Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ECAC Power Rankings (November)

On a monthly basis, we'll go over the teams of the ECAC and see where they rank up until they get an equal number of games under their belts, which actually doesn't happen until just before the last week of the season this year thanks to the odd league schedule.

These aren't revised predictions by any stretch of the imagination (although some of the preseason picks are obviously already proving true or false), but rather an indication of how well the teams are playing right now.

1. Yale (5-1-0, 2-0-0 ECAC) - With apologies to Dennis Green, the Bulldogs are who we thought they were. Lots of goals - 32 in 6 games, more than RPI has scored in 11 games (28) and tops in the nation by almost a goal per game at a ridiculous 5.33 - and weak goaltending. The former has by and large counteracted the latter, and if not for a 3rd period collapse at Air Force on Sunday, Yale would still have a perfect record and would possibly be ranked #1 in the nation right now. As it is, they're still the best team in the ECAC. Their biggest test yet comes in the first week of December when they host the Capital District - two teams with solid defenses and the ability to score themselves.

2. Union (7-2-3, 2-1-1 ECAC) - We don't need to tell WaP readers how closely matched Union and RPI are given the events of the past weekend, and it's no different with the power rankings. We give the Dutchmen the nod thanks to their amazing power play, which has proven over the last three weekends to be no fluke (although their rating is indeed somewhat lower than it had been), still tops in the nation at an impressive 37% to fuel the 5th best offense in the country.

3. RPI (5-3-3, 2-2-0 ECAC) - Questions about the Engineer defense are starting to recede completely thanks to Allen York and the defensive corps' numbers - a team GAA of 1.82, the second best showing in the nation. The offense still needs a kick in the pants to the tune of at least one more goal per weekend on average to be solid all the way around, but the defense is keeping them in games - each of RPI's three losses were by a single goal.

4. Dartmouth (3-2-1, 2-1-1 ECAC) - The Big Green may have found the answer to their goaltending questions in junior James Mello. He has made three straight appearances for Dartmouth, giving up only two goals, including a shutout of Union's solid offense. Meanwhile, the potent offense that was dormant against RPI and Union reawakened in the North Country, as they battered Clarkson and SLU for 13 goals in two nights. We knew they were going to have the offense, and if Mello stays solid, they could well be as good as I expected they could. Mark our words - the two points RPI picked up in Hanover are going to be huge in February.

5. Princeton (3-3-0, 3-1-0 ECAC) - The Tigers are off to a hot start, and it's by-and-large thanks to the two freshmen we pointed out in Princeton's "Know Your Enemy" entry: goaltender Sean Bonar and forward Andrew Calof. The former is impressing with a 1.48 GAA and .944 save percentage in his two appearances (the Tigers are still rotating their three goaltenders), while the latter is leading all freshmen in the NCAA in points per game with 1.83 (2-9-11 in 6 games). In fact, the Tigers are undefeated away from Ingalls Rink this year - they lost a pair of one-goal games in the Ivy Shootout, then lost to Yale before winning three straight over Brown, Colgate, and Cornell.

6. Quinnipiac (5-4-1, 1-2-1 ECAC) - The Bobcats are hard to pin down. All of their losses are by multiple goals, and they've only won a pair of one-goal games. What does that mean? It's been pretty much feast or famine so far. They took impressive wins over Ohio State and St. Cloud State, and then turned around and lost badly to those same schools the next night. They could only tie Brown, and were taken to the woodshed by Yale and Cornell. And after all that, they still get a fairly high rating at the bottom edge of the top half of the league - because they've been almost perfectly mediocre all around, not excelling anywhere, but certainly not having any glaring issues other than the mediocrity.

7. Clarkson (5-4-2, 1-2-1 ECAC) - Don't look now, but the Golden Knights have a winning record after 10 games. The problem is, they've largely squandered their early-season home advantage. While RPI and Union have a back-loaded home schedule, Clarkson's is front-loaded, with five of their eleven home games coming on three consecutive weekends - the last two, and the upcoming. They've taken only 3 of a possible 8 points at home so far, with St. Lawrence heading up Route 11 on Saturday for the last game of the homestand. That doesn't bode well down the road, and defense has been a big part of the problem. In three of their four losses thus far, the Knights gave up six or more goals and scored only two goals in those games. But just ask St. Cloud State and Harvard - if you turn your back on these guys, they'll surprise you.

8. Cornell (2-4-0, 2-2-0 ECAC) - Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Before the season, we questioned the Big Red's scoring ability, and that's actually not going too badly, although it's been a roller-coaster ride in the first six games. The goaltending situation is dicey, though. Freshman Andy Iles is undoubtedly the most talented goaltender in Ithaca, but he's going through wholly expected growing pains, and Mike Schafer is also giving significant playing time to junior Mike Garman, who has struggled to be kind. If Iles makes the US Junior Team, they'll need Garman to be the man in Florida and maybe at Quinnipiac and Princeton in December and January, so he needs some playing time. Most people thought Cornell's defensive scheme would mitigate these issues. That doesn't seem to have been the case so far.

9. Harvard (2-2-0, 2-2-0 ECAC) - The Crimson, as pretty much everyone expected, are having trouble scoring goals. They're dead last in the nation in goals per game with 1.75, notching only seven in four games (and that's a dramatic increase from their opening weekend, where they got two in two). They've also only given up seven goals in four games for a 1.75 GAA that is #1 in the nation, thanks to senior Kyle Richter, a former Dryden Award winner. If that trend continues, they're going to be involved in a lot of low-scoring, unpredictable one-goal games - kinda like the one RPI played with them two weekends ago. That may not necessarily be a recipe for great success, but in the ECAC it might be enough to snag home-ice in the first round if they can get good offense every few games. Is Harvard the anti-Yale in more ways than one now?

10. Brown (1-2-1, 0-1-1 ECAC) - To nobody's great surprise, defense has been hard to come by in Brown's first four games. Like Cornell, the offense has not been terrible, but it hasn't been enough to make up for what has largely been a lousy defensive situation. To some extent, that's a function of the teams they've played - the Bears blew a 3-1 lead against Yale in their first game, and their other games have been one goal affairs. The problem is, the offense just isn't talented enough to win footraces with a quality scoring outfit, and they need to be better at defending leads.

11. St. Lawrence (2-6-3, 2-2-0 ECAC) - Two weeks ago, the Saints were looking like a team that was destined for the cellar after going 0-4-3 to start the season outside the conference. Then they gave up only 1 goal on the weekend while sweeping their opening weekend at home against Cornell and Colgate, their first two wins of the year. Then they gave up 10 goals while being swept at home the next weekend by Harvard and Princeton. That opening weekend has them here instead of in 12th. If freshman goaltender Matt Weninger can get back to putting up the numbers he did that weekend, the Saints may avoid falling back down.

12. Colgate (2-5-1, 0-3-1 ECAC) - The Raiders have only given up one more goal than they've scored, but they did have a game against Sacred Heart - who has been a punching bag for pretty much everyone they've played - which they won 5-0. Throw out that game, and Colgate is 1-5-1 with a -6 goal differential. Their first four ECAC games were a nightmare, earning only one point against a weak North Country duo and then getting swept at home. Both special teams have been putrid, earning Colgate the worst combined rating in the nation. Things need to turn around quickly in Hamilton if the Raiders are going to live up to the lofty expectations placed on them before the season. Otherwise, they're going to start drawing comparisons to last year's Princeton team.

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