Saturday, February 19, 2011

CANTON -- Just 12 days ago, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was flying high.
The Engineers had just whipped Princeton, 5-2, on its own ice, with backup goalie Bryce Merriam starring in the big triumph, and they were sitting in third place in ECAC Hockey.
That seems so long ago, because RPI hasn't won since.
Allen York returned from missing three games with a concussion on Friday night. He wasn't sharp and neither were the Engineers' play around them -- until it was too late in a 5-3 loss to St. Lawrence.
The gave the Engineers a loss to each of the bottom three teams in the league -- St. Lawrence, Colgate and Harvard. They've also lost to eighth-place Clarkson, which they better avenge tonight or their hopes for a berth in the ECACH semifinals is going to have to be earned on the road.
Losing to the bottom team of your league -- each of them -- makes in difficult to finish among the top four teams in a 12-team league and thus get a bye in the playoff quarterfinals. Winning a regular-season title with a combined 5-4-1 record (at this point) against the bottom six teams in the league is nearly impossible. That mark, 5-4-1, is nearly as good as the 6-4-0 record the Engineers have against the five teams ahead of them in the standings.
The problem on Friday night -- other than what's mentioned above.
"We didn't come to play," said defenseman Jeff Foss, who scored one of the three RPI goals.
"That's not what we needed," ECACH scoring leader Chase Polacek said of RPI's effort. "They (SLU) played hard tonight, a lot harder than we did at the start. They wanted it more."
Rensselaer coach Seth Appert was pleased with his team's effort from a physical standpoint but their focus early-on could have been better.
"When you play St. Lawrence, it's a chaotic game, a helter-skelter game, it's a tough game for men only," he said. "I thought their (SLU's) first two shifts, we didn't really get a line change and we turned a lot of pucks over ... and they made us pay. Yorkie's bailed us out of a lot of situations like that, tonight he didn't.
"The physical play was there on both sides," Appert said. "They took advantage of a couple power plays and we didn't."
Asked if York was rusty, Appert said, "I don't know; I have no idea."
He then stated that York will be in net tonight at Clarkson, even though Merriam replaced him after St. Lawrence's final goal, with 14:10 remaining.
One of the goals York allowed was a routine shot that bounced off his glove and into the net. The one that chased him, about one minute after RPI had pulled with 4-2 on Foss's goal, was a sharp angle, from the goal line, about 15 feet away,that somehow got behind him.
The suddenly sputtering RPI power play is of more concern to Appert.
"Our power play, and our big guys, have got to step up," he said.
After scoring three goals to win the Princeton game, the Rensselaer power play has been sporadic and worse, on an extended two-man advantage in each game, it's been a big failure.
Appert gave some credit to St. Lawrence's penalty killers, answering, "both" when asked if it were a case of the ineffectiveness of the RPI power play or effective penalty-killing by the Saints.
"We had some openings that we didn't take advantage of," Appert said.
Who knows if the Engineers will get a 5-on-3 of over one minutes tonight but should they, Appert challenged the top power-play unit.
"That's their job, that's what they're out there to do," he said. "Certain guys are out there to penalty-kill, to block shots, to play defense or be defensive defensemen. But that's the third game in a row that our 5-on-3 power play has let us down and they need to deliver in those situations."
Rabbani, Lee score: With all the scoring firepower Rensselaer will lose to graduation -- Polacek, Tyler Helfrich, Bryan Brutlag, Josh Rabbani and C.J. Lee, who'll be junior next year, will each need to increase his scoring output next season.
Rabbani scored his sixth of the season Friday night with a nice spin move in front and Lee tallied the final goal, his fifth, an extra-attacker goal with 4:21 remaining.
"We pulled the goaltender for an extra guy, so coach sent me out there," Lee said. "It was just a shot on net and everyone went to the net. I found the puck and just shot it in."
Bergin still out: It had been hoped that junior defenseman Mike Bergin would return Friday night but he missed his fifth game since suffering a laceration to his calf against Yale on Jan. 29.
"I didn't start skating until Thursday and I didn't feel ready," Bergin said.
Appert said he doubted Bergin would play tonight but with a full week of practice, will certainly be back for the regular-season's final weekend against Princeton and Quinnipiac at Houston Field House.
Win and you're in -- with a little help: Since Cornell suffered an upset loss to Harvard Friday night, If the Engineers can right the ship and win their remaining three games, they'll climb to fourth place -- if Cornell loses to Dartmouth tonight or at Yale or Brown next weekend.
The Engineers (10-8-1)are two point behind the 10-7-2 Big Red but Cornell has the tie-breaker over RPI, having won both meetings of the teams. Princeton is also 10-7-2 but the Engineers can surpass the Tigers (by tie-breaker at least) by beating them, as well as winning their other two contests.


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