For BU hockey, defense pitching in on offense
When Boston University lost its top two centers - Corey Trivino and Charlie Coyle - coach Jack Parker didn’t know what type of team he would have for the second semester. The veteran bench boss is now finding out, and the news has been very encouraging.
The Terriers have played five games in 2012 and won them all, improving to 15-6-1 overall and 12-4-1 in Hockey East. They are ranked No. 2 in the nation as they head into a weekend series against Maine at Agganis Arena.
BU has received an enormous offensive outburst from the defense, with the blue liners racking up 26 points, including seven goals, in the last five games.
Sophomore Adam Clendening leads the defensive corps in points with 21 (tied for third on the squad) and sophomore Garrett Noonan leads the defenders in goals with eight.
The Terriers, who are 12-2-0 in their last 14, made a meal out of Providence last weekend, sweeping a two-game series by a combined score of 14-1. The defensemen were stellar, generating four goals and 13 assists.
“I think it’s a mixture of things,’’ said junior defenseman Sean Escobedo. “Even when we had [Trivino and Coyle], they were obviously big parts of our team, but we knew we had to step up to be successful because you have to play from the net out.
“[Goaltender Kieran Millan] was playing good, and it was up to us to play even better for him. From that standpoint, we knew we had to start bearing down in our own zone, whether it be our communication or playing more physical and just playing overall smarter, making the easy passes instead of the fancy ones and staying out of the [penalty box], which obviously has been a big downfall for us. We’re the most penalized team in the country.’’
Escobedo said there have been more openings for the blue liners to get involved in the offense, but not at the expense of leaving their zone uncovered.
“We’ve been smarter with our chances to jump into the play,’’ said Escobedo. “Because of that, we’ve been able to be more successful. We’ve been able to capitalize on our chances and it’s worked out pretty good for us.’’
Clendening’s points are tops in the league among defensemen, and they average out to a point per game for the 19-year-old.
“I think we’re probably one of the strongest D corps in Hockey East and hopefully the country,’’ said Escobedo. “We have guys, Adam Clendening and Max Nicastro, whose offensive talents speak for themselves. They all have great shots and great vision, and those guys have obviously stepped up with timely goals and assists and they’re just leading the way.’’
“I think the whole corps of defensemen have gotten much better both offensively and defensively,’’ said Parker. “Guys like Nicastro, Clendening, Noonan and [Alexx] Privitera all have chipped in with big goals. They’re all contributing, and they should - they’re all good offensive defensemen.
“They’re expected to play defense first, but we know they’re all very capable offensive guys. All seven of our defensemen have played much better from mid-November on. They’ve played really well, and I think that’s one of the biggest improvements on our team.’’
This weekend, BU takes the top scoring offense in Hockey East (3.73 goals per game) up against the sixth-best defense (3.13 goals).
Special teams will be interesting, because Maine brings in the No. 1 power play (29.7 percent) to BU’s No. 2 (23.9). BU is third in penalty killing (84.6 percent) and Maine is eighth (78.0 percent).
It’s a big weekend for New Hampshire, which faces No. 8 Boston College at Conte Forum tonight and at the Whittemore Center tomorrow. The Eagles are 2-5-1 in their last eight. The Wildcats have been very stingy in the last four games, allowing a total of just five goals while going 3-1-0. In their first 19 contests, they allowed an average of 3.58 goals per game. BC is still figuring out its goaltending situation. In the first meeting against UNH, junior Parker Milner had 39 saves in a 5-1 win Oct. 15 . . . Maine’s Brian Flynn heads into the weekend with an eight-game point streak, with 14 points in that span . . . Northeastern (8-11-3) will try to pull out of its skid this weekend with a pair of games at Vermont. The Huskies, who have had a roller-coaster season, have dropped their last four decisions, scoring a total of just six goals in that span. The Catamounts (5-17-1) have just two league wins (2-13-1). Despite the team’s struggles, Drew MacKenzie takes in a career-high nine-game point streak with 10 points.
Remember the old Avis Rent-A-Car motto, “We try harder!’’? Well, maybe Harvard should adopt a new motto, something along the lines of, “We play longer!’’ In the Crimson’s last 11 games, they have gone to overtime in eight. Seven of them have resulted in ties, the eighth a loss to BU. Harvard (4-6-8) hosts Yale tonight and Brown tomorrow at Bright Hockey Center. Despite being 0-3-5 in their last eight, the Crimson have the top power play in the nation with a 33 percent success rate. Yale has really struggled of late, with one win in its last six (1-4-1) and two in its last nine (2-6-1). The Elis are 8-9-2 after starting the season 6-3-1.