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Engineers Unable to Put Winning Streak Together

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 10, 2008

TROY - Putting victories together continues to be a major chore for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's hockey team.

The Engineers had a golden chance on Saturday night to post their first 4-point weekend in ECAC Hockey play since Jan. 26-27, 2007 (at Yale and Brown) against Dartmouth, the league's last-place finisher last season.

They came up well short.

It's quite difficult within the ECAC's travel partner format to match the intensity of a big victory on Friday night during a team's Saturday game. Only the most talented and mentally-tough teams can do so with much consistency.

Still, Saturday's 5-2 loss is a difficult one for the Engineers. They could have had a mini-streak of 3-1-1 going and been among the early ECACH leaders at 2-1-0.

Dartmouth is one of the few ECACH teams whose depth of talent isn't clearly superior to RPI's. Beating such a team, any team behind you in the standings, in a home game, is essential is goal of moving up several notches in those standings is to be achieved.

While Rensselaer consistently won puck battles against Harvard and beat the Crimson to loose pucks, Saturday night was a different story.

It was the slower Big Green who showed the superior intensity, who beat the Engineers to the puck too often.

And while RPI's penalty killing over the first eight games had been outstanding - 93 percent efficiency - three Dartmouth power-play goals were allowed. Rensselaer killers were out of position.

After blocking 20 Harvard shots, the Engineers turned back only 13 of Dartmouth attempts, while the Big Green blocked 23 shots.

Still, though, the Engineers had nearly forged a 3-3 tie during the opening minutes of the third period.

Seth Klerer was set up alongside the left goalpost by a cross-ice pass from Alex Angers-Goulet but Klerer wasn't sure he could slide the puck inside the post before Dartmouth goalie Jody O'Neill slid over to close off the post. So, he waited to get a chance at the far side of the net but that gave time for a Big Green defender to get his stick on Klerer's short shot, steering it away.

In addition, one rebound lay in the goalcrease but just outside the reach of any RPI player and another was chipped just over the crossbar by Ben Contini.

"I thought we had four high-end scoring chances in the first 10 minutes of the third period that could have tied the game before (Dartmouth) went up, 4-2," RPI coach Seth Appert added.

The Big Green's final goal was an empty-netter.

The Engineers' other glowing scoring chance that was not converted was a short breakaway by Bryan Brutlag, who was sent into the Dartmouth zone midway through the second period by Josh Rabbani.

Brutlag more or less slid the puck into O'Neill's stick.

"I didn't make much of a move and (O'Neill) read me all the way," Brutlag said. "But I've gotta have those, get off a good shot at least."

As for 4-point weekends, it's another area where the Engineers must improve. Since the 2004-05 season, RPI is 6-13-1 in Saturday games that followed a Friday victory (or Saturday-Sunday), 4-11-1 in ECACH games.

Appert has said the Engineers have to "win those tight, 2-1, 3-2 games" and prior to the weekend, he told his players "to do that, we have to have 20 guys going every night."

In the 3-1 loss to Harvard last Tuesday, "we only had 15 or so."

As a team, the Engineers were outstanding in the victorious rematch with Harvard but reverted back against Dartmouth, as several players had off nights.

"The only way we're going to get consistently better," Appert said, "is to have 20 who are dressed that night going in the same direction with a high level of intensity and competitiveness. We can't afford to have going. If 15 are going and five aren't, we're probably going to lose and I think that was the case on Tuesday. We were a pretty good team for the most part but four or five guys didn't play as hard as they needed to play and because of that, we weren't able to win that game."

"We're talented enough to win and win a lot this year but we're not talented enough to win if we don't have 20 guys going in the same direction each (game) night and really, 29 going in the same direction every day (in practice)."

One better, one not: What a night for the RPI penalty killing to fall short!

The three goals the killers permitted in the Dartmouth game came on the same night the RPI power play ended two long streaks: The PP scored in a fourth straight game for the first time since a seven-game streak early in the 2006-07 season; and it produced more than one goal in a game for the first time since the final weekend of that season.

The power play has four goals in 25 chances over the past four games, a 16 percent efficiency rate which is fair. For the entire season, RPI is 5 of 48, which at least is over the 10 percent mark (10.4) after last season's 7.1 (12 of 170).

Scoring update: Tyler Helfrich and Chase Polacek led the Engineers in scoring last season with 29 and 28 points and are leading again.

The good news is that Polacek (3 goals-4 assists-7 points) and Helfrich (2-4-6) are both on five-game scoring streaks and freshman Patrick Cullen has five points (2-3-5).

The bad news is, no other Engineer has tallied more than two points.

Saturday's Dartmouth game put RPI over the one-quarter mark of the regular season and just three players have more than three points.

That rate just won't be enough to enable RPI to move up the ECAC standings.

As for team totals, Saturday's game marked just the second time RPI scored more than two goals in a game and the Engineers lost the previous one (to Bentley, 4-3 in OT).

The Dartmouth game also marked just the first time this season RPI went as many as two straight games without being limited to one or zero goals.

Scoring twice will win you a game here and there, especially in ECAC Hockey, but not many.

Since the final four games of the 2005-06 season, RPI has scored fewer than three goals in 57 of 87 games.

That's 65.5 percent of the games!

Woeful!

In those 57 games, RPI is 9-43-5, 3-25-3 in ECACH contests. During that time, the Engineers have an 8-13-2 record in the 23 games in which they scored exactly two goals. When netting exactly three tallies, they are 5-7-4, and when scoring exactly four, 8-1-5.

Expect more: Appert spoke of Cullen's goal in with seven seconds remaining in the second period.

"Very good, poised play by Mark Zarbo," Appert said. "He looked a couple guys off and got the puck to Patrick in a goal-scoring situation. I think our fans will see over the course of (Cullen's) four years that Patrick knows what to do with the puck in those situations."