By Mike Puzzanghera

Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe is now through his first month of games in charge, and the Huskies closed out October with back-to-back home Hockey East wins over Maine. With those in mind, here are some thoughts and observations from that first month that featured four shutout wins, two 5-3 conference losses, one Jayden Struble goal from the neutral zone, and one Jayden Struble goal from the d-zone.

Ritzy Revelation

After missing the first game of the year with an injury, Justin Hryckowian has been a stud ever since. Keefe has remarked countless times about his details: he’s a player that does all the little things right, and you can see that every time he takes the ice. He’s slowly made his way up the line chart from the fourth-line center to a top-six lock playing alongside Aidan McDonough and Sam Colangelo and a member of the PP1 unit.

Through seven games, he’s registered two goals and two assists (on just NINE shots), including a filthy power-play goal against UConn. Equally as important as his offensive contributions, he’s blocked six shots and taken zero penalties. He’s a true 200-foot player with incredible skill and persistence. Get ready for this guy to be a perennial threat over his four years here.

Healthy Defensemen

At the beginning of the year, the six defensemen Jerry Keefe anticipated using every game were: Jordan Harris, Julian Kislin, Jayden Struble, Jeremie Bucheler, Tommy Miller, and Tyler Spott.

This was not the case when the season opened, as Bucheler was still battling an injury. It became worse when Tyler Spott picked up a knock against Holy Cross and missed two games. It nearly became even worse when Jordan Harris was forced to exit the game at BC after being slew-footed by Casey Carreau and hitting his head hard on the fall. But starting in the Colorado College game, and in every game since, that six-man group has been united, and they look fantastic.

Getting Bucheler back has been a huge boost. Through four games, he’s got three assists and has a plus-5 rating. Sneakily, the 6’4” junior has become one of the most important pieces of this Northeastern team.

Miller, who I am nicknaming “The Bunker”, has shown out in his first eight games in a Northeastern jersey. His ability to block shots and win puck battles as a true defensive defenseman is so crucial for this D-corps. After the first win over Maine, Harris remarked that Miller has “seen it all”, and adding his experience and steady ability has been huge for the team.

Scoring Methods

UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said after the game against Northeastern that there are three ways you score goals: on the rush, on the power play, or from offensive zone pressure. For Northeastern, we can add a fourth category: Jayden Struble 100-plus foot heaves.

Here’s where Northeastern stands through eight games. Note that for goals scored by winning the puck on the forecheck and scoring very shortly after, such as McDonough’s first goal against Holy Cross, get categorized as scoring on the rush, though it could certainly fall under the o-zone pressure category as well.

Rush: 11

Power play: 3

O-zone pressure: 6

Struble home runs: 2

Before counting, I figured that scoring on the rush would be the highest total, and hey, I was right! Outside of a strong performance against UConn, the power play has been underwhelming. I think goals will eventually start pouring in on the PP, but through eight games the total sits at three.

Defensive Lapses

Twice this year, Northeastern has given up a goal right as their power play ended. Against UConn, Nick Capone was sprung free after his penalty expired and beat Devon Levi five-hole. Against Maine, Adam Dawe snuck free after a defensive lapse by Jack Hughes as a penalty was expiring, and he deked past Levi for the score.

The Capone goal is a bit of a fluke, as it was just poor timing that was the Huskies’ undoing. But even still, the point man of the PP unit needs to be paying attention to Levi counting the penalty down so they can drop back, especially when the puck is turned over in the o-zone.

I also want to call attention to the first goal Maine scored in the second meeting. After Maine wins the face-off, Harris chases the puck way too high, pulling himself out of position. The puck is sent in deep, and Miller has to drop below the goal to defend against Keenan Suthers. Harris, in the process of getting back, ends up dropping below the goal as well by following the Maine forward. That alone leaves the defense semi-vulnerable with both defensemen below the goal, but the nail in the coffin is slow reaction by Jack Hughes defending the slot. He isn’t aware of Ben Poisson coming in behind him, and commits too hard to try and poke the puck away from Suthers. It falls straight to Poisson, and he buries it first-time. When watching the replay, it looks like a broken play immediately from the draw, which simply can’t happen against tougher Hockey East competition. Maine is no slouch, but do that against UMass, BC, or BU, and that will be a goal 100% of the time.

Faceoff Improvements

After the 3-0 loss to Quinnipiac in the Ice Breaker and the 5-3 loss to Boston College, where Northeastern went a combined 44-for-115 (38.3%), the Huskies went into practice working on faceoff intensity. In the 1-0 win over Colorado College, Northeastern won 31 of 51 faceoffs. Keefe said after the game that the intensity was up and he was happy with how they took the work in practice to heart.

Since the loss to BC, Northeastern has gone a combined 137-241 (56.9%) over four games. They’ve been over 50% in each game, and they’ve gone 3-1 in that timespan.

Hryckowian, in particular, has been a stud from the dot. In the last four games, he is 62-of-88 (70.5%). When the center of your most dangerous line is securing possession for you 70 percent of the time, you’re in a pretty good place.

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