With the calendar flipping to November, now is a good time to take a look at how Hockey East is shaping up. Before we get to the rankings, consider this your reminder that Boston University and Boston College play this Friday night at 8 p.m., and it’s probably going to be a good one. If you’re not going, you can watch on NBCSN.
1. Boston University (4-1-0, 2-1-0 HEA)
The Terriers got a bit of a wakeup call Saturday against Providence, as they were caught on their heels early on and ultimately couldn’t overcome a 2-0 deficit despite outshooting the Friars 18-6 in the third. Still, the Terriers have been the most impressive team in Hockey East so far. Their excellent freshman class has provided a noticeable talent upgrade at both ends of the ice, led of course by Jack Eichel. The potential No. 1 pick in next year’s NHL draft has a five-game point streak to start his college career, and he leads Hockey East in points per game (1.80) and shots on goal per game (6.20). After getting outshot by nearly 10 shots per game last year, the Terriers have outshot opponents by eight shots per game so far this year. Junior goalie Matt O’Connor has a .958 save percentage in four starts.
2. Boston College (4-2-0, 1-1-0 HEA)
The Eagles rebounded from a tough opening night at Lowell to win four in a row before having that streak snapped with an overtime loss on the road against a good Denver team on Saturday. Sophomore goalie Thatcher Demko has a .945 save percentage since giving up four goals on opening night, confirming what we all suspected — that everything is fine and opening night was just a blip on the radar. His strong play will continue to be important as the Eagles get used to life without defenseman Steve Santini, who is out until at least January after undergoing wrist surgery. Bruins draft pick Ryan Fitzgerald has embraced his move into the role of first-line center after playing wing last year, as he has five goals in six games and has won 51.6 percent of his faceoffs.
3. UMass-Lowell (5-1-1, 3-0-0 HEA)
The River Hawks are off to their best start of the Norm Bazin era, most recently sweeping UNH over the weekend. The sophomore trio of Evan Campbell, Chris Maniccia (who had a hat trick Saturday) and Joe Gambardella has provided a great 1-2-3 punch at center, as all three are averaging at least a point per game and winning at least 53.7 percent of their faceoffs. The River Hawks lead Hockey East in scoring with 4.29 goals per game, but don’t expect that pace to continue. They’ve scored on 18.3 percent of their shots on goal, which is not sustainable (the best shooting teams in the country usually finish between 11 and 13 percent). Goaltending remains a bit of a question mark, although freshman Jeff Smith has a .946 save percentage in his two starts and junior Kevin Boyle posted a 33-save shutout on Friday.
4. Vermont (4-1-1, 2-1-1 HEA)
The Catamounts managed just one point during a two-game set at Notre Dame over the weekend, but there’s still a lot to like about this team. Team defense was expected to be a strength, and so far it has been just that. Led by the top pairing of Mike Paliotta and Alexx Privitera, the Catamounts have allowed just 24.33 shots on goal per game (tied for second fewest in Hockey East) and are a perfect 19-for-19 on the penalty kill. On top of that, they’ve gotten great goaltending from junior Brody Hoffman (.937 save percentage in four starts) and sophomore Mike Santaguida (.941 in two starts).
5. Notre Dame (5-2-1, 1-0-1 HEA)
Even though they’ve played more games than most Hockey East teams, it’s still a little tough to get a good read on the Fighting Irish. Getting swept by Rensselaer and Minnesota-Duluth on opening weekend was bad, but taking three of four points from Vermont this past weekend was pretty good. However, the Irish haven’t played a road game yet, and the four wins between opening weekend and this past weekend came against two teams that are a combined 1-17-0 (Lake Superior State and Niagara). Junior forward Mario Lucia has eight goals in eight games, senior defenseman Robbie Russo has nine points and a team-high 3.88 shots on goal per game, and freshman goalie Cal Petersen, who appears to have won the starting job, has a .950 save percentage in five starts.
6. Providence (2-3-1, 1-1-0 HEA)
It certainly hasn’t been the start the Friars were hoping for after being picked to finish first in both the media and coaches’ preseason polls, but there’s no reason to abandon ship just yet. Perhaps Saturday night’s win at BU will get them going. Jon Gillies finally looked like Jon Gillies, as the junior goalie stopped 37 of the 38 shots he faced. His season save percentage still sits at just .906, though, as he has allowed four or more goals three times already. The Friars need their offense to get going, too. They returned more goals than any other Hockey East team, yet they’re averaging just two goals per game so far. Ross Mauermann’s two points in six games (he had 36 points in 39 games last year) are particularly disappointing. A league-worst 72-percent penalty kill is a problem as well.
7. Merrimack (5-1-1, 1-0-0 HEA)
Like Notre Dame, it’s hard to get a really good read on the Warriors due to their soft schedule. Four of their games have been against teams from the always-weak Atlantic Hockey, two have been against UConn (see No. 10 here) and one was against Princeton (expected to be a cellar dweller in the ECAC). So we at least know they’re better than those kinds of teams — not only have they gone 5-1-1 against them, but they’ve also outshot them by 12.29 shots per game. Now we’ll see if they can keep it going against tougher competition, starting with a series against Providence this weekend. Senior goalie Rasmus Tirronen has a .926 save percentage so far, and it will be important for him to keep that up after finishing with a subpar .908 mark last season.
8. Maine (3-4-1, 2-0-0 HEA)
After starting the season 0-4-0, the Black Bears have now gone 3-0-1 in their last four, most recently sweeping UMass over the weekend. They’ve scored three goals or more in each of the last four games after scoring two or fewer in each of the first four. Sophomores Cam Brown and Blaine Byron have led the way with seven points apiece, while Devin Shore, who had 43 points last year, has four points in his last three games after a very slow start (one point in five games). Goaltending remains a question mark, as neither Matt Morris (.901 save percentage) nor Sean Romeo (.883) has stepped up.
9. New Hampshire (2-4-0, 0-2-0 HEA)
The good news is that the Wildcats are allowing just 24.17 shots on goal per game (fewest in Hockey East) and are outshooting their opponents by 8.67 shots per game. The bad news is that they’ve scored two goals or fewer in four of their six games and currently have an .876 team save percentage. Goaltending became a major question mark the moment Casey DeSmith got arrested and then suspended indefinitely, and so far it’s been even worse than anyone could’ve anticipated. Adam Clark had a good series at Michigan a couple weeks ago, but that’s been the lone bright spot at the position.
10. UConn (1-4-2, 0-2-0 HEA)
The Huskies don’t have much, but they have goaltending. After posting a .939 save percentage in 13 games as a freshman last year, Rob Nichols is at .928 through seven games this season. He’ll at least give them a chance in a lot of games, but if they want to do any real damage, they’re going to have to figure out a way to possess the puck and create some sustained offense. The Huskies are getting outshot by a league-worst 10.14 shots per game, and their 1.71 goals per game are the second-fewest in Hockey East.
11. UMass (2-5-0, 1-4-0 HEA)
The Minutemen had a chance in both of their games at Maine this weekend, but ultimately came away with two losses. They overcame a two-goal third-period deficit on Friday only to lose in overtime, then choked away their own two-goal lead and lost late in regulation on Saturday. Just as everyone feared, defense and goaltending are major concerns here. The Minutemen are giving up a league-worst 35.14 shots and 4.43 goals per game, and Henry Dill and Steve Mastalerz have combined for an abhorrent .874 save percentage.
12. Northeastern (0-6-0, 0-2-0 HEA)
The Huskies rank last in Hockey East in offense (1.50 goals per game), 11th in defense (3.67 goals against per game), 11th on the penalty kill (75.0 percent) and ninth on the power play (6.9 percent). Derick Roy and Clay Witt have combined for an .883 save percentage, with Roy getting the last four starts over a banged-up Witt, and Mike Szmatula is the only player who has scored more than one goal. The Huskies have had to deal with a few injuries, and they’ll probably start to shoot better than 5.4 percent, but their problems are pretty significant regardless.