Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hockey East Power Rankings, December 12, 2012

In coming to my latest power rankings, it is clear the league is going to be divided into three tiers this season. It is often the case that the league finds itself with different levels of teams, and this year is no different. The top three are in a pack all by themselves and all should easily cruise to home ice. The next tier is a group that I think will almost all certainly make the league playoffs and one of the teams will narrowly clinch home ice. Then there is the bottom three teams, who will fight it out for the last playoff spot and the other two will miss the playoffs.

1. Boston College: Jerry York's bid for win 925 was sidetracked by a late Providence rally on Friday night, but the Eagles are still the top team in the league. The first two lines, especially the top line, is extremely dynamic. The only downfall currently is the lack of scoring productivity from the bottom two lines. BC teams under York have tended to progress and improve as the season goes along so expect the kinks to get worked out and the strengths to be emphasized.

2. New Hampshire: The Wildcats lost to BU in their only regular season game of the weekend, but their body of work is still better than that of the Terriers. Plus, UNH beat BU earlier in the season. The Wildcats still have a solid top group offensively, while getting balanced scoring when they need. The defense and goaltending should continue to be a strength for the Wildcats.

3. Boston University: Jack Parker's team picked up all four points on the weekend, knocking off top ranked UNH on the road and shutting out Maine at home. The Terriers proved Saturday night they can still win while not bringing their A game. BU now has two goaltenders who have shown they are capable of taking over a game.

4. Providence: The Friars scored a last minute goal with the goalie pulled to tie Boston College on Friday night, giving PC faithful yet another reason to hope this season is the start of good things on Huxley Ave. Nate Leaman is beginning to stockpile this program with young talent and it will pay dividends in the future.

5. UMass-Lowell: The River Hawks picked up two shutout wins, both with freshman Connor Hellebuyck in net. UML figured to have one of the best goaltenders in the league this year, with Doug Carr returning from a stellar sophomore campaign. Carr hasn't been bad, and certainly isn't to blame for Lowell's struggles in the early going. This team has a much easier schedule in the second half than they did in the first half and will charge up the standings now that Scott Wilson and Riley Wetmore have gotten on track.

6. Merrimack: The Warriors came out flying against Army, an admittedly weaker opponent, but really took it to the Black Knights. Mark Dennehy's squad doesn't have the talent or the superstar of the NCAA tournament team with Da Costa, Cucci and Barton, but Mike Collins leads an offense that can generate puck movement and has skating ability that few Merrimack teams have had. The defense has begun to come together and clamp down. The goaltending has also come together. If this team can learn to be more careful with the puck, eliminating turnovers and bury a few of those chances, they will have a chance to compete for that home ice spot.

7. UMass-Amherst: The Minutemen have lost three straight non-conference games, two to Colgate and one to Yale. The goaltending that had been so sharp early in the season, saw three very rough outings. The offense should be fine, and has more depth than expected. Michael Pereira hasn't really heated up yet, but once he does, it will add some firepower. The trouble with UMass is that the defense and goaltending appear to now be suspect.

8. Northeastern: The Huskies are in full meltdown mode. Players are leaving the program, recruits are de-committing and the team can't win games. If it wasn't for the total ineptitude of the teams below to find any offense, I'd rank NU lower. This might sound like a broken record, but the Huskies have two solid forward lines, but nothing below that and the defense is full of holes. The goaltending is hit or miss. Jim Madigan isn't a good enough coach to make up for those shortcomings.

9. Vermont: Kevin Sneddon's club visited Hanover, NH to face Dartmouth in a mid-week contest, and fell victim to the Big Green 4-2. About the only thing UVM has shown so far this season is it can score more goals than Maine in a weekend series. The Catamounts are in deep trouble already, and making it more a dire situation is their rough second half schedule. UVM finishes with six games against BC, UNH and BU.

10. Maine: The Black Bears couldn't clear the puck out of it's own zone for the first few minutes Saturday night at BU, as the Terriers cycled the puck at will around Maine defenders and backcheckers. After that, the Black Bears skated right with BU, but a Terrier power play goal was the difference. Maine created some decent opportunities, even outshooting BU, but couldn't find the back of the net. Especially with Martin Ouellette playing better in net, up to the level of an NHL draft pick, Tim Whitehead's squad has more talent than the other teams at the bottom of the standings, but just cannot seem to put the puck in the net.