Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OK, Now Can We Panic?

OK, so we've got the following to dwell on.

1) The Engineers' 1-8-0 start is the worst start to a season of at least nine games in the entire history of hockey at RPI, which goes all the way back to 1902.

2) The team has scored 2/3rds of its goals in two of its nine games - the 4-1 victory over Minnesota State, and the 5-2 loss to Notre Dame. The nine goals in nine games for RPI is one less than Notre Dame's Anders Lee in as many games.

3) The power play is 3-for-50 in those nine games.

4) The highly touted freshman class didn't score its first goal of the season until this past Friday with Ryan Haggerty's first goal.

5) Brock Higgs and Marty O'Grady returned to the lineup, but were a bit invisible outside of draws.

6) Literally every other team in the ECAC picked up at least one league point last weekend.

7) Union annoyingly isn't skipping much of a beat at all without their coach or their stud goaltender. Not that this has anything to do with us, of course, but seriously, what the heck.

8) The women are struggling just as much, in basically the same way.

9) Most ominously, the problems that we thought might have been attributable to the difficult October schedule were still front, center and in your face this past weekend.

Yes, there is plenty of reason to panic at this point. No one expected this team to struggle on this level. There were those who expected this team to struggle without Chase Polacek and Allen York (and Tyler Helfrich and Bryan Brutlag), but no one thought any potential struggles would be this bad.

It's not fun to be a fan right now, but seven-game losing streaks make going to practice a bit of a chore for the players, too. But trust me - there are better times ahead.

The tough part about breaking out of a funk this serious can often be the psychological aspect. Seth Appert put it well after Saturday's game - the team is gripping the sticks a little tight. They know they're having problems putting the puck in the net, and that makes it harder to score goals.

The goals will come. The team is doing everything necessary to score goals with the exception of the final step - finishing. One-timers are being fanned on. Rebounds can't be picked up. Passes down low are being missed. At the moment of truth, RPI just isn't in sync. When you go so long without any good luck, it's human nature to get frustrated, and that frustration unfortunately only fuels a slump. When you expect difficulty scoring because of what's happened in the recent past, it becomes more difficult to score.

We could have seen confidence return on Friday - the team took a 1-0 lead for the first time, and if they'd been able to hold it for longer than two minutes, perhaps the outlook starts to turn. But they didn't, and the despair started to set back in.

In each game this past weekend, RPI gave up a bad luck goal on a shot that redirected off an Engineer. We haven't really gotten one of those for ourselves yet.

So, while the early start is now officially a bit frightening, there's plenty to be optimistic about once bad luck and frustration start turning. And it will turn. This may be the worst start in program history, but even the most ardent RPI hating pundit would be hard-pressed to make the claim that this is the worst team in program history (unless they're making their observations without having actually seen the team, of course).

And there are even plenty of bullet points that can be cause for optimism.

1) Just over 25% of the goals given up by the Engineers this season have been empty netters - so the wide disparity between goals for and goals against really isn't that wide.

2) Jacob Laliberte and Matt Neal, it seems, could be back for this coming slate of games. (Big loss for Union hockey.) These guys were expected to be the cornerstones of the freshman class, and they've missed the last five and four games respectively. Neal was a faceoff machine against Notre Dame, just before getting injured, and Laliberte showed flashes of his playmaking skill against Minnesota State and Ferris State.

3) The penalty kill is performing admirably - at 46-for-52, the senior leadership shown on the kill by Joel Malchuk and Alex Angers-Goulet is something that could well bleed over into the rest of the game.

4) Bryce Merriam isn't lighting the world on fire with his numbers, but no one expected him to. Instead, he's been just what we said he'd be - a more than serviceable goaltender, and a rock for this team to cling to in these turbulent waters.

5) Yale and Union might be tougher opponents, but we've seen this team get up for these teams in the recent past, playing with more intensity. They could be just the tonic to get the team moving again.

Yes, these are difficult times - but stick with this team, give them your support. They'll surprise you when you least expect it.

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