Wednesday, December 3, 2014

ECAC Power Rankings (November)

Time for the first installment of our usually thrice annual ECAC power rankings. We don't publish after October, because the Ivies don't have enough games to fully evaluate, and we don't publish after February, because the league standings are ranking enough at that point.

Generally speaking, these power rankings are a reflection on each team's entire body of work, not just their activity in league play, but there is a premium placed on performance in league games. It's not perfect, but it's at least a generally agreeable method for sussing out who's hard and who's soft when it comes to the ECAC.

Enjoy.

1. Harvard - It's been said for quite some time that Harvard has a talented team, and they're finally starting to prove it. The way they've opened their season, they're not just the best team in the league so far, they're one of the very best teams in the country (and the country should be used to the top ECAC team having that role by now). 6th in the nation in both offense and defense, 2nd in power play and 4th in penalty kill, there's just not too many places where the Crimson are failing right now. Finally, they're living up to the promise of their talent because they're playing like a team.

2. Yale - This may end up being a team that lives and dies with its defense, but if so, they're off to a solid start. The "three-goal" rule has applied very strictly to the Bulldogs. They're undefeated when they give up two or fewer goals, they've yet to nab even a draw when they allow three or more. The offense isn't going to remind anyone of the national championship run, not yet, anyway. That makes this a different Yale team. In the recent past, they've needed to get just enough out of their defense to get by. That's been turned on its head lately. Will it last? We'll see.

3. St. Lawrence - The question marks that this team had to start the season are being filled in, and quickly. Kyle Hayton already has half as many shutouts in 14 games as his predecessor put together in 132. The "scoring by committee" that RPI is seeking is actually taking place in Canton, and in spades: all but six skaters on the team have at least two goals, and one of those six leads the team with 10 assists. That combines to make this young team dangerous. If they keep it up, the future is extremely bright.

4. Quinnipiac - Their thief-in-the-night journey to the Capital District notwithstanding, there's still been a great deal to like about the Bobcats' early showings. While they've turned in some games that leave one scratching their heads, Quinnipiac has proven that they have the chops to compete. While neither the offense or the defense has left anyone dumbfounded yet this season, they've done enough to have themselves in first place by themselves, and that's never a bad place to be. There's room for improvement, but a strong power play and their results thus far have put the Bobcats in a good place moving forward. Right now, that's enough.

5. Dartmouth - Want to turn some heads in college hockey this season? Keep a team with Jack Eichel on it from scoring any goals whatsoever. The Big Green did that last weekend by shutting out Boston University and moved themselves up considerably from where they might have been otherwise on that feat alone. When the offense is clicking, and it usually has been, the Big Green have been winning games. Now the defense is starting to come along as well, and that's always a good combination to have.

6. Colgate - The Raiders' offense has been mostly as advertised (although they've had some rough outings), but the defense, especially since the start of the ECAC season, has been uneven at best. Still, there are a lot of teams that wish they could be playing as well as Colgate has - it's just that expectations in Hamilton were higher than what they've rolled out thus far. Many of the Raiders' victories this season have come against tomato cans - only two of their 10 combined wins and ties have been against teams with records over .500. Not their fault, and it does show they're winning games they must win, but the defense needs to better than its lately been.

7. Cornell - The Big Red are already making some serious strides in the right direction, and in a turn of events that will shock no one, it's defense that is leading the way. As mentioned in our Cornell preview, they played one of the nation's most lowest scoring schedules last year, and only Northern Michigan games have been more low-scoring than Cornell's so far. That's actually been increased in the last couple of weeks - only nine goals were scored combined in the Big Red's first four games of the season. They could be dangerous if they start scoring with some consistency.

8. RPI - Far too wildly inconsistent to be ranked any higher than this. They've been shut out five times and as good as the defense has frequently shown that it can be, they haven't produced any of their own (although they've limited the opposition to a single goal on six occasions). The Engineers walk a razor's edge when they are playing well (they're 5-2-1 in games decided by two or fewer goals) and when they're bad, they're very bad (1-7 in games decided by three or more). This has to improve if they're going to take advantage of their early positioning.

9. Clarkson - Inconsistent is a good word to use for the Golden Knights as well. They've had good nights offensively. They've also been shut out three times. The defense has been on more often than it's been off, but it hasn't strung together any real solid runs outside of ECAC play. Fortunately for Clarkson, they're in a strong position after six games in the league, which gives them something to build upon. If the offense can even get to a point where it, like the defense, is merely on more than off, they're in contention for a top four spot.

10. Union - A strong start to the season has been blunted by a sputtering start to the league schedule. After rattling off five non-conference wins to start the year, the Dutchmen have encountered difficulties on both sides of the puck. They followed up their long winning streak, which included last year's national championship, with a six-game winless stretch, which included a throttling at the hands of RPI and most recently, an 8-2 drubbing by Western Michigan. At the very least, there are signs of potential all around for Union, including the revival of its power play, so they may not stay down for long.

11. Princeton - That the Tigers aren't bringing up the rear based on how their season has gotten out of the gate is more a testament to how badly the bottom-ranked team has played and not a statement on Princeton being better than expected, since they were roundly picked to be the worst team in the conference. They've been on that level, but they've been beaten to the bottom, so to speak. The Tigers have the nation's worst offense and the defense is in the bottom 10. Frankly, if it wasn't for their wins over Cornell and Michigan State, they'd be sitting in the spot most expected of them.

12. Brown - Before the season started, we asked Brown to "show us first" before we placed them as high as some of the preseason rankings suggested they were capable. This is why. The offense is far too reliant on a limited number of players and has been roundly ineffective - only Princeton's goal generating has been worse nationally. Defensively, the puck just isn't being kept out, and the nation's worst penalty kill isn't helping. Put together, only Colorado College has a worse scoring margin differential than the Bears, and they simply haven't been competitive in most of their games.

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