Quinnipiac accelerating toward second Cleary Cup; SLU surging; Harvard slipping

There are now four weeks left in the ECAC Hockey regular season, and – for the first time since early in the fall – every team is even in games played (14). This makes the standings a lot easier to assess. On that note…

Bobcats preying on ECAC foes

At 11-2-1 in league play, QU poses a formidable challenge for the rest of the ECAC. The Bobcats are three points clear of second-place St. Lawrence (QU beat SLU once, and they meet again in Hamden in two weeks) and seven points ahead of fifth-place Clarkson or Yale (tied for fourth).

And it’s a good thing Quinnipiac has been so strong in league play, because outside the ECAC, QU is… not so good. Just 5-6-1 against the rest of Division 1, QU currently ranks a surprisingly soft 15th in the PairWise Rankings. The Q-Cats will definitely have to maintain their intra-conference edge if they hope to qualify for a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance: Of QU’s eight remaining opponents, six have a winning record in ECAC play.

Saints on longest winning streak in three years

With a gritty 2-1 win at Clarkson Saturday night, St. Lawrence extended its winning streak to five games – the longest since winter 2012 – and climbed ahead of Harvard for sole custody of second place in ECAC Hockey. The run (as well as Northeastern’s change of fortunes) has soothed the wounds suffered in early January’s tie and loss at Northeastern; SLU has not allowed more than two goals in a game since Jan. 3, eight games back. Meanwhile, the offense has scored 21 times in those seven games since (6-1), the power play has maintained an adequate 17 percent success rate with five goals in 28 opportunities, and the penalty kill – already a strong point at 89.2 percent successful for the season – has been outstanding with 23 kills in 24 tries.

On paper, SLU is in a pretty sweet situation with four weekends remaining: Four of the Saints’ remaining eight games are against the mediocre Capital District tandem; road games at Quinnipiac and Princeton and home dates with Harvard and Dartmouth come in between.

Crimson crumbling?

Harvard has been having a 2015 to forget, already dropping from second in the PairWise to a tie for 9th thanks to a 2-4 record in the new year.

Injuries are clearly an issue, but so too is the play of senior and No. 1 goaltender Steve Michalek: In seven games since the holiday break, Michalek’s save percentage was .894, a full 50 points beneath his season save rate prior. The goaltender has failed to stop 90 percent of shots on goal in four of his last five outings, including a three-goal, six-save, 14-minute nightmare against SLU two weekends back.

Obviously, you can’t tell the whole story from one measly stat line… but in the absence of harder evidence, it is a trend worth noting. Unless Michalek and goaltending coach Brian Eklund can ditch the glitch – or rookie and Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Merrick Madsen up and becomes the next in a long series of unexpected Beanpot legends – Harvard is in for a long and embarrassing evening against Boston University (5-1-2 since Christmas) Tuesday night.