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Three Things to Watch: Merrimack vs. Boston University

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Merrimack and Boston University kick off their season series tonight with a 7 p.m. faceoff at Merrimack’s Lawler Arena. The Warriors enter tonight’s game 2-0-2 on the season while the No. 8-ranked Terriers are 2-2, coming off a loss on Tuesday night against UConn. Merrimack pulled a pair of ties — both 1-1 games — from UMass Lowell last weekend.

Here are three things to watch in tonight’s game, exclusive for VIP members:

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1. (Once again), can Merrimack’s power play finally provide a spark? — There should be a good opportunity for Merrimack’s struggling power play to get on track this weekend against both BU and UNH. But first, let’s look specifically at the Terriers. Merrimack and BU, through the years, have typically played penalty-filled affairs. Last year, in four games against BU, Merrimack had 20 chances on the power play, including seven in the only game at Lawler Arena last season, a 1-1 tie. That game featured 36 total penalty minutes and 13 power plays between the two teams.

So if history holds true, there should be plenty of special-team opportunities for both teams tonight. Merrimack’s penalty kill has been excellent, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue. Merrimack had the third-best PK in the nation last season, and so far in 2015-16, are perfect. The power play has been another story, converting on just one of 16 chances to start the year.

BU’s penalty kill, however, has been less than impressive. The Terriers have killed only 75 percent (15 for 20) of their penalties, including a dismal .783 team save percentage on the penalty kill, meaning that teams are shooting 21.7 percent on the power play against BU’s PK.

Most of that has to do with BU creating problems for themselves. In a game against UConn on Tuesday — the Huskies scored four power-play goals — not only was the BU PK unit not blocking shots from the point, they were practically creating screens. Look for the points on Merrimack’s power-play units to potentially have big nights unless the Terriers have found a way to clean that up.

2. Will BU’s road woes continue? — The season is awfully young, but BU is winless on the road this season and have been outscored a total of 10-5 outside of Agganis Arena in those two games (5.0-2.5 average). Those road games haven’t exactly come against the cream of the crop, either. Union, who has started well, is still projected as a middle-of-the-pack team in the ECAC and UConn, which has also played well to start the year, is still considered a mid-tier Hockey East team at best. Third periods have been BU’s word on the road thus far, getting outscored 5-2 by Union and UConn. No doubt inflated by UConn’s night, BU has killed 61.5 percent of its penalties on the road this season. BU hasn’t won at Merrimack since Nov. 9, 2012, losing 3-2 in 2013-14 when Merrimack won only eight games and then tying, 1-1, last season, which was one of just 13 games (out of 41) that BU didn’t win last season.

3. A stronger Terrier team is coming — It’s impossible for BU to match the skill it had last season. That said, there are eight NHL Draft picks on this BU roster, including projected starting goalie for Friday, Sean Maguire. While BU might not be as fast as it was last season, they’re certainly a lot stronger. Freshman Jordan Greenway is 6-5, 230 pounds and he’s just one of a eight players who is more than 6-foot-2. The Terriers should be able to lean on opponents more, and have players who will be more adept at digging pucks out along the wall than smaller, speedier forwards like Evan Rodrigues was last season. The Terriers still possess some of smaller, quicker forwards as well, including senior Danny O’Regan and freshman Bobo Carpenter.

Merrimack has to prepare for a physical test, because this is an old-school BU team that has no problem, from what we’ve seen early in the year, matching physicality from the drop of the puck. A.J. Greer, Jordan Greenway, Doyle Somerby and Ahti Oksanen, just to name a few.

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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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