Friday, February 24, 2012

3 Keys To PC Women’s Hockey East Quarterfinal Matchup With Maine

Playing to their strength
Since returning from the December deceleration, the Friars have mustered at least two goals in every game not involving Florence Schelling. But of their 33 strikes in those 14 games, only five have been cultivated on the power play. Their second-half special teams’ success rate of 7.46 percent all but matched the 7.9 conversion rate of their first 17 regular-season outings.

Maine’s comparable position on the other side of the spectrum is much more deceptive. Although the Black Bears are second-to-lowest on the league leaderboard in penalty killing, they have gone 50-for-53 (94 percent success) in that department since the start of the calendar year.

Providence had best focus on keeping an even-strength format, which will not be easy considering only Boston University and Vermont rival the Friars and Black Bears in terms of drawing opposing penalties. But the Friars will at least want to sculpt themselves a relatively early cushion so as to avoid being burned by the likely event of a failed power play breathing life into their visitors.

Looking for a more positive spin on this issue? Well, the best this analyst can provide is a relatively even gauge in terms of five-on-five production. PC has tuned the mesh at even strength 67 times in its first 34 games as opposed to Maine’s 66 in 33 outings.

Still, in a do-or-die scenario when special teams could spell all the difference between the semifinals and spring cleaning, the Friars can raise the upper hand by tipping the scale in the area they know best.

Seniority in the nets
Last season, otherworldly goaltender Genevieve Lacasse and her skating mates were eliminated by a similarly celestial Boston College tandem in crease counterpart Molly Schaus and volcanic scorer Kelli Stack. There is no cause to dismiss the notion that the deciding factor was an intangible bonus layer of incentive on the part of the two Eagles, who were on their last call for a Hockey East pennant.

In this year’s opening round, Lacasse joins six decorated classmates in their own final push for fulfillment. She will be countered by former Little Caesar's U19 teammate Brittany Ott, who will have one more year ahead of her after this.

Not to dismiss Maine’s will to win in 2012 or PC’s in 2011 by any means, but if the Friars brought an A-plus game to their 3-2 overtime loss in last year’s semifinals, then the Eagles had an A-plus-plus effort fueling them. And only the likes of Stack and Schaus had access to that at the time.

Could this be the Friars’ opportunity to reverse their role? That depends on whether they take it.

Stinginess down the stretch
The closing frame is decisively Maine’s most fruitful, the Black Bears having tuned the mesh a cumulative 26 times in opening frames, 28 in the second and 37 in the final stanza.

Not so coincidentally, they are a respectable 5-7-2 when trailing at the 40-minute mark. They are all but as lethal as the sight of Medusa when leading at the second intermission (11-0-2).

Providence will need to be mindful of this, regardless of the shape of the game at the time of the third period faceoff. Maria Lewis’ Maine Black Bears are at a point where they are tougher to put away than David Letterman’s Late Show Bear.