Columnists, Sports

The Blue Line: BU lacks defense

The Boston University men’s hockey team this year is … well, lacking something. And by something, I mean defense. BU’s defense is dreadful. They allow a contemptible 3.40 goals per game. In fact, the player leading BU’s plus-minus ranking is freshman forward Brendan Collier, at plus-1. That’s right, the Terriers have just one player with a positive rating.

Firstly, BU’s coaching, though lacking the distinguished Jack Parker, is not the cause of the Terriers’ struggles. I applaud coach David Quinn, who has filled the shoes of a legend with a team that has nine starting freshmen. I am honestly very impressed with Quinn’s ability to lead BU to so many close games. As of late, the Terriers are playing some remarkably competitive hockey, despite having an overall incapable defense.

Personally, I think BU is one or two natural scorers away from having a competitive offense. Although the team ranks 48th nationally in offense, putting up an average of only 2.41 goals a game, the forward corps at BU is tremendously young. Freshman forward Robbie Baillargeon has been my favorite player to watch so far this season, and currently leads the team in points with 23 in 30 games.

His productivity as a freshman is admirable, and suggests a promising future. Until the Terriers can obtain another scorer or two, either recruiting scorers or developing current players, the offense will continue to be subpar.

Besides Baillargeon, only two forwards seem to know how to generate offense — sophomore Danny O’Regan and junior Cason Hohmann, who share the lead in goals at nine apiece. Sophomore forward Matt Lane’s play has also been quite impressive.  Lane, though not putting up great numbers, has a rating of minus-3 despite not missing a game.

Good things seem to happen when Lane is on the ice, and that is no coincidence. At 5-feet-10, 175 pounds, Lane is not the biggest guy on the ice. However, his presence on the ice is sound, and he takes quite good care of the puck.

BU’s two sophomore goaltenders have been a bit inconsistent at points this season, but each has more than respectable numbers. Matt O’Connor boasts a .920 save percentage, and Sean Maguire holds a respectable .913. Neither goaltender has a very aesthetically pleasing goals against average, though.

O’Connor has a less than stellar 2.98 GAA, and Maguire’s is even higher at 3.22. I do not blame either goalkeeper in the slightest — BU gives up an average of just about 37 shots per game, making it tough on the goaltenders.

When discussing BU’s defense, there is not much to compliment at all. The statistic of plus/minus proves to be very useful when delving into the defensive unit.

Senior co-captains and defensemen Patrick MacGregor and Garrett Noonan log ice time like no others, and, as a result, have painful ratings of minus-15 and minus-14, respectively.

Offensive-minded sophomore defenseman Ahti Oksanen, though second on the team in points (22), has a minus-12 rating. Sophomore Matt Grzelcyk, in the 19 games he played this season before being injured for the rest of the season, was minus-7. The defenseman with the best plus/minus rating on the team is freshman Dalton MacAfee, who maintains a just minus-2 rating in his 25 games played.

What’s the problem with the defense? Well, here’s my answer: it isn’t nearly aggressive enough. When the New Jersey Devils made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, they most definitely did not have the best team in the Eastern Conference. What got them there? An aggressive forecheck and an even more aggressive defense. Look here in Boston. The Bruins are successful year in and year out. Why? Because of their ability to stifle teams on defense.

The Terrier defense, at every game I’ve seen this year, looks afraid. When there should be a battle for the puck at the opposition’s blue line, the Terrier defenseman, no matter who it is, will back off, sacrificing possession of the puck to prevent a breakout play going toward O’Connor or Maguire.

Conservative defenses are okay, when holding on to a lead, something BU has not had much of this season. Stifling, aggressive defenses win hockey games and championships.

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