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Hockey: No. 2 Irish still lead CCHA, but playoff race heats up

Matt Gamber | Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Notre Dame may have lost its 20-game unbeaten streak and its No. 1 national ranking, but the No. 2 Irish still hold a two-point lead with two games in hand over CCHA rival Miami.

With most teams – Notre Dame included – having eight games left in the 28-game conference season, the league standings are taking shape.

The top four teams in the final standings receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament, and with three teams within a point of each other for that No. 4 seed, that race is certainly one to watch.

The next four teams will each host a best-of-three series starting March 6, so the fight for the No. 8 slot will also heat up in the coming weeks as the bottom four look to move into position to host a first round series.

No. 2 Notre Dame (20-4-3, 14-3-3-3, 34 pts)Last week: lost 2-1, won 3-2 vs. MichiganNext week: at Ohio StateKey stat: 1.5 net goals per game. With the league’s second-highest scoring offense (3.2 goals per game) and top scoring defense (1.7 goals allowed per game), the Irish have dominated a relatively easy conference schedule to this point. Notre Dame also boasts the CCHA’s most efficient power-play unit, scoring on 23.5 percent of its man-up chances.

No. 8 Miami (16-8-4, 14-5-3-1, 32 pts)Last week: won 6-1, won 3-2 vs. Bowling GreenNext week: off; at Lake Superior Feb. 13-4Key stat: 72 goals. The RedHawks were the first team to reach 70 goals in conference play, though they have played two more games (22) than every team but Nebraska-Omaha (22) and Alaska (24).

Alaska (12-10-6, 10-9-5-3, 28 pts)Last week: won 4-1, lost 6-2 vs. Ohio StateNext week: off; at Western Michigan Feb. 13-14Key stat: 11.7 penalty minutes per game. The Nanooks take fewer penalty minutes than any other team in the league and have allowed a conference-best 12 power-play goals by successfully killing 89 percent of their penalties.

No. 4 Michigan (19-9-0, 13-7-0-0, 26 pts)Last week: won 2-1, lost 3-2 vs. Notre DameNext week: vs. Lake SuperiorKey stat: eight power-play goals allowed. The Wolverines have killed 92.2 percent of their opponents’ power plays, and no other team has allowed fewer than 12 power play goals in CCHA competition.

No. 15 Ohio State (17-8-3, 10-7-3-3, 26 pts)Last week: lost 4-1, won 6-2 at AlaskaNext week: vs. Notre DameKey stat: 22 third-period goals allowed. Only the bottom three teams in the current standings have allowed more goals in the final period than the Buckeyes, who will try to shore up their defense as they pursue a spot in the top four.

Nebraska-Omaha (13-10-6, 8-8-6-3, 25 pts)Last week: lost 7-1, tied 1-1 (lost shootout 2-1)Next week: vs. Western MichiganKey stat: seven straight losses or ties. The Mavericks have not won since topping Northern Michigan 4-3 on Jan. 9. Since then, they have four losses and three ties, with one shootout win.

Ferris State (11-11-6, 8-8-4-1, 21 pts)Last week: won 7-1, tied 1-1 (won shootout 2-1)Next week: vs. Michigan StateKey stat: 89 percent of penalties killed. The Bulldogs rank No. 3 in all three special teams categories (power play percentage, penalty kill percentage, and special teams net). Miami is the only other team in the top-three of each category, as the RedHawks rank second in each.

Lake Superior (9-11-8, 6-8-6-1, 19 pts)Last week: won 2-0, won 4-2 vs. Michigan StateNext week: at MichiganKey stat: 12 third-period goals allowed. Only Notre Dame, with seven, has allowed fewer goals in the final stanza than the Lakers. That has helped them stay in games, as evidenced by their six ties – which include two against the Irish.

Northern Michigan (9-13-4, 6-10-4-3, 19 pts)Last week: won 6-5, won 4-3 at Western MichiganNext week: vs. Bowling GreenKey stat: 15 third-period goals. The CCHA’s coaches picked the Mavericks to finish fourth, but Northern Michigan has scored fewer third-period goals than every team but Michigan State. The Mavericks have allowed just nine goals in the first period, however, which is the best in the league.

Western Michigan (7-15-6, 4-11-5-1, 14 pts)Last week: lost 6-5, lost 4-3 vs. Northern MichiganNext week: at Nebraska-OmahaKey stat: -16 special teams net. The Broncos have a league-worst special teams net (power-play and shorthanded goals for and against) of -16, thanks mostly in part to the league-worst 29 power-play goals they have allowed. Bowling Green and Ohio State are second-worst in killing penalties and have allowed 21 power play goals each.

Bowling Green (9-16-3, 6-13-1-0, 13 pts)Last week: lost 6-1, lost 3-2 at MiamiNext week: at Northern MichiganKey stat: 3.6 goals allowed per game. The Falcons are the only team that has allowed 70 goals in CCHA play, and their goals-against average is more than twice that of Notre Dame’s 1.70.

Michigan State (7-18-3, 4-14-2-2, 12 pts)Last week: lost 2-0, lost 4-2 at Lake SuperiorNext week: vs. Ferris StateKey stat: Eight first-period goals. The Spartans’ league-worst offense (1.65 goals per game, half of Miami’s average) have scored the conference’s fewest goals in the opening period. Michigan State’s anemic offense is the main culprit behind the disappointing finish for a perennial top-four CCHA finisher.

For further analysis, check out The Casual Observer at observersportsblog.wordpress.com