PRINCETON, N.J. — Saturday night, Princeton knew the power play might be the only way it could crack a bigger, stronger and faster Cornell defense. The Tigers succeeded in getting the man advantage, but after two periods, the Big Red had two goals and Princeton had just one discernible shot on five power plays.
No. 9 Cornell (7-2-1, 4-1-1 ECAC) played like a nationally ranked team up going up against a squad with just three wins and easily blanked the Tigers, 4-0 Saturday night in front of 2,272 mostly Big Red supporters at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink.
“Cornell is a good team and we need to measure ourselves against them,” said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle. “They owned the territorial play, the shots, the grade A chances. Our best simply isn’t good enough against a team like Cornell.”
The Big Red had none of Princeton’s problems on the power play and received the only goal it needed at 12:51 of the first period when sophomore Ryan Vesce took a cross-crease pass from Sam Paolini and picked the corner from a tough angle.
Junior Shane Palahicky gave Cornell a cushion at 2:03 of the second, tapping in a rebound, and Princeton (3-8-0, 3-5-0) simply did not generate enough chances to mount any semblance of a comeback.
“We supported each other much better physically tonight,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “The penalty kill really is one of our strengths.”
Cornell freshman goaltender David LeNeveu had a relatively easy night, making just 17 saves to earn his first career shutout. The Big Red defense did an exceptional job plugging the passing lanes and bullying Princeton to the perimeter, limiting the Tigers to harmless outside volleys that rarely made it to LeNeveu anyway.
Princeton went shotless through its first four power plays and finished the game 0-for-7. The Tigers had plenty of attack zone time, but could not move the puck quickly enough to disrupt the superbly positioned Cornell defenders. The Tigers, who have scored only four power-play goals all year, thought they had resolved some of those problems last night against Colgate. They netted the game-winner with the man advantage.
“Our defense did a good job clearing out the front of the net,” Vesce said. “We knew that Princeton likes to wrist a lot of shots on goal on the power play and our forwards did a good job deflecting those away.”
Those team strengths that allowed Cornell to neutralize Princeton with an extra attacker were only magnified when the teams were skating five a side. Most of the game’s actions happened around Tiger goalie Dave Stathos, who made 32 saves on the night.
“Our team didn’t have enough poise or patience with the puck,” Quesnelle said. “Cornell makes you make quick decisions with their pressure penalty kill.”
Princeton’s struggles on offense were not for a lack of effort, however. Senior center David Del Monte played an excellent game grinding and working hard and the trio of freshmen known as the “Sunshine Line” were able to sustain the rush for a few shifts.
The Tigers were without the services of one of its best offensive players, senior Brad Parsons, for most of the night. Quesnelle vastly cut back on Parsons’ ice time after Paul Varteressian leveled him at the end of the first period.
Princeton was down a man from the onset of the contest. Its captain, Dave Schneider, injured his ribs blocking a shot on a two-on-one rush against the Raiders and Quesnelle opted to dress only five defensemen, keeping senior blueliner Dave Bennett a healthy scratch against the ninth-ranked team in the nation.
Freshman Mike Knoepfli and Denis Ladouceur rounded out the scoring for the Big Red, scoring at 2:13 and 15:10 of the third period, respectively. Ladouceur’s goal was on the power play.
“We have got to get some more offense,” said Princeton junior defenseman Neil McCann, who was one of the stars of the team, blocking several third-period shots. “They had the power-play goals and we didn’t. We gotta take positives from this weekend. We got some points. It’s a step in the right direction.”
The win gave the Big Red, the only nationally ranked ECAC team, three points on the weekend after a disappointing tie against Yale the previous night.
The Tigers, meanwhile, bid a not-so-fond farewell to Hobey Baker Rink for quite a while. Princeton will not have another conference home game until Feb. 1 against Clarkson.