Two up, two down, too tight

The weekly do-si-do of two steps forward, two steps back carried on for another verse last weekend, as two teams earned big sweeps, while two others ate the O-fer.

Fortunes improving for Elis, Engineers

It was a big week for Yale and Rensselaer, as each team took four big points against formidable foes.

Big Blue trounced Harvard in Fridays’ nationally televised tilt, white-washing the Crimson 4-0 at Ingalls Rink in New Haven. The Bulldogs out-shot the visitors 39-21, including 18-5 in the third period with the ‘Dogs already leading 3-0. Trent Ruffolo and Antoine Laganiere each tallied three points in the win, and Jeff Malcolm earned his first shutout of the year. The Blue didn’t miss a step against daunting Dartmouth on Saturday, scoring the game’s first two goals and never relinquishing the lead in a 4-2 victory. Laganiere added another goal and assist, and Malcolm improved to 10-3-2 with his fourth straight win. The win thrust Yale two points ahead of Dartmouth in the hunt for second place at the league’s halfway mark. Malcolm has now started each of Yale’s last nine NCAA games (he did not play against the Russian Red Stars on December 28), sporting a 5-2-2 record and a 2.59 goals-against average over that period.

RPI dug itself out of the basement with a clutch sweep, downing Colgate and Cornell to triple the Engineers’ ECAC win total in two short nights. Jason Kasdorf was the hero on Friday, stopping 32 of 33 Raiders rips to preserve a 2-1 victory. The rookie shined again on Saturday with 34 saves against the Big Red, but a couple of much-needed power-play goals didn’t hurt the cause either in the 3-2 win. The wins were RPI’s first consecutive league W’s since the final weekend of last season, when the ‘Tute also beat Colgate and Cornell, but on the road. In last place on Friday afternoon, RPI is now alone in seventh with 10 games to go.

Harvard, Colgate road-killed

The Raiders felt the good vibes of a five-game winning streak disappear in a cloud of exhaust, as the Capital District clubs held Colgate to single goals each night. The games were tight – twin 2-1 losses – but two goals on 59 shots is rarely a winning formula. On the bright side, rookie goalie Spencer Finney only surrendered four goals on 62 shots, and is giving junior Eric Mihalik a run for his money with a .919 save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against average.

The Crimson are in a legitimate panic, having won just one of their last 10 games (1-8-1) after a 4-2-0 start. The team is alone in the ECAC basement, and losses at Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown make January 9th’s thrilling 6-5 overtime win at Boston University feel like ancient history. (Let’s face it, cliches are cliches for a reason.) Harvard was out-shot by 25 this weekend (23-8 in the second period at Brown), and went 0-10 on the power play. The team did not just wake up in last place, either: At -14, the Crimson have the worst goal differential in the conference, the worst average scoring margin (-1.27 goals per game), and the worst power play (6.4 percent in league play). An NCAA at-large bid is a laughable prospect at this point for this team, but at least three of Harvard’s next four games are against unranked opponents.

Neck and neck

Don’t look now, but ECAC Hockey is too close to call! Just kidding, I’m perfectly aware that we’re only halfway through the conference campaign so far, but it sure is entertaining so far. Even the fact that Quinnipiac already has a couple fingers on the Cleary Cup is enthralling in its novelty; it’s been quite a while since anyone pulled away from the pack so quickly and convincingly.

Beyond the Bobcats, Yale leads the rest… but just barely. The Bulldogs hold a two-point lead over Dartmouth, Princeton, and Union. After that, the remaining seven teams are all within a good weekend of sixth-place Cornell: RPI is one point back; Clarkson and Brown, two back; Colgate and St. Lawrence, three, and Harvard merely four points behind the Big Red.

Who looks best moving forward? Well, QU of course, by any metric available. Yale has the best scoring margin after that (+0.72). Dartmouth has the league’s second-best defense (2.36 goals-against per game), and when combined with the fewest penalty minutes (7.4/game) and an 88.6 percent penalty kill, it may get even better.

Who is in the best shape to claim the fourth first-round bye? At this point, I have to say Union. Beyond the statistics – and Union sure has some solid numbers, especially on special teams – the Dutchmen are experienced winners with more home games remaining than road contests. Finally, seven of Union’s remaining 11 games are against (currently) unranked opponents, with the top opponents being divided between home (Dartmouth, Yale) and road (Colgate, Cornell) assignments. I like the Dutchmen’s chances as much as Princeton’s or Cornell’s, for sure.