he’ll be and the more ice time he’ll get on gameday. This weekend seemed like a good push in the right direction for him.
  • As for why things fell apart in the third period … not to sound like a broken record but it’s a lot of the same stuff we’ve been writing about for the last 3-4 weeks. The Warriors are losing battles and not playing hard enough defensively. They’ve passed up the opportunity to block shots and that creates chaos for a goaltender who is trying to track shots from the top of the zone. This isn’t so much a problem across the board — some players are performing better than others in the regard — but the common theme among the goals allowed are usually soft play in the defensive zone. Not picking up a player off the wall. Not blocking a shot. Not getting into a lane. Waving a stick at a guy instead of taking the body or losing a puck battle because someone was not willing to get hit along the wall. Little things like that are resulting in pucks finding the back of Merrimack’s net.
  • The game disqualification penalty on Eetu Selanne was dirty and egregious. I’m not sure what his issue was in that spot … Northeastern is leading 6-2 with under four minutes left in the game, and he used his stick as a weapon after being hooked a little bit entering the zone. Grow up. Stupid penalty and a deserved major and game DQ. The disqualification penalty carries with it an automatic one-game suspension, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the league review the play for potential supplemental discipline. I wouldn’t expect supplemental discipline (the one game is enough), but I can guarantee you Hockey East officials will review that play.
  • August Von Ungern-Sternberg had another terrific game. Last night the freshman created a chance for himself shorthanded with a breakaway and he did so again tonight … twice. He has a good stick and breakaway-level speed that’s going to make him a dangerous forward in Hockey East.
  • There were two penalties reviewed in the first period. The first was a hit on Logan Coomes that I thought at live speed, and then again on replay, was a major penalty for contact to the head. Coomes was hit by a Zach Solow, who extended his arms as he made contact, and his head looked like it was the principle point of contact. The officials reviewed the penalty for a longer period of time, but that looked like textbook contact to the head.
  • A few minutes later Michael Babcock was ejected for a kneeing major. This was another penalty that was reviewed for a long time before the officials settled on the major and game misconduct. This call was a lot closer, I thought. Babcock and Brandon Hawkins definitely made knee-to-knee contact but I don’t believe it was intentional. Babcock didn’t stick his knee out as is often seen when penalties like that occur. The reason I don’t agree with the major and misconduct is because the rules give the officials plenty of latitude in these cases. Years ago, kneeing was an automatic misconduct/game disqualification, but that changed in 2016. Now the officials can call a kneeing minor if they believe it was incidental contact. That’s what I believe happened on the Babcock play, which is why I disagreed with the call. Also, if the call on Solow wasn’t a major, I have a bigger issue with the call on Babcock being a major.

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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