Thursday, November 6, 2014

Second Impressions

Alternate title: Will the real Engineers please stand up?

A few weeks ago, I pontificated on what RPI looked like after the Icebreaker tournament was in the books.

Then things went south, and in a hurry. Then last week happened. If there's been a more harrowing rollercoaster of an October in the recent past, I certainly don't remember it.

So how are those early observations holding up? Let's take a look.

Kasdorf as the best goaltender in the ECAC: When the team's playing poorly, it doesn't take long for the goaltender to look pretty bad too. While Jason Kasdorf was never blatantly awful during the team's pre-Union stretch, he wasn't looking like a world-beater, either.

The title of top goaltender in the league is certainly up in the air. Union's Colin Stevens has some claim to it (although he didn't look like it against the Engineers last Friday). Colgate's Charlie Finn certainly does as well (especially with a nation leading three shutouts in eight games), and now we can add SLU freshman Kyle Hayton to the list.

Against Union, Kasdorf looked like the dependable stalwart that he was for the Engineers during his stellar freshman campaign - and that certainly bodes well going forward.

Sophomore anti-slump: Jake Wood was apparently a healthy scratch against the Dutchmen (although he did warm up on Friday, not cracking into the lineup), and Jimmy DeVito's offensive threat level diminished almost immediately after the Icebreaker - in part because of the team's scoring drought, but he certainly didn't appear to be the one ready to break that drought with any frequency.

But Riley Bourbonnais continues to play well, and he was finally rewarded for top-end performance on Friday against Union, when he not only scored his first collegiate goal, he also notched RPI's first hat trick in several seasons. He's earned his place playing on some of the best lines out there, and if the Engineers are figuring to create a true offense by committee, he's positioned himself to be an important part of that scoring drive.

Impact freshmen: There should be little doubt at this point that Viktor Liljegren is going to play a serious role in the offense as well this season, but Lou Nanne has done even more, leading the team in points. Sure, it's only five points, but that means he's been a part of more than a third of the team's goals in some way.

Nanne and Drew Melanson have been together on a line with junior Mark Miller for the last two weekends, and the trio has looked very good together. They were the only ones to break through against Bentley, and the Nanne/Melanson wing combination produced a pair of goals on Friday against Union with the speed they've got.

Difficult to be hard on Mike Prapavessis and Jared Wilson this early into their freshman season. Eventually, both are probably looking to be bigger contributors in the puck-moving department, and both have shown bright flashes of potential for their usefulness in the offensive department. Give it time. As both acclimate to the world of college hockey, their contributions are likely to improve.

Defense: Which defense are we talking about now, the one that looked AWOL against Bentley or the one that was clearing rebounds with aplomb against Union? This should still be an area of strength. There's just too much talent and experience back there for the Bentley showing to have been much more than a fluke, especially the way they played last weekend.

Penalty kill: 10-for-11 against Union, which is pretty solid, even against a power play that struggled as much as the Dutchmen did in the home-and-home. There were some holes during the losing streak, but especially in Schenectady, the penalty kill not only looked effective, it also was unlucky to nab at least one shorthanded goal. Being dangerous in transition while a man down can force opposing power plays to be a bit more tentative with the puck along the blue line. Hopefully that's something that can continue.

In lieu of the obvious need for more scoring, let's touch on something I didn't bring up after the Icebreaker due to a small sample size - which has grown a bit since then.

Seniors? Most teams rely on their most experienced players to perform in order to succeed, and Seth Appert in particular has always put a premium on results from his seniors to provide power for the team. Having four senior forwards was supposed to be a point of potential for an offense that wasn't going to revolve around individual big guns - yet those four seniors have combined for a total of six points (2 goals and 4 assists), just one more than freshman Lou Nanne has put together on his lonesome (3 goals and 2 assists).

Mark McGowan broke through with a key goal on Saturday in Schenectady - and he'd been performing admirably on the penalty kill all night - but to some extent, he was basically in the right place at the right time on his game-tying goal.

The biggest names we'd like to see more from are Jacob Laliberte and Zach Schroeder. Their line (with DeVito) was rarely effective against the Dutchmen. If they're still together this coming weekend, they need to provide extra punch to help with the younger lines that are beginning to produce.

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