Jacob Oshinsky/WRBB Sports

DURHAM, N.H. — The last time Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe sat at the Whittemore Center’s press conference podium, he said the Huskies “had a lot of work to do.”

That was 23 days ago, moments after the Huskies’ sloppy first loss of the season to New Hampshire. At the time, Keefe chalked up the team’s lackluster effort to injuries and poor execution — nothing worth panicking over so early in the season.

But when Keefe returned to that same seat on Saturday following Northeastern’s most recent defeat at New Hampshire, his tone was markedly different. The struggles could no longer just be chalked up to injuries, or lineup combinations, or puck luck, or goaltending, any other early-season issue.

For a team that’s lost every game in those three weeks in between visits to Durham, everything needs a hard look in the mirror.

The Huskies fell 4-0 to New Hampshire on Saturday night, outshooting the Wildcats 21-19 but finding no answers after ceding a short-handed goal in the first period, and allowing two more scores in a two-minute span in the second period. The loss drops Northeastern to 2-7 (0-7 Hockey East), marking the first time in program history the Huskies have lost their first seven conference games. 

“Keep working, keep getting better,” Keefe said of his message to the team. “Not much we could say. I mean, the effort was fine. A couple bad mistakes and they end up in the back of our net. It’s not a lack of effort. Maybe some execution.”

Evaluating Northeastern’s brutal month with context is important. The Huskies have been decimated with injuries. Sophomore Hunter McDonald, the reigning Hockey East Defensive Defenseman of the Year, suffered an upper-body injury in the season opener, and has been out ever since. Star junior center Justin Hryckowian missed four games due to injury, and he’s been playing at less than 100% since returning last weekend. Other regular forwards — senior Matt DeMelis, sophomore Jack Williams, and freshan Dylan Hryckowian — have missed stretches with nagging injuries.

But Northeastern’s issues go beyond that. Just look across to the other bench this weekend, where New Hampshire’s junior wing Liam Devlin, the team’s leading point scorer last season, missed both games against Northeastern with an injury. In Devlin’s absence, his usual linemates, sophomore Cy LeClerc and freshman Ryan Conmy, combined for five goals across the two games.

On the contrary, Northeastern’s healthy wings have simply failed to step up amid the injuries to their teammates. Cam Lund, Alex Campbell, and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine — the team’s top three wings on paper entering the season — have each been healthy for all nine games, but have combined for just three goals over this seven-game skid.

Campbell, the highly-acclaimed senior transfer from Clarkson, had his best two games as a Husky this weekend, scoring on Friday night and playing far more assertively all weekend. But Lund, in particular, was expected to take a major leap as a sophomore, yet has encountered similar puck handling and playmaking inconsistencies that plauged his freshman season.

For Saturday’s game, Keefe bumped Lund up to the top line alongside Hryckowian and Campbell in an effort to get his stars rolling, to no avail. Shifting lines around every night can help ignite a spark, but the best players have to deliver regardless of who they are playing next to.

“I mean, all three of them should be the top line on the ice. That’s the expectation,” Keefe said of the lineup switch. “They’re obviously fighting a little bit…We need them to be the best line on the ice.”

Jacob Oshinsky/WRBB Sports

The issue is not effort per se, and with the exception of their 2-1 loss to Providence last Friday — in which the Huskies were outshot 40-8 — Northeastern has not been thoroughly dominated in any other losses. They even hold a positive Corsi-For of 51.4% on the season.

But still, the defeats have continued to pile up. Some reasons why were evident throughout this weekend — while UNH executed on Northeastern’s repeated mistakes, the Huskies simply could not capitalize on their best chances. Lund whiffed on a wide-open net. Eli Sebastian hit the crossbar on a clean look from the slot. Campbell had multiple drives to the net where the puck dribbled off his stick. 

“It wasn’t like we got hemmed in the whole night or anything like that,” Keefe said. “A couple breakdowns though, and now we’re chasing the game. We had chances to go up in the game early and we didn’t finish.”

The continued tendency to give up multiple scores in succession has magnified those other offensive issues. Look at the Huskies past three games: Last Saturday, they gave up two goals in a three-minute span to Providence which put the game out of reach. On Friday, they gave up three scores to UNH in a seven-minute stretch, and on Saturday, UNH again scored twice in under two minutes — both of which put the game beyond the Huskies grasp.

“It’s not a recipe for success at all,” Keefe said of constantly chasing leads. “We’ve got to stay in those one-goal games right now and try to give ourselves a chance to win by making a play at the end of the game type-of-thing. Two nights in a row, our second periods let us down.” 

Jacob Oshinsky/WRBB Sports

On top of all of those other issues, goaltending also remains a legitimate question mark. It would be unfair to blame this stretch directly on Cameron Whitehead — after all, he’s a freshman playing in front a banged-up defense that continues to allow odd-man rushes in his direction3. But Whitehead’s .896% save percentage places him 13th of 15 qualifying goalies in Hockey East, and the Huskies need better goaltending one way or another.

In Friday’s third period, Keefe pulled Whitehead in favor of backup Connor Hopkins, a graduate transfer from Yale with 11 career starts, and carried that switch over into Saturday, where Hopkins received his first start as a Husky — and he, too, gave up four goals. 

“Obviously, Cam Whitehead is going to play,” Keefe said. “We wanted to give [Hopkins] a chance, and I thought that he did a good job in there. But right now, it’s not just that. It’s our special teams. It’s our D zone. We’re not scoring goals, and every mistake we make is ending up in the back of their net.”

Northeastern will finally emerge from the Hockey East gauntlet next weekend to travel to central New York for a clash with RPI, who has struggled almost as much as Northeastern — they are 2-6, and have given up at least two goals in every game this year.

For a team picked 4th in the Hockey East preseason poll and with NCAA tournament aspirations, it’s hard to imagine how things could be going much worse. This weekend proved that the issues are not just early season woes

The Huskies are snowballing, top to bottom. And everything needs a look in the mirror, before it’s too late. 

WRBB will have live coverage from Troy next weekend for Northeastern’s two-game series against RPI, starting with a 3 p.m. bout on Saturday. Matty Wasserman and Zach Lyons will be on the call for both games.