Just two weeks ago, the men’s hockey team was eyeing a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs. But after the latest pair of setbacks in a string of losses, the Bulldogs will not even have a single home postseason game.
On Friday, the Elis (8-16-3, 6-12-2 ECAC) built an early lead over Clarkson (14-13-2, 7-9-2) only to fall 3-2 in Potsdam, N.Y. The next night, the Bulldogs again spoiled a solid start with a rough third period, losing to St. Lawrence (18-12-2, 12-7-1), 3-0. The losses continued Yale’s plummet in the ECAC, falling from ninth to tenth in the league.
Yale head coach Tim Taylor said that while the Bulldogs are doing many of the small things in the game, they are not doing the most important thing — scoring goals.
“Obviously, the big issue is we’re not winning any gosh darn games,” Taylor said. “It’s gnawing at us as a team and a coaching staff. I don’t like to be a coach that talks about playing well if we’re not winning, but we’ve got goaltending that put us in position to win both games. The plain clear thing is that we’ve lost the scoring touch.”
Friday’s loss to the Golden Knights was symbolic of Yale’s recent inability to put teams away. After trailing 1-0 early in the first period, the Bulldogs responded with two unanswered scores. Forward Matt Thomey ’08 tied the game up midway through the first frame with a blistering slap shot past Knights goalie David Leggio.
The sophomore from Newfoundland was not finished. Just three minutes into the second frame, Thomey tallied his third score of the year with another slap shot past Leggio. At the moment, it seemed Thomey had reignited a stagnant Yale offense that has had noticeably less pop the last few games.
But Leggio and the Golden Knights defense responded, suffocating the Elis the rest of the way. At the same time, the Clarkson offense began to chip away at the tenuous Yale lead. Despite his greatest efforts, goalie Alec Richards ’09 could not hold the advantage by himself. After the Thomey goal, the Knights scored twice in the second frame to reclaim a 3-2 lead. Leggio took it from there, stopping eleven shots in the third period.
The Bulldogs again struggled with capitalizing on power-play chances. Yale had four man-advantages, including three in the final period, but was unable to convert on a single one. Friday’s performance continued a troubling trend of great goaltending by Richards spoiled by an ineffective Yale offense, whether at even strength or not.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the pattern continued on Saturday at St. Lawrence. Richards put up one of his best performances of the year only to be outshadowed by an even more impressive effort from the Saints defense.
The two goalies put on a show throughout the game, preserving a 0-0 tie into the third period. But the Saints finally broke through when Adam Hogg beat Richards just one minute into the final frame. As in the Clarkson game, the opposing goalie took it from there.
St. Lawrence goalie Justin Pesony finished with 20 saves, seven fewer than Richards. Though posting a modest save total, Pesony stopped the shots when it counted, stonewalling Yale on five power-play chances.
Despite the Hogg score, Richards continued to match Pesony’s play. The rookie tallied nine of his 27 saves in the third period before being pulled late in the contest. The Saints quickly scored two empty-netters to make the game official.
Richards said he is confident in the offense and does not let the scoring problems affect his own play.
“My job is to stop shots and keep the team in a position to win,” Richards said. “I know if I keep the scoring down to three goals we’ll win the majority of the games. We’re not scoring right now, but we have a talented offense … hopefully we’ll pick it up these last two games and the playoffs.”
Heading into the weekend, one of Yale’s biggest concerns was committing untimely penalties. Though the Bulldogs clamped down on penalty minutes, they could not capitalize when the other team committed a foul. The Elis spoiled scoring chance after scoring chance, going 0-9 on the weekend on power-play chances.
But a more telling statistic is that the Bulldogs have scored just seven goals in the past six road games combined. The Elis are 0-5-1 during that span.
Taylor said what is frustrating is that the team is not playing much differently than when it was riding a big winning streak.
“We’re not getting any less scoring chances than when we were scoring 3.5 goals a game,” Taylor said. “We’ve had some injuries that have messed up the line combinations, but that is not an excuse. I think now sometimes it’s a case of the guys squeezing on the stick a little too tight.”
Suffering from a four-game losing streak, the Elis are fading quickly in the ECAC. They dropped in the league standings for the second-straight weekend, falling into a two-way tie for tenth with Princeton.
Most alarming is that after all the strides the Bulldogs seemed to be making, they are just one place better than last year’s last-place finish.
Forward Joe Zappala ’06 said while the scoring deficiencies have worn on the team, he is hopeful that they restart the scoring as fast as it has stopped.
“It becomes a mental thing, you start fighting yourself, and you start to press,” Zappala said. “It’s just a snowball effect, but hopefully we can break the ice [in the playoffs] and the scoring will come back in buckets.”