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Goals Hard to Come By for RPI

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 3, 2012

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute played hard in both its games this past weekend.

Results? About the only positive that can be said is there's no longer a 0 in RPI's points column of the ECAC Hockey standings.

Friday night's 2-2 tie with Princeton took care of that. The Engineers, however, SHOULD have won that game, without question, without any qualification.

They played well enough to beat the league's top team - at this point, anyway - against Quinnipiac on Saturday night but lost 3-1.

They lost when Quinnipiac's Matt Peca scored the go-ahead goal while this team was two men down, a 3-on-5 goal. (The Bobcats added an empty-net goal.)

The main problem is what it's been all season - for years, really; the Engineers just don't score enough goals to win many games.

Rensselaer has eight goals in its six league games.

Now, the ECACH is a defense-oriented league, no doubt. And RPI's style doesn't lend itself to high-scoring games.

However, 1.33 goals per game won't get it done at any level of hockey. And, while scoring eight goals in those six games, RPI has allowed 24 goals.

The next worst goal differential among ECACH games is St. Lawrence at 15 goals scored, 21 allowed. But the Saints have four points at 1-3-2.

Princeton has outscored its league foes by just 20-19 but the Tigers have lost just one of their six games (2-1-3).

Victories of 2-1 and 1-0 certainly aren't uncommon in college hockey but teams can't hope to contend for a good playoff-seed, let alone a regular-season championship if it's consistently scoring fewer than three goals per game.

Twenty-eight times in 38 games last season - 71.8 percent of the time - Rensselaer scored fewer than three goals; two goals 16 times, one goal seven times and the Engineers were shut out five times. Each blanking came within the first 10 games, however.

The offensive production was expected to be better this season. It has been, but certainly not within ECACH play.

Take away two games against an Atlantic Hockey team, Mercyhurst - and a rebuilding team as well - and RPI has 19 goals in 10 games. That's 1.9 per outing.

Last season, RPI scored nine goals in a 10-game stretch early in the season and in the 34-game regular season, scored 64 goals in 34 games, an average of just 1.88 per outing. In five post-season games, the Engineers scored 16 goals (3.2 per game) and two of those games were against Union, the league's second-best defensive team statistically. Thus, there was much optimism offensively as this season approached, as the young team's top players were a year older and freshman forwards Mike Zalewski, Milos Bubela and Mark Miller promised more offensive threats.

It's taken a long time to materialize, to be sure.

Rensselaer's well-chronicled first line of center Jacob Laliberte, (LW) Matt Neal and (RW) Ryan Haggerty had been productive until recent games.

Then there's the power play. After scoring seven goals in its first 19 chances (36.8 percent), the RPI power play has produced just one goal in the past 37 chances. Same people.

To be fair, 13 of those failed chances are against Quinnipiac and Union, two of the top five penalty killing units in the nation, each well over 90 percent successful. But that leaves the other 24 chances. And in their six league games, the Engineers have just one goal in 30 chances.

Your fourth-grade arithmetic skills tell you that's a paltry 3.3 percent.

Laliberte, RPI's leader in goals (5) and points (11) spoke about the sluggish offense in general, and the power play in particular. He, linemate Matt Neal, Brock Higgs and defenseman Nick Bailen make up the first power-play unit.; Ryan Haggerty, Laliberte's other linemate, Zach Schroeder, Matt Tinordi and CJ Lee have all spent some time on the top unit.

"The ECAC is a tough league to score, that's for sure, everybody knows that," Laliberte said. "(Friday) night we had a lot of chances, I'm not so sure about tonight (Saturday). Power play is about scoring, too and the guys out there, we need to look in the mirror and start waking up."

Rensselaer coach Seth Appert, who said the power play's compete level on Saturday night "wasn't near where it needs to be from all five guys on the first unit; I thought the second unit did some good things."

Appert, when asked, even discussed the possibility of making some personnel changes to the power play's first unit.

"Obviously, it's been a couple weeks now that it hasn't been good enough," Appert said. "So, I think the right thing to do as a coaching staff is, you look at yourself first, make sure you're approaching it right, and then you look at personnel. And if adjustments need to be made, adjustments need to be made."

Appert paused and chose his words carefully before he continued and put the onus on Laliberte, Neal, Bailen et al.

"There's a reason those guys are out there," he said. "Those guys are (the ones) who should be out there. They need to do a better job when they're out there."

The power play's first unit compete level on Saturday night, "wasn't near what it needs to be from all five of those guys. At the beginning of the year, these guys were playing (well) as a unit and I think as they've started struggling, I think they're playing as individuals out there."

"Now, that doesn't mean they're playing selfish, that's not what I'm saying," Appert continued, "but I think sometimes when you're frustrated, you start trying to do everything yourself. The way a good power play works, is the way they were working in the first part of the year, which was by playing as a group of five and taking a lot of pride in who they were and how they did things. They've got to get back to that and we have to help them get back to that."

Will 3-on-5 goal linger?: Obviously, 3-on-5 goals are rare. When one virtually decides a game, it's nearly unheard of.

"That cannot happen," Appert said of the play.

Will the Engineers have a difficult time not dwelling on Peca's goal, not let it be lingering in their minds when they hit the ice again on Friday night at Yale?

"No, no we won't," Appert said. "It's one play, one game."

Out of the box: To beat Princeton, with its surprisingly efficient power play this season, and to beat Quinnipiac with all its offensive weapons, the Engineers needed to play well defensively - and stay out of the box. They did both but still couldn't win either game (see above).

It's a positive, however minor, the Engineers can take from Saturday's tough loss, when the power play was so anemic (0-for-9) and gave up the game-winner while holding a two-man adavantage.

"We're getting a little more disciplined," Appert said. "We only gave up five power-play opportunities all weekend. Our team commitment to one another to play the right way is getting higher."