Friday, February 12, 2010

Harvard men's hockey: Five thoughts on a rough stretch

The busiest stretch of the season is now over for the Crimson with the conclusion of the Beanpot, and with a strong post-exam run of play fading over the last week, after the we'll look back at the four games since the beginning of February - a disappointing 1-3 stretch for the Crimson.

1. Discipline has suddenly become an issue for this team. Against Boston College in the first round of the Beanpot, Harvard took a total of 58 PIMs and Luke Greiner, Ryan Grimshaw, and Daniel Moriarty earned misconducts. Boston College's swift and puck-possessing style of play often induces obstruction penalties from opposing clubs, but that does not excuse most of Harvard's time in the penalty box, given that they took another 48 PIMs and two game misconducts on Friday night at Brown, a far less skilled team. Danny Biega was suspended for one game for his hit from behind during the Brown game, and while an appeal of the suspension kept him eligible for Saturday's game at Yale, this recent trend towards reckless and undisciplined play is hurting the Crimson's chances of putting together a strong run of play into the postseason.

2. Why the sudden penalty issues, and what to do about them? First, the constant refrain all season has been many of this team's struggles can be explained by Harvard's reliance on a youthful crop of forwards - on any given night, Ted Donato pencils in eight or nine underclassmen skaters among his twelve forwards. But penalties were not a significant issue for Harvard until the last few games, and before the Beanpot the Crimson averaged 11.9 PIMs per game, 10th-fewest in the nation. So perhaps it's a recent bout of frustration that has put the Crimson on edge, and thus more likely to cross the line and draw the ire of officials. Harvard has been an uneven team this season, and this recent spate of penalties may simply be another manifestation of their relative youth and inexperience. To correct this issue, the best thing they can do is win games and rely on their veteran leadership - particularly forwards Doug Rogers and Michael Biega - to lead by example.

3. If Harvard is to make a move up the standings and perhaps challenge for an ECAC first-round bye, they'll need to find a consistently successful power play. The power play pushed Harvard through the final month of the regular season last year to the fifth seed in the ECAC playoffs, and it was immediately after the exam break that a power play surge began. This year, they have been far more inconsistent. Over the last four games, Harvard is killing off penalties at a 73% rate and its power play is converting at a 14.8% clip, and has given two shorthanded goals in the last four games. Neither is close to Harvard's rates last season and so they'll need to find a way to get both special teams units going if they're to have any success in the final weeks of the season. Look for some different personnel combinations this weekend, as well as an emphasis on getting shots through traffic and generating second chances in and around the crease.

4. Let's take a look at the playoff picture for a moment. In ECAC Hockey, seeds 1-4 are given a first round bye, seeds 5-8 host first round best-of-three series, and seeds 9-12 hit the road for the first round. The Crimson currently stand in eighth place, and as noted in our earlier "If the playoffs started today" feature, the Crimson would face Princeton at home for the right to visit top-seeded Cornell in the quarterfinals . Last season, they pushed all the way up to fifth place, just two points off the first-round bye. The Crimson are, barring a collapse, will be assured of home ice in the first round, given that it historically takes 19-20 points to guarantee home ice. Over six games (four at home) they need five points - which would mean just two wins and a tie - for home ice. But looking at whether they're in it for fourth place, which would assure home ice throughout the playoffs, is a different question altogether and one that the Crimson do not have control of because of the teams ahead of them. The primary team to watch is St. Lawrence, currently in fourth place with 19 points. It will take approximately 25-26 points to capture that fourth spot, so Harvard will need a near-flawless finish to capture the necessary 10 points - 4-1-1 or 5-0-1 are the two possibilities. Can they do it? Yes, but they'll need St. Lawrence, RPI, and Colgate to stumble to below .500 records in the last three weeks of the regular season to have a chance.

5. Scoring depth has become a weakness for the Crimson in the last couple weeks. The top-line combination of Alex Killorn, Louis Leblanc, and Michael Biega has been extremely effective when working together, but after them, not much has been doing. Doug Rogers, the lone senior forward, has struggled to find wingers he's meshed with, so Ted Donato has taken to splitting up the "West Island Connection" in favor of scoring depth - most recently pairing Michael Biega with Doug Rogers. Finding a balance of scoring depth and a true top line has proved a challenge all season, and this weekend look for the West Island Connection to return, with Rogers working with yet another combination of wingers. If Harvard can roll several scoring lines in the next few games, they'll give their defensemen and goalies more breathing room and relieve the pressure on the power play to score at such a prolific rate.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of obsevations, this is not last year. The 09/10 team is totally different. This team has many young, skilled forwards that can skate. TD has to let them find their way. The upperclassman have been a disappointment. They lack skill and passion and in some cases ability. We will struggle mightily against fast teams. We are not a good skating team. That combinationm along with being skilled challeneged yields this type or record. Coach needs to go with the best line combos he has. It is hard to be experimenting at this time of the year. The C needs to step up and quit making the same stupid mistakes. Carroll needs to be the goalie the rest of the year. He gives us the best chance to win.