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Offense Improved, But Missed Opportunities Still a Problem for Engineers

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 2, 2009

TROY - During Saturday night's game with winless Army, no one could have expected Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to match the intensity and emotion the Engineers displayed during Friday night's come-from-behind, overtime victory at Union; at least, not for an entire game, anyway.

The Engineers came out focused and intense Saturday night and once they earned a power play just 2:16 into the game, they dominated the Black Knights for the next 15 minutes.

Rensselaer scored on the back end of a brief 5-on-3 power play just 5:52 into the game - junior center Chase Polacek registering his fifth goal of the season - and continued to pressure the Army net until late in the period.

After that, RPI's quality scoring chances were rare despite 40 shots on goal and the Engineers' intensity wavered at times.

Rensselaer coach Seth Appert didn't treat the defeat any different than he would a 4-1 loss to ECAC Hockey power Yale. He's more concerned with the process of the Engineers becoming a consistent, solid, league-title contending team. They're on their way to becoming such a team.

"We're getting close but at the same time, we have a lot of work to do," he said. "I look at how good we can be at different points of (a) season but right now it's pretty early."

Good teams find a way to win games such as Saturday night's match with Army. The Engineers weren't able to do so.

Rensselaer could have scored more goals midway through both the first and second periods and Army goalie Jay Clark robbed Mike Bergin early in the third period. Both Bergin and Marty O'Grady had a chance at the rebound in the crease but couldn't sweep it past Clark.

A second-period blast by Brandon Pirri hit Clark's mask. Bryan Brutlag hit the goalpost in the third and another Bergin shot hit Clark's skate blade.

Rensselaer captain John Kennedy admitted it was a difficult loss to accept.

"It's tough to lose like that," the junior defenseman said. "You jump on a team like that, you're all over them, you dominate for (over) two periods and lose like that, it is tough. We need to bury our chances. We should have had more goals. That's been our problem."

"It's a tough way to lose," Kennedy reiterated. "There are games when you only piece together two periods, or it's back and forth. But when you clearly have the better of the play ... there was a lot of effort put forth on our end, we just have to bury the puck."

Appert stated that he was "very disappointed that we lost."

"We could have been better, no question," he said of the defeat. "But for 40 minutes, we were pretty darn good. We made a couple mistakes and (Army) capitalized on them. But if we had come out and played disinterested, soft and not focused, I'd have been a lot more disappointed."

Can't shake third-period woes: Since the Engineers broke a tie with two third-period goals and posted a 3-1 victory over 16th-ranked New Hampshire, a familiar and painful pattern has developed. Their opponents outscore them dramatically during the third period of games. It's only 8-4 this season.

Should that trend continue, the Engineers will score just 18 third-period goals this season and allow 36. That would still be an improvement from the past two seasons.

Rensselaer was outscored in the third period 44-22 last season, a whopping 50-18 during the 2007-08 campaign.

The RPI offense is noticeably improved, so Appert isn't overly worried that the disparity will be near the level.

"I don't think it will," he said. "If the (third-period) shots had been 14-7 the other way (Army's favor), I might be a little concerned. But we still have young guys in go-to roles and as their conditioning and their shift management and their maturity improves, we'll be a better third-period team."

'Choice' victory: Obviously, the loss to Army took much of the luster off Friday night's 4-3 overtime thriller at Union, though neither Appert nor the players would agree to that statement with a long sentence of qualification.

Beating the Dutchmen has been a chore for the Engineers in recent seasons. The triumph was RPI's first over Union in six games. Had Engineers fans been given a choice of a weekend victory - Union or Army but not both - the vast majority would take the decision over Union.

Goalie Allen York gave all the credit to the skaters.

"Don't thank me, thank the guys," he told RPI backers. "I had two straight average games (Sacred Heart was the other), gave up three goals in (both) and got two wins. Give the guys the credit."

Bad news, good news: Even having given away a game they definitely should have won, the Engineers have a winning record at 4-3-1. They've scored 18 goals, allowed only 20. Polacek has five goals, freshman Pirri four.

Polacek has eight points, Pirri has seven, injured Tyler Helfrich - despite missing nearly three games - has six, as does freshman left winger Jerry D'Amigo. Bergin has five.

Last season at this time, Rensselaer was 2-5-1 and had scored just 11 goals, permitted 22.

Polacek (2-4-6) and Helfrich (2-3-5) were the only players with more than four points and Patrick Cullen (1-2-3) was the only other player with more than two. Alex Angers-Goulet had yet to register a point.

The Engineers didn't get victories Nos. 4 and 5 until the 21st and 22nd games. They were 3-15-2 prior to that.