Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Quick ECAC Snapshot

We do power rankings for the ECAC at the end of November, December, and January, but we skip February (because the ECAC standings suffice at that point) and October (because the Ivy League doesn't have enough games played yet to really know much about them), but with each team in the league now with games under their belt, here are some early observations.

Brown: Looking perhaps slightly better than expected, but not by a lot. There was little doubt that the Bears had some offensive ability, especially in the Lorito-Naclerio-Lappin line, and that trio absolutely victimized Yale and Dartmouth in the Liberty Invitational in Newark. They combined for 6 goals and 9 assists on the weekend. The rest of the forwards had just 2 goals - an unassisted tally against Yale and an empty-netter against Dartmouth. The L-N-L line has the early edge as the best single forward line in the league, but they need more help from the other three lines. Early returns on goaltending from last weekend are mixed, as Brown has gone 1-1-1 in their last 3 games despite giving up 3 or more in each of those contests.

Clarkson: Looking much better than expected. The offense certainly has gotten itself out of the funk it ended last year with, and is close to where we thought it would be heading into the season, maybe a little better. What is really eye-opening with the Knights is the defense, which appeared somewhat wanting. We said Greg Lewis needed to be far better than he was last season and he absolutely has been. As a bonus, freshman Steve Perry, who's splitting time with Lewis, has been just as good. Whether they are potentially ready to reach elite level is yet to be seen, their two games thus far against nationally ranked opponents (UNH and Yale) resulted in their only two losses.

Colgate: Defense has been up and down as we thought it would. Outside of a three-game stretch against Ferris State, RIT, and Bowling Green in which the Raiders gave up just 2 goals (2-0-1) and last night's win over Princeton, they've given up 29 goals and scored only 11 of their own in five losses, including a 7-22 deficit in their four-game losing streak stopped last night. The super sophomores on this squad who were the fab freshmen last year are still basically carrying the all of the weight themselves offensively, and that can't hold. 

Cornell: The Big Red are certainly already better than they were for much of last season, but based on their home loss to Quinnipiac they may at least still be a step behind the very elite of the league. The defense still isn't quite as strong as we're used to seeing from a Cornell team, but at the same time it hasn't been awful and the offense has been strong enough to make them dangerous against most of the teams they've played this season. Their weekend in the Capital District next weekend is going to be very telling about exactly what we can expect from this team, as they have a tough task ahead of them on the road with RPI and Union. Other than Quinnipiac, the Big Red's schedule thus far has been only fair.

Dartmouth: We thought the Big Green would be better than most were giving them credit for, but Dartmouth's first four games this season have been absolutely putrid, beyond anything even modest observers thought they'd be doing. They gave up 14 goals to Union and RPI, which gives them 19 in their last three games, overall a national worst 5.50 GAA as a team. Offensively, things aren't horrid, but it would have to be lighting the world on fire the way they've been unable to keep the puck out of their own net. At this point, it's hard to find a team that's off to a worse start in the league.

Harvard: We thought Harvard would be much better than some of the conventional wisdom, especially since the rest of the media seemed to think the Crimson were going to be closer to their performance last year. Early on, it's looking like they're at least certainly better than last, year, especially if their season series win over the Engineers is any method of judging. We've only got games against three teams to judge by, and Harvard did lose to Union last night for their first loss of the season, but not before they took a 2-0 lead on the Dutchmen at one point.

Princeton: A tough season was expected for the Tigers and a tough season seems to be in the cards based on the early returns. Just 8 goals in 4 games has been only enough to pick up a single win, against the only team in the league struggling even more than the Tigers, which is Dartmouth. Princeton will need a strong offense in order to overcome defensive deficiencies, and as we expected they just can't get enough out of Andrew Calof, who has been stifled in his first four games and has yet to score a goal. They have six straight home games coming up to try to get something done, but they have some strong offenses coming in with Yale, Brown, and UMass-Lowell that will make things difficult on a taxed-enough already defense.

Quinnipiac: Heard from lots of people that Quinnipiac "lost too many seniors." Our response was "so what?" Advantage, WaP. After an opening game loss at Alaska-Anchorage (which is a long trip if you didn't know), the Bobcats have rattled off 8 straight wins and are now 8-1-0. That stretch includes a home-and-home sweep of a highly-touted Lowell team that got off to a slow start and three wins over Atlantic Hockey competition, but any concerns about the Q's offense lacking robustness after the losses to graduation or their all new defense being problematic have pretty much faded entirely. In fact, the defense is currently tops in the entire nation with a GAA of 1.56. They're very well positioned to contend for a second consecutive Cleary Cup.

RPI: There are only two teams in the entire country that are in the Top 10 nationally in both offense and defense. One of them is Minnesota, the #1 team in the country. The other? The Engineers. (Quinnipiac is close - their #1 defense is supplemented by the #11 offense). The Harvard games notwithstanding, RPI has shown themselves to be very formidable in practically every aspect of the game, and perhaps most importantly have shown that they do not have to be reliant on the health of their top goaltender, given the excellent play of Scott Diebold in relief of the injured Jason Kasdorf - Diebold's numbers in both GAA and save percentage are in the Top 5 in the nation. So far, not much to dissuade the early optimism.

St. Lawrence: The Saints are about where we thought they'd be. Offense? They've got it, and the Carey brothers are the ones leading the way. SLU has shown an ability to score in bunches, but defensively they are going to have to get their house in order in order to be shooting for a first-round bye the way they were late last season. The team's at 4-2-2, but they're giving up more than three goals a game, that magic number that is going to spell problems if it continues at length. Unlike some other teams struggling defensively, this is a team with the depth, guts, and experience to still have a shot in games where the defense struggles, but they'll have a hard time cracking into the elite level without some more D.

Union: The Dutchmen have been night and day depending on the availability of their top netminder, Colin Stevens. With Stevens in net, Union has been able to get enough defense to be competitive, and in fact, they're 2-0-1 in games he's started (including the opening game against Bowling Green, in which he got hurt early). Without Stevens starting, they're 1-2-1, the one tie coming against UConn. Union's clearly still got the offense to make things easier on the team even when the defense isn't as staunch as they'd like it to be, but it's fairly clear that they do need their starter in net to ease the burden of that offense.

Yale: The defending champs actually resemble Brown in a lot of ways, perhaps the only real difference being that the offense is a lot deeper and more dangerous overall rather than having the danger packed into a single line. That fact has kept the Bulldogs in their games, and has them at 2-1-1 despite the fact that they still have not found an exact heir apparent to Jeff Malcolm in net. As with Union, that strong offense will be enough to keep them in most of their games, but they're not going to want to have to get into a track meet with other teams that have strong offenses with the ability to at least keep Yale's high-flyers in check - see Quinnipiac and RPI especially.

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