Merrimack College split a pair of games at the Mariucci Classic this past weekend, beating the host Minnesota Golden Gophers, 3-2, on Friday night before falling in the tournament championship game, 3-1, to UMass Lowell on Saturday.
Here are three thoughts from the weekend:
1) Things aren’t as close as they appear: The 3-1 setback to Lowell on Saturday wasn’t nearly as close as the score might indicate, especially considering the game was tied, 1-1, with under four minutes to play in the third period.
Merrimack attempted as many shots as UMass Lowell landed on goal (44), getting outshot 44-22 in the game and out-attempted 81-44. The River Hawks dominated the territorial play from start to finish.
These last three games, going back to the Saturday game at BU on Dec. 6, has been the three worst possession games for the Warriors all season, getting outshot by a total of 132-71 and out-attempted 246-142, a possession for percentage of just 36.6 percent. It has dropped Merrimack’s season possession percentage below 50 percent for the first time all season, currently sitting at 49.7 percent. For much of the first half, the Warriors were fluctuating between 52 and 55 percent.
The Warriors had not allowed 40 shots on goal all season before BU put 46 on net at Agganis Arena on Dec. 6, and now the Warriors have allowed more than 40 shots in three straight games.
All things point to possession being the problem. Merrimack’s shooting percentage the last three games is 8.45 percent, which while not spectacular, is only 1/10 of a percentage point less than Merrimack’s season average of 8.56 percent. Merrimack’s goaltenders have posted a .932 save percentage over this three-game stretch, which is slightly better than the season save percentage (.930).
Almost nothing else has changed. Their percentage of shot attempts for and against landing on goal is almost identical (55.71% for the season, 50.00% in the last three games), only different by a few percentage points. The percentage of shot attempts blocked for and against tells a similar story (25.32% for the season, 23.58% in the last three games).
The biggest glaring difference is possession percentage. Before these three games, Merrimack’s possession percentage was 52.81 percent (percentage of shot attempts for). It’s been 36.6 percent during this stretch. It’s a dramatic drop.
Of course, strength of competition should be considered. These three games were against Boston University (7), Minnesota (10) and Lowell (9), three teams that are in the top-10 of the Pairwise. Also, all three games were on ice sheets larger than Merrimack’s NHL-sized ice (200×85) at Lawler Arena. Though BU’s is only five feet wider, Minnesota’s is 200×100.
2) Built for home, sweet home: While a supporter and user of analytics, I don’t think you can rely on them solely when analyzing the performance of an individual player or team. It needs to be a combination of analytics and instincts. What you see can tell you a lot as well.
Watching these two games against Minnesota and Lowell, it seems clear that Merrimack won’t have trouble defending teams. Minnesota torched them for 42 shots, and while Rasmus Tirronen made a career high 40 saves, he had a clean line of vision to most of those pucks, with the one exception being the gorgeous glove stop on Justin Kloos in the first period.
Minnesota had free range of the perimeter, which was a bigger area than normal on the wider ice sheet, but, as Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said in his postgame, the Warriors did a nice job of not leaving good ice for bad ice, letting the Gophers wheel the puck around the outside without many dangerous chances headed Tirronen’s way.
They were doing a similar job against Lowell, keeping many of the River Hawks’ chances to outside the home-plate area between the dots, however, the River Hawks were able to do a much better job providing traffic in front of Tirronen, disrupting his vision.
Look at Lowell’s first two goals from Dylan Zink — both were from the point.
The Warriors struggled to move that traffic away from the net front, an area where they were good on Friday.
Looking at the rest of the schedule, Merrimack should be able to win the majority of its games at home. They’re built for that rink. That’s not to say you should expect them to go undefeated on home ice, but they should win more than they lose, and be in every game.
Lowell, for instance, is also built to play on a rink like Merrimack’s. That’s going to be a dogfight for 60 minutes (maybe more), and I’d expect it to be the Warriors’ toughest home game all season, perhaps even more than Clarkson, which also played a style that fit into the tight confines well.
The teams that want to play an up-tempo, up-and-down-the-sheet type game are going to struggle at Merrimack. That’s not breaking news, that’s been the case for a while. But I also think the Warriors will struggle to produce offensively on bigger sheets. That also seems evident, albeit with a very limited sample size (just three games). Games in the second half on larger ice include two games at New Hampshire (200×100), one at UMass (200×95) and two at Vermont (200×90).
If they can defend the net front they way they did against Minnesota, they’ll have a chance to win games on larger sheets. You can’t expect a team to score three goals on just 17 shots, though, and finding a way to create some more offense will be vital. If you noticed, Merrimack employed it’s stretch more against Lowell than I believe it had in any game this season.
3) Kolomatis quietly one of the best: The numbers for Dan Kolomatis aren’t going to jump off the page. Three goals, eight assists in 19 games. That’s 27th nationally in scoring for a defenseman. It’s also proof that, as stated above, numbers don’t mean everything. Kolomatis was terrific this past weekend, as he has been all season. After scoring the Warriors’ only goal against Lowell, he followed things up on the next shift with a huge block on a shot that I’m not positive Tirronen would have otherwise seen. But that has been Kolomatis’ game all season. Quietly, he’s become one of the best two-way defensemen in Hockey East.
It’s hard to get anyone to show up for a game between two teams that come from 1,400 miles away, but the attendance for Lowell-RIT and Merrimack-Lowell must have made for a hard atmosphere to play in. … Merrimack blocked the most shots it had all season – 23 against Minnesota and 19 against Lowell – which shouldn’t be a total surprise, with the 76 and 81 shot attempts allowed being the second and third worst of the year. Merrimack’s block percent of 30.26% against Minnesota was a season high; that dropped to 23.46% against Lowell, which ranks 14th out of 19 games played. … Speaking of blocks, Lowell’s 31.82% block percentage on Saturday was the highest against Merrimack this season. … Merrimack’s goaltenders have posted a game save percentage of below .932 just twice in the last nine games, stopping .897 at Northeastern (a 3-1 loss) and .913 at BU (a 4-2 loss). … What should come as no surprise, in the six games Merrimack’s goaltenders have stopped less than 90% of shots faced, the Warriors are 1-4-1. They’re 10-2-1 when goaltenders stop 90% or more.
Mike McMahon covers Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report as well as on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN