Another weekend in the books and for one team it was moving weekend, as Union was the only top team to pick up four points over the weekend. The Dutch not only opened up some breathing room on second place but it also opened up space down the standings. It now leads the conference by three points and has a six point lead over the ever important fourth place in the conference standings. Quinnipiac has a two point lead for second place,while Colgate, Cornell and Clarkson are all within one point for positions one through five. The fight for the last bye should go down to the last weekend. All these teams legitimately have shots at the regular season title, but at this point the Dutchmen have to be the favorites to hold onto it. It has yet to prove otherwise that it is willing to relinquish it.
Harvard bowed out of the Beanpot last Monday in the semifinals but together a solid performance against BU in the Consolation game on Monday night. The win marked the second in a row for the Crimson and the first time it had won consecutive games all season. St. Lawrence, had a surprising weekend in that it defeated Princeton and Quinnipiac. The former is hardly surprising, as most of the league has defeated the Tigers, but defeating the Bobcats on the road was a surprise, in some senses of the word. The Saints have quietly defeated both top teams in the league in the last two weeks, Union and Quinnipiac, which is quite the impressive two weeks of work.
The Pairwise finds four teams in the top 15 and six in the top 20, which is a testament to how good the league was this season out of conference. Harvard’s win on Monday finished a successful non-conference slate for the conference that saw the league post the third best winning percentage (51-38-16,.562) and garner the second most wins of any, with 51. No conference ran away with the season series with ECAC teams, and the leagues 20-22-8 record against Hockey East is something of a win in itself, although two games back. The conference has proved it can compete with the best teams in the nation. Quite frankly, I would put any ECAC team up against a team from another conference and think it would win. The talent is right there, top to bottom, if not better than in most conferences.
Harvard’s Weird Spectrum of Special Teams Play
One thing I realized watching Monday night’s game has been the weird spectrum that Harvard’s special teams have exhibited during the season. On one hand, the penalty kill sits first in the league during league games at 92 percent and second overall at about 87.2 percent. Those numbers are pretty good, but then there is the ugly power-play that Harvard throws out on the ice every night. The power-play clicks at near 12 percent and again struggled on Monday despite a 5-2 win against Boston University. The power-play is ranked 12th in the ECAC and 52nd in the nation.
Harvard is very tentative offensively and very much so on the power-play. In recent weeks the power-play has improved a little but it hasn’t been a marked advantage. Teams with great PK”s often don’t have great power-plays but the spectrum of attrition with this Harvard special teams seems high.
Successful teams, have successful power-plays. Talent is often the deciding factor in how a power-play operates, but how the power-play is set up is often times the true deciding factor. Some teams are always near the top in power-play percentage, while others are not. Lets be serious, this team should be near the top and the reason why it is not is its lack of production from the blue line. It was ever evident again on Monday night.
As poor as its power-play systems have been this season. the PK has been great and is seemingly getting better. Clicking at 92 percent in league games, the PK has been the strength and its personnel on defense has played right into those numbers. The Crimson block shots and do a great job clogging the center of the ice when its killing penalties. But in all senses of the game the Crimson need to improve the PK is the bright spot. Its success or lack thereof will be a direct product of if its power-play can improve. Games are played at 5 on 5 but the power-play needs to be a dagger.
St. Lawrence is Coming to Life and I am Not Surprised
Last season, St. Lawrence came on down the stretch. This season it appears that it could be much of the same. SLU was marred in a stretch of being winless in nine and having eight losses. Since that streak, though, the Saints are 3-1-0 with wins against Union and Quinnipiac, the latter being on the road. I look at St. Lawrence as a team that could make some noise down the stretch and into the tournament.
Its win against Quinnipiac was quite impressive in that it trailed with six minutes to go in the game, only to take control of it in the latter stages. When one looks at SLU’s record against the top 12 in Pairwise one will find an interesting record, as the Saints are 4-3-1 against those teams and have wins against the fourth and fifth rated teams in those rankings. The Saints are actually 3-1-0 in those games, few teams can probably say its record against those teams is that high.
St. Lawrence is the antithesis of Harvard in that its power-play is next to phenomenal and its PK is below average. The Saint power-play is rated tops in the nation and it isn’t even close to anyone else in the nation. It is clicking at 30.4 percent on the year, the next closest are Bentley and Minnesota State at just over 25 percent. A strong power-play give any team a chance to win games and that is exactly what St. Lawrence has the chance to do.
St. Lawrence has a huge opportunity this weekend as it hosts two of league’s worst teams, Harvard and Dartmouth. Sitting in a tie for eighth place and seven points behind fourth place, the only realistic goal for SLU is to get the home ice. Its schedule, though, gets no easier after this weekend as it hosts QU and visits Union in the last two weeks. SLU has been a giant slayer so far this season and to be the best you have to beat the best. I would think no team in the ECAC wants to face St. Lawrence in the first round, which includes even the top teams in Union and Quinnipiac. O and one more point… any team with a player of Greg Carey’s caliber can win games and are dangerous; he is the second best player in the country you know…
Union got the job done without its Bench Boss
While Rick Bennett was away, the Dutchmen went 3-1-0 and gained on the competition in the standings. The run and the gain have to be applauded because of the strange circumstances that surrounded the program after the melee against RPI just five games ago. Union’s only loss while Rick Bennett was gone was against St. Lawrence in the first game of his suspension, while a plethora of players were also suspended.
For Union its run this season should have been expected given its recent run of success under Bennett. In all honesty, the coaching job with this team is phenomenal. They are one of those teams that might not do many great things but they sure as heck get the job done and that is coaching and leadership at its best. Union leads the conference by three points and sits in a tie for third place in the Pairwise. Both of those are rather respectable considering everything its been through in the last three weeks. It has certainly made its case to be put with the best teams in the country, and it has passed every test with flying colors. Look for Union to go far, again this year.