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Tough Test Ahead for Engineers

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 12, 2004

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute probably won't be able to rely on its special teams to pull out another victory come Saturday night at Brown.

The Bears are not only in first place in the ECAC (at 12-3-1); they also lead the conference in power-play efficiency (23.7 percent) and penalty-killing efficiency (92.3 percent).

Fact is, at some point, the Engineers are going to have to see to it that they stop relying on their power play and penalty killing to have any postseason success.

The only equal-strength goal the Engineers scored last weekend was Kevin Broad's empty-net goal near the end of Saturday's 4-2 victory over Clarkson. Over the past four games - discounting empty-netters - RPI has just one equal-strength goal in regulation time.

In consecutive home ice victories over Harvard (4-1) and Union (5-1) in early January, the Engineers totaled five goals in 5-on-5 situations. In eight games since then, though - and again, with overtime and empty-net goals discounted - they've connected in equal-strength situations just three times.

Don't forget to give RPI's penalty killers credit, too. They killed all 15 shorthanded situations over the weekend and have killed off 35 of the past 37 and their efficiency rating of 87.5 percent is second only to Brown's among ECAC teams.

While it's great to have strong special teams, and a sizzling power play to produce important goals, getting 5-on-5 goals would certainly serve them well.

Head coach Dan Fridgen has said it's tough to keep winning with the power play supplying such a high percentage of the goals, but he's not overly concerned.

"No, because in college hockey today, 5-on-5 play is usually pretty even," Fridgen said.

"Games are coming down to special teams. Unfortunately, you know you're going to take penalties and it's up to your penalty-killers to kill (them). Generally, 5-on-5 hockey is played pretty evenly and those are the toughest goals to get. So, if we're doing a good job of killing the penalties and scoring on the power play, great. If that's how you have to win hockey games, that's how."

Rensselaer's top four goal scorers, right wingers Kevin Croxton and Kirk MacDonald, left winger Nick Economakos and defenseman Scott Basiuk, have 38 goals among them. Twenty-six of those goals have come on the power play, however.

"It just seems like in the ECAC, this time of year - I don't know why - the referees call pretty tight games," Economakos said. "I don't know if it's that way in the other conferences as well, but (here) its power-play, penalty-kill for, it seems like the majority of the game."

Economakos pointed out that last week, both Clarkson and RPI had 24 minutes of penalty time, including about 15:40 of power play time for the Golden Knights, better than 14 minutes for RPI.

"That doesn't leave a lot of 5-on-5 time," he said. "And I don't think the (forward) lines are feeling like they're rolling together, the lines have been changing a bit."

"I think we do need to score more goals even-strength in order to put ourselves in better position coming down to the end of the season," said center Ben Barr.

Barr has four even-strength goals among his six, one of a few among RPI's top scorers who have fewer PP tallies than equal-strength goals.

"It may come down to just being a little hungrier around the net (at even strength)," Economakos said. "Maybe we're relying on our power play a little too much because it is having a lot of success. But if that gets shut down, we're going to be in some trouble, so we need to get that 5-on-5 rolling."

Croxton, who leads the nation in power-play goals with 10, agreed.

"We probably have been relying on it too much," he said. "We need to get some more 5-on-5."

"Yeah, you'd love to see the puck go in a little more often 5-on-5," said freshman center Oren Eizenman, "but if you see how we're getting our power plays, we're buzzing in there. We force them to take penalties on us."

Eizenman's right. With 181 power plays, the hard-working Engineers lead the ECAC in PP chances by a wide margin.

Can it keep carrying them?