ITHACA, N.Y. — Last weekend’s 4-3 win over Harvard was a rarity for Cornell goalie Dave LeNeveu — 30 saves. It’s not that he can’t make the saves, he just never sees any shots.
It was back to normal, and then some, Friday night at Lynah Rink, as Cornell’s defense allowed just 12 shots on goal in defeating Rensselaer, 5-0. For LeNeveu, it was his sixth shutout of the season, tying the school’s single-season record set by the legendary Ken Dryden in 1967-68. It comes after numerous near-misses this season, where LeNeveu allowed a late third-period goal in blowout wins, often off crazy bounces.
“I wasn’t waiting for another bounce to happen,” said LeNeveu. “The team was playing so well in front of me — only four shots in the third — I was just glad it finally came. But I’m not too worried about shutouts, just wins at this part of the season.”
LeNeveu nevertheless acknowledged the honor of the record, and his mark alongside a name people know not just at Cornell, but as one of the most legendary goaltenders in the history of hockey.
“As a goaltender [growing up] you should hopefully know about Ken Dryden,” LeNeveu said. “He’s one of the best that ever played the game and it’s an honor to have my name next to his.”
Against Harvard, LeNeveu may have played his best game of the season despite matching a season high by allowing three goals. Friday night, it was the defense that earned its paycheck.
“Exactly,” said LeNeveu, a 2002 second-round NHL Draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes. “The guys played great tonight. We were working all week on how to play with the lead going into the third period, just keeping the game simple, getting the puck deep, and not playing conservative. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Meanwhile, it wasn’t exactly a pretty game, as RPI often slowed things down to a crawl, taking numerous icings. But No. 2-ranked Cornell (21-4-1, 16-2-1 ECAC) fought through it all to the tune of five goals, including 2-for-8 on the power play.
For the fourth time in five games, Cornell received a power play in the game’s opening minute, but for the first of those times, it failed to convert. Nevertheless, it took only another couple of minutes to take a 1-0 lead, as Matt McRae won a faceoff back clean to brother Mark, who buried a slapper.
“We were taking penalties right off the bat,” said RPI forward Ben Barr. “It just continued all night long, and you can’t do that against a team like that.
“It’s tough, especially when you’re taking penalties. They’ve got a good power play, and we could never get anything going. They’ve got their systems down pat, and they always know where they’re supposed to be, and it’s difficult.”
Some of the best work of the night came from the dominating forecheck of Matt McRae, Shane Hynes and Sam Paolini. Two shifts in particular stood out in the first period, and the latter of those led to a goal by Hynes, after Paolini muscled his way to the front of the net and attracted two defenders. He then found Hynes wide open, and Hynes buried his eighth of the season.
Freshman Matt Moulson added his 12th on the power play in the second period, and Matt McRae added one with 1:32 left in the period. Mark McRae tacked one on for good measure in the third, on a power play off a great feed from Ryan Vesce.
Meanwhile, the Cornell defense put the clamps on once again, and got LeNeveu his shutout.
“We talked about it last night,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “We were disappointed with how we played with the lead last week. We had a 3-0 lead against Harvard and started turning the puck over left and right. So we talked about doing a much better job at making teams try to create offense and not giving them offense, and we did that tonight.
“At about the eight-minute mark, the guys realized what was going on [with the shutout] and paid more attention to detail.”
Meanwhile, RPI (9-21-3, 3-13-3), with St. Lawrence’s win, more or less cemented itself into 11th place, but the Engineers aren’t throwing in the towel.
“I think we’ll be all right,” Barr said. “Guys aren’t hanging their heads, they’re ready to go. It’s been a rough year so far, but all you can do is go out there and give it your all.
“Everyone’s still positive. We’ve got four seniors in there who have a few games left, and you have to do everything you can to send those guys out on a good note.”
Cornell defenseman Doug Murray was injured late in the second period, and did not return to the ice for the final 20 minutes. The injury was not considered serious, and he is expected to play Saturday against Union.