They buzzed around the net, they battled along the boards, but ultimately the story was the same this weekend for the men’s ice hockey team, which dropped a pair of 5-2 contests to Union and Rensselaer Friday and Saturday, respectively.
This weekend’s losses bring the Elis’ conference losing streak to six games, longer than any losing stretch last season. With Princeton’s 4-2 win over Union Saturday, the Bulldogs (6-17-2, 5-11-2 ECAC) find themselves in 11th place, three points away from a playoff spot, five points behind Union (12-10-6, 7-8-3) and seven behind Rensselaer (14-10-4, 8-7-3). The Elis have four games left to correct their disastrous slide.
“Our intensity and forechecking were the best it’s been in a long time,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said about Saturday’s loss. “It’s tearing my heart out that we don’t get any wins with our guys playing like that.”
What is even more heart-wrenching is the Elis’ play in the offensive zone lately. The Elis have managed only two goals in each of their last four games. In the same stretch, the Bulldogs have converted one of 15 power-play opportunities.
“In a lot of these games, if our power play was a little better, we would win,” Taylor said. “We can’t hope to win in this league if we’re only putting in two goals each night.”
After the 5-2 loss to Union, Taylor replaced goalie Peter Cohen ’05 with Dan Lombard ’02.
On Saturday night, the Elis opened the first two minutes of the period dominating the play in the Engineers’ end of the ice. But RPI, who is 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, got on the board first with two goals in the first six minutes. The scoring started just over three minutes into the game when RPI defenseman Blake Pritchett skated inside the blue line and rocketed a shot from the point. The puck bounced off a Yale skater and slid past a surprised Lombard low on his glove side.
Less than three minutes later, the Engineers struck again when winger Matt Murley, who is sixth in the nation in goals per game, wristed a shot past Lombard’s glove side as he was hustling to get across the crease.
“We felt Lombard’s a butterfly-style goaltender, and when you get him moving laterally, you’re going to find some holes,” RPI head coach Dan Fridgen said.
The Engineers would hold onto the lead for the rest of the game.
Although the Bulldogs would not leave the first period without a tally from winger Evan Wax ’03, RPI quickly built on its lead in the second period when winger Chris Migliore fought through traffic to corral a rebound and fired a shot past Lombard’s glove side for a 3-1 lead.
“That third goal was disappointing for me,” Lombard said. “I should have been able to make the stop.”
With another RPI goal two minutes later from defenseman Scott Basiuk, the Bulldogs narrowed the lead to 4-2 when winger Ryan Steeves ‘YR corralled a pass from defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03 and put it past RPI goalie Kevin Kurk’s outstretched glove.
Lombard stoned Murley in the second period and winger Eric Cavosie in the third to keep the Bulldogs’ hopes alive, but the Elis were unable to convert any offensive opportunities in the final frame.
Throughout the night, Yale was unable to find a rhythm on the man-advantage.
“We’ve been struggling on the power play,” captain Luke Earl ’02 said. “But at the same time, I have to give credit to their penalty-kill unit. They did a great job in shutting us down.”
The Engineers would add an empty-net score with less than 30 seconds remaining in the contest to finish the Elis off, 5-2.
Union presented problems of an entirely different sort for the Bulldogs Friday night. In a contest that was the opposite of the Bulldogs’ disciplined and inspired showing Saturday night, the Elis’ came out strong in the first only to fall flat in the second and third periods.
Immediately after the Friday night game, Taylor was not pleased with this squad’s efforts.
“This team is not playing well right now,” Taylor said. “We were loose and undisciplined tonight. This is not the same team that was playing before Christmas.”
In the first period alone, Yale attempted 35 shots, although only 14 found their way through traffic to goalie Brandon Snee. The offensive pressure gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead when defenseman Joe Callahan ’05 cycled behind Snee to the stick-side post and slid a pass out for Earl, who one-timed the puck over Snee’s glove side.
The Bulldogs seemed poised to come out of the first period with their first lead in three games, but with less than a minute to go in the first frame, the Elis let their lead slip away.
Cohen corralled a long shot and had time to do what he pleased with the puck. Instead of waiting for another Eli skater to circle in and collect the puck, Cohen telegraphed a pass to Steeves, who was tangled up with Union defenseman Jeff Hutchins along the boards. Hutchins stole the puck and sent a pass through the slot to winger Joe Beal, who one-timed the pass through Cohen’s legs.
Yet again, a lapse late in the period had cost the Bulldogs their lead.
“Yale deserved to be ahead by more than one goal after the first period,” Union head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “I give a lot of credit to our guys for coming back in the second and third periods.”
The Elis would never again regain the lead, as Union went ahead 2-1, 3-2, THIS IS NONSENSICAL and then put in an empty-net score with less than a minute remaining to ice the contest at 5-2.
Now that they are three points out of the playoffs, the Bulldogs will have to find a way to salvage their season and climb back into a postseason position. The Elis will have to do it against the best and worst of the ECAC when they travel to cellar dweller Vermont (3-22-2. 3-14-1) Friday and second place Dartmouth (12-9-4, 9-5-4), who is fresh off a 1-0 upset of No. 7 Cornell (18-6-1, 14-3-1).