It seemed like the men’s hockey team went on spring break seven days early.
With the ECAC playoffs next weekend, if the seventh place Bulldogs (12-17-0, 10-12-0 ECAC) cannot drastically improve from weekend home losses to Union, 3-1, and to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 6-0, they might have two full weeks of fun in the sun. Yale’s offense was missing in action and the Elis’ defense was incapable of carrying the team. The Bulldogs have one week to sort out the reasons for its late season struggles — the Elis are 1-7 in their last eight — before hosting St. Lawrence (7-12-3, 11-19-6) in the playoffs’ first round Friday night.
Unlike the previous weekend, when the Bulldogs struggled most in the third period, the Elis faltered in the middle frame, being outscored a combined 5-0 during this homestand.
On Saturday night against the Engineers (19-13-2, 13-8-1), it took RPI less than three minutes into the second period to gain a 2-0 lead on goals scored only 14 seconds apart.
At 2:01 Engineer forward Kevin Croxton fed linemate Oren Eizenman, who beat Yale goalie Josh Gartner ’06 low. On the same shift, Eizenman returned the favor, setting up Croxton for his 15th goal of the season.
“Emotionally, it’s a tough thing to bounce back from, when you are in a slump like this it gets harder and harder to keep your head up and get motivated,” winger Christian Jensen ’06 said. “When we were doing well, our reaction to every goal was, ‘all right we can get this back.’ Now when people say that, it is kind of forced, and the emotion isn’t behind it.”
Despite a solid first period, the Elis’ best of the weekend, in which Gartner kept the game scoreless with fourteen saves, Yale could not sustain its strong play.
Croxton and Eizenman teamed up again with just under 90 seconds left in the period, with Croxton roofing a backhander in tight.
Yale had some chances in the period, but the iron denied them twice, with Nate Murphy ’04 and Jensen’s shots hitting the post.
The Bulldogs’ power-play continued to dwell in misery, failing to capitalize on a 52-second 5-3 advantage. The Elis have not scored a power-play goal since Feb. 6, a stretch covering seven games and 27 man-up opportunities.
“Once again we are the architects of our own failure, with sloppy play in our own end and leaving guys open in front of our goaltender,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “We just broke down a couple of times in the second period. We didn’t convert on the power play chances or the five-on-three.”
It was more of the same in the third. Two RPI goals in the first 2:49 of the third period chased Gartner from the net, with Peter Dobrowolski ’04 replacing him. Dobrowolski stopped 10 of 11 shots, with Eizenman’s second of the night stretching the lead to six.
Nathan Marsters pitched the shutout for the Engineers, making 34 saves.
While a strong offensive performance from Rensselaer, the ECAC’s best scoring offense, might be expected, the same cannot be said of the eighth-place Dutchmen, who have the second worst goals per game average in the league.
“[Friday] night was truly embarrassing because the effort wasn’t even there,” Jensen said.
Despite Union’s (8-11-3, 14-15-5) offensive woes, the Dutchmen managed 47 shots in the game, peppering Gartner incessantly. Yale had 24 shots on goal, including just four in the second period.
“We weren’t really finishing hits, we seemed pretty slow out there,” captain Vin Hellemeyer ’04 said. “We watched [Union] on tape, we knew what they were going to throw at us, I guess we just weren’t prepared.”
Despite a sub-par first frame, a late period goal from forward Jeff Hristovski ’06 gave Yale a 1-0 lead. Hristovski came in on a breakaway and went top shelf for his 12th of the season, despite being hooked from behind.
“To get a goal late in the first period like that and go in after the first 20 with the lead and then come out and have a second period like the one we had is just — I don’t have an explanation for it,” Taylor said.
In the second, goals from Jordan Webb and Jason Visser gave the Dutchmen the lead for good. The Bulldog offense was weak.
If there was ever any point during the weekend that gave Yale a chance to seize momentum, it came at 4:11 of the third, when in the midst of a scrum in front of Yale’s net, the referees ruled that the net had been intentionally dislodged, necessitating a penalty shot for Union. Webb came in and deked to his left, but Gartner stayed with him and denied him.
“It seemed to me that that was a point at which the guys could’ve, should’ve and had to in order for us to win, latch onto the emotion of the moment and ride it, and we failed to do that,” Taylor said. “It should have been us that came out of that penalty shot on the upside of things.”
Webb got revenge, scoring his second of the game at 10:46 of the third gave Union some unnecessary insurance.
The Bulldogs put 11 shots on goal in the final frame, but could not put any past Union netminder Kris Mayotte, who finished the game with 23 saves. Gartner finished the game with 44 stops.
“It’s a little disappointing, but we have to move on from it,” Hellemeyer said.
While Saturday night’s game was an improvement over the loss to Union, the Elis know how much work needs to be done.
“We can’t continue to do the things we’re doing,” Taylor said.
News and Notes: The Elis’ offense is struggling and will need to get back on track fast. The Bulldogs are averaging 1.6 goals per game in their last seven, 1.26 goals below their season average. Winger Joe Zappala ’06, whose 18 goals lead the team in scoring, has only netted two in his last six games. Zappala has scored the game winning goal in two-thirds of Yale’s victories, a statistic that speaks for itself. Colgate (19-10-5, 14-6-2) clinched the ECAC regular season title with a split over the weekend. For the Raiders, whom Yale swept this year, the title was the first since 1990. Another team the Bulldogs swept this season, St. Lawrence, comes to Ingalls Rink Friday night for the first game of the best-of-three first round series. Yale beat the Saints twice in January, 4-3 and 5-4.
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