From Canton to Cambridge, and the gorges to the Garden State, everyone is singing the same tune: it’s playoff time in the ECACHL.
With one weekend left, the picture is moderately clearer than it was at this point last week. However, pretty much everyone still has something tangible to play for in this final week of February. Details to follow.
So finally, I get to make my season-long preoccupation (to heavily understate it) with the home and road records remotely applicable.
Last weekend — and for the third weekend in a row — the Hosts came away with the Ws, claiming six wins and two ties out of 12 games. That puts the overall score at 53-50-17. It’s anything but decisive, but nonetheless indicates that all things considered, it’s probably better to play at home.
St. Lawrence finished the regular season with a dominating 10-1-0 record at Appleton Arena. It’s an improvement on what was already a remarkable 9-1-1 showing last season, after going only 4-6-1 in Canton in ’04-’05.
Regional rival Clarkson finished 5-2-4 at home, following last year’s 8-1-2 record at Cheel.
Cornell took four points at Lynah to finish 6-3-2 on familiar ice, ending on a 4-1-0 home streak after a 2-2-2 start.
Clarkson is edging Dartmouth for the travel title, going 7-2-0 away from home while the Big Green mustered a 6-4-1 record on the road.
How it’s shakin’
Usually as a league, this league, any league wraps up its regular season, you end up with at least a handful of teams who are sufficiently assured of their fate.
They may not know exactly where they’ll be playing in the first round (if they’re on the road) or who they’ll be hosting (if at home). But they do understand their immediate lot in life, as a bye team, host, or visitor for the first round of the playoffs.
So the coaching staffs and players say all the right things, about how every game is important and everyone needs to start playing their best in anticipation of the series to come. Pride comes up sometimes, as a matter of incentive to finish third instead of fourth, or the more practical fact that the higher-seeded team will get the last change in Albany.
But this year things are different.
Here’s what has already been decided: St. Lawrence and Clarkson will get byes in the first round. Cornell, Quinnipiac and Dartmouth have all avoided playing first-round road games. All of the other seven remaining teams will be playing March second and third. Union will be on the road.
That’s all we know.
Which means the following is still up for grabs: first place. Two first-round byes. Three home-ice seeds. The fact that 11 of the league’s dozen teams are battling for one or more of those privileges speaks to the incredible (here’s that word again) parity of the 2006-07 ECACHL.
For the specific rundown:
The Saints can only finish in first or second. Clarkson can find itself anywhere among the four bye-round seeds. Cornell can land between second and fifth, as can Quinnipiac.
Dartmouth is in the bye-round mix with third-through-fifth potential, while travel partner Harvard can only finish as high as sixth (but as low as 11th). Princeton and Colgate are in the same position as the Crimson, while Rensselaer and Yale can fall between sixth and 12th. Brown still has home-ice in sight with a seventh-through-12th potentiality, while Union is slated for a first-round road series no matter what.
The top four teams could be determined on Friday night, but only if Dartmouth loses to Cornell and QU also wins. Rensselaer, Yale and Brown don’t necessarily have to win on Friday to still claim home-ice in the first round, but it would make the task exponentially more difficult.
Hey, sometimes you get bored, and all you have is the Internet.
No, this has nothing to do with porn. And it is not to be interpreted as anything but what it is: numbers that happen to fall into particular orders, to look like patterns. Goodness knows, if my stat-digging ever yielded anything, I’d have a better track record with my weekly picks.
St. Lawrence: The Saints are 10-5 in one-goal games overall, and 8-1 in league contests. (For obvious reasons, I am including among these games those with empty-net goals that increase a lead to two.) The Larries haven’t lost consecutive league games all season, and haven’t dropped two straight overall since December fifth and eighth (versus Clarkson and New Hampshire).
Clarkson: The Potsdam skaters haven’t lost two straight since mid-November’s four-game slide against Quinnipiac, Princeton, and a deuce at St. Cloud. Since then, the Knights are 14-2-4. This streak includes six games with five or more goals scored, and only four games allowing more than two goals against. In those 14 wins since November 24, Clarkson’s average margin of victory was a solid 2.7 goals. David Leggio has started 20 straight for one of the hottest teams in the nation.
Cornell: The Big Red were outshot in four of its last five games, but still went 3-1-1 in that time. Troy Davenport allowed five goals on 97 shots in the current three-game win streak. Ben Scrivens was 2-1-1 in the prior four games, and has had occasion to replace Davenport four times so far this year. Davenport is 11-3-2 with a .921 save percentage in the games he’s played to completion, but 0-1-0, .721 when pulled.
Quinnipiac: As opposed to the top two teams, the Bobcats haven’t posted back-to-back wins since January 12 and 13. The ‘Cats are 1-3-1 in their last five league games, and haven’t earned consecutive home wins since mid-November.
Dartmouth: The Green are 5-1-0 in their last six, with a 20-13 goal differential in the wins. They’re also on a 9-3-1 streak, outscoring opponents 40-21 in the victories, but being outdone 7-15 in the losses. Bob Gaudet’s crew is learning how to win the close ones, which will be key in the postseason: five of their last six wins have been of the one-goal variety.
Harvard: It’s a situation where you can make of it whatever you like: the Crimson have taken points from eight of 11 games, but have only won three of the last eight league games. Harvard was also outshot in each of its last five losses, as well as in the 6-6 tie with Brown. The team scored two goals or fewer in 13 of its 15 losses, and hasn’t won when scoring fewer than three.
Princeton: Princeton is a confusing team, statistically; but then again, no one ever played a game on paper. The Tigers have six losses with three or more goals scored, and only one win with fewer than three goals — a 2-1 decision over Colgate. The team is winless when allowing more than three goals in a game. B.J. Slapsky has started six of the Tigers’ last seven league games, and the seniors have home-ice in their sites for the first time in their careers.
Colgate: In a remarkably cut-and-dried note, the Raiders are a depressing 0-12-1 (0-6-1 in the ECACHL) when allowing three or more goals in a contest. (They are 13-5-3/7-4-2 otherwise.) The ‘Gate only has one win when scoring fewer than three goals, and is 4-10 in one-goal games, with four ties.
Rensselaer: The Engineers have surrendered 48 goals in their last 10 losses, all since the winter break. Their four wins in that time have each been by one goal. In those losses, the average difference has been a full 3.6 goals, with only one empty-net goal against. On the other hand, the ‘Tute is 2-0-8 in overtime games; hard to hope for much better.
Yale: The Bulldogs are 10-6-1 when allowing fewer than four goals, and are 4-1-1 since break when scoring more than a pair in a game.
Brown: The Bears only have two wins in their last 13 league games, but still scored 39 goals over that stretch. Bruno is 4-10 in one-goal games, and zero for its last six. The team is 2-6-1 on road in ECACHL play this season.
Union: Union is enduring a six-game winless streak. The Dutch are 2-15-1 when scoring fewer than three goals, meaning that they are 11-1-2 when notching a triple or better. Justin Mrazek since the break: 6-2-0 when stopping at least 90 percent of the shots in a game, 0-7-1 when not hitting the big nine-oh.
Brown seeking consistency
Roger Grillo and the Brown Bears have seen a fair number of ups and downs this season, and are digging for their game as the playoffs approach.
The team that scored 6, 3, 1, 3, and 6 in its last five games only found three points in the process, as Bruno allowed 3, 5, 2, 4, and 6 in those tilts. As far as their one-goal losses go, Grillo told it straight up.
“It’s a small positive to be that close,” he said, but his team’s inconsistencies put it “in a lot of tight games, but you’re not gonna win many. It’s a fine, fine line.”
The interrupted quality of Brown’s play can be traced to any number of different day-to-day issues, said Grillo, including youth, injuries, “probably 15 different things,” he said.
“We’ve gotten away from what we do well,” he said pointedly.
The coach hopes to have Antonin Roux available for this weekend’s set at Rensselaer and Union, two teams jostling with Brown for home ice.
“In our league, home ice is nice,” said Grillo, “but in some cases [playing on the road] is not as difficult as people make it out to be.”
Colgate Starr-y eyed
The Raiders are in a position to secure a first-round hosting spot, with games at Harvard and Dartmouth on the docket.
That said, Colgate has been frustrated all year long by the inability to win the low-scoring games, regardless of location.
“It’s frustrating, clearly. We feel we’ve played some pretty good hockey,” said head coach Don Vaughan.
Vaughan has been less than impressed with the Raiders’ power play of late, clicking at a meager 14 percent success rate.
“We haven’t finished on the power play,” he put it simply.
Overall though, Vaughan said, “we’ve had some bad luck; we’ve had some bad mistakes. In low-scoring games, mistakes get magnified … it just seems like the mistakes that we’re making are ending up in the back of our net.”
Each coach has a different take on the value of home-ice in the playoffs, and Vaughan made his preference crystal-clear.
“Home ice is huge,” he said. “Bye teams, and then home teams, have a better chance of advancing,” he believes.
Dutchmen not done yet
If there’s anything that will turn a slide into a streak, it’s commitment and focus.
Nate Leaman sees both in his Union players.
“I like how we’re working. The kids are working hard,” he said.
His team was bringing up the rear of the league entering the weekend, and is assured of playing on the road in the first round for the first time since 2001 (though the program did miss the playoffs in ’01-’02).
“[This team] is extremely resilient,” said Leaman. “Their hearts, their work ethic are in the right place. I haven’t had to have a talk with this team at all” about intensity, said the coach.
“They’ve been up all week — they’ve been up almost the whole second half [of the season],” the coach continued. “They’ve played their tails off.”
“It’s been an adjustment for this program, to go into every game believing we can win.”
At this point, Leaman has his charges focusing most on shoring up the defense, being more cognizant of the individual responsibilities within its own zone, as well as finishing on scoring opportunities.
“We had seven two-on-ones this weekend, and didn’t convert on any of them,” he said. “Clarkson had three two-on-ones [against us], and potted all three.”
“We’re not playing in the Buick Invitational,” he said of the late-season crunch. “This is the British Open. You slice one into the high grass, it’s unforgiving.”
The Dutch have taken their driving-range shots all year long. Time to hammer it down the fairway.
RPI looking beyond the Ls
Many teams would be content taking a point from the North Country this season.
Rensselaer and head coach Seth Appert were not.
“I’m disappointed,” he said.
St. Lawrence won 6-3, exploding for three goals in the last seven minutes of the game following the Engineers’ game-tying goal five minutes into the frame. Clarkson drew their contest even with four seconds remaining on the clock in the 3-3 tie.
“We don’t have the ability to score a lot of goals,” Appert assessed, “our strength has been winning the close games.”
In discussing the significant margin of the team’s recent losses, Appert pointed out that when losing close games, you have to take risks that will certainly make the team more vulnerable to counterattacks.
Plus, he said, “in the majority of our recent losses, we’ve out-chanced our opponents.”
The state of his inherited team is one of a young and inexperienced defense, and a talented but productively limited offense. Hence, Appert adjusted his strategy to a quasi-possession game, maintaining the up-tempo style that he prefers despite the lack of intimidating scorers.
Oren Eizenman is doing his part though. Coming back off an injury, he had “probably his best weekend of the year” last week, said his coach.
The Engineers play two at the Houston Field House with postseason home-ice in sight.
Yale will be without forward Blair Yaworski and defenseman David Inman for the weekend, and potentially longer, said coach Keith Allain.