The votes are in, and it appears RPI has elected to forego future power plays.
The Engineers barely dented Harvard’s penalty kill, going one-for-10 in a 3-1 loss at the Bright Hockey Center. Ian Tallett, Alex Biega and Pier-Olivier Michaud scored for the Crimson (2-0-0), while Matt Hoyle made 27 saves. Josh Rabbani scored Rensselaer’s (1-5-1) only goal, and Mathias Lange stopped 33 in a losing effort.
“Both teams had a lot of chances. Their big guys made the plays, and ours didn’t; it’s as simple as that,” summed RPI head coach Seth Appert.
The game kicked off with a Harvard penalty only 20 seconds in, but RPI’s season-long power-play troubles continued as the Engineers were unable to muster a threat. The Crimson drew first blood only 4:15 in, as a failed clear ended up on the stick of junior Tallett on the left-wing point. The defender ripped a wide-open shot at Lange, that deflected off Engineer sophomore John Kennedy’s shaft and high into the glove-side corner of the net.
Rensselaer gradually achieved a measure of poise and confidence in killing off three penalties in the period, despite being unable to capitalize on either of its two power plays. The first horn sounded with the score at 1-0, Harvard winning where it counts but trailing 11-8 in shots.
The first noteworthy action of the second period occurred when Rensselaer soph Tyler Helfrich was fed a puck alone in front of Hoyle, but backchecking captain Jimmy Fraser swept in to block the slapshot into the netting above the endboards. RPI’s power play sputtered pathetically a few minutes later, surrendering a golden opportunity that Lange had to lunge to deny. The Red counterattack looked promising, but a two-on-one evaporated with an over-ambitious pass.
In fact, Harvard took six straight penalties between the period’s fifth and 17th minutes, including a 1:14 five-on-three with just under seven to play. Appert called a time-out to focus his unit, and freshman Rabbani nearly squared the score as a rebound dribbled across Hoyle’s crease. Even when Fraser broke his lumber and was forced to play empty-handed, the Engineers could not crack the Crimson’s goose-egg.
“It’s frustrating,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato of his team’s pervasive penalties. “We have to do a better job staying out of the box. Guys have to get a better grasp of how the game’s being called; there were a lot of stick violations [being whistled],” he said.
Harvard burned a power play of its own toward the end of the period, but the story of the frame was RPI’s embarrassing inability to produce on its opportunities. Harvard threw nine shots on Lange in the middle 20 to Rensselaer’s seven.
Lange was forced to scramble for a couple saves in the first minute of the third, but was eventually able to cradle a screened wristshot to force the defensive-zone faceoff. Rensselaer made a couple aggressive stabs of its own as the game opened up into sequential attacks and counter-attacks. Whereas RPI came up a whiff short in the second period, it was Harvard that was left wanting on a number of point-blank scrambles in the attacking zone.
Harvard put the game away for all intents and purposes seven minutes into the third. With a ten-second five-on-three having just run out, junior Biega punched a slapshot off defending Peter Merth and just inside Lange’s right post from the right-wing point.
The whistles began to sound in Harvard’s direction in the third period, as RPI took a half-dozen consecutive minors of its own from the late-second period on. The Engineers even got a blocked-shot bounce out to just-released defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer, but the junior couldn’t solve Hoyle on the two-man breakaway.
The Red denied Hoyle his first career shutout at 15:08 of the period, as Rabbani whipped a low-angle goal past the freshman keeper to draw the Engineers within a goal. The winger’s first collegiate goal was also Rensselaer’s second power-play goal in two games, albeit on the team’s 15th advantage therein.
RPI wound up one of 10 on the PP, same as Harvard. More disconcerting for the Crimson is the fact that they have surrendered 23 power plays in their first two games.
“We have to get a better grasp on how penalties are being called,” Donato repeated. “We’re going to have to start calling [penalties] in practice,” he proposed.
That said, Donato took pride in the fact that his penalty kill has only allowed two goals in those 23 situations.
“The penalty kill has been the difference for us in the first two games,” he stated.
Appert pulled Lange with RPI’s tenth PP of the night, coming with 1:35 left on the clock. The visitors held a losing hand though, as Michaud planted the empty-netter to end the scoring.
“For the most part, our defense took away a lot of the back-door plays,” said Appert, who found a number of positives in the loss. “We just have to be committed to winning a lot of 3-2 and 2-1 games,” he said.
The two programs tangle in the return match at Troy on Friday.