Friday, January 11, 2013

Men's Hockey January Review

Where We Are Now
This post comes a little later than promised, but also at an optimistic time for the Crimson. The boys just ended their two-month winless streak this past Wednesday with a fantastic 6-5 overtime triumph over #8 Boston University, despite trailing 5-2 with less than 14 minutes to play. The win moved the team's overall record to 5-7-1. The Crimson still haven't seen conference points since mid-November however, currently at 3-5-0 and in 9th place. Six teams are within three points, however, and every one of those teams has played eight conference games just like Harvard, except for Yale and Clarkson at seven each. The men play five conference games in the next sixteen days alone, so opportunities abound to right a wayward ship.

The Forwards
I'll try a different format for this post, analyzing the team by position instead of good/bad. The Crimson are delighted over the return of Jimmy Vesey from Russia, our team MVP back in November, where he exceeded everyone's expectations at the World Juniors. Vesey looked a tad disoriented against the Terriers on Wednesday, but yours truly can speak to the brutal jetlag after such a trip, and the freshman should be back to speed soon. He remains the team leader in points per game, and more importantly, his presence allows Coach Donato to play the line combinations he wants all the way down the depth chart.

In Vesey's absence, Harvard's touted seniors have finally started to display the firepower they're capable of. Marshall Everson and Alex Fallstrom both had multipoint games against Princeton and teamed up with Luke Greiner for Harvard's first goal against Quinnipiac, against whom the Swede also scored on the powerplay. At BU, Everson and Fallstrom only recorded one point each but created half a dozen other scoring chances, and Greiner finished with three points, including a spectacular individual goal that made the score 5-4 in the third. That goal also came on the powerplay, which at long last appears to be working. The Crimson have found the net five times with the man advantage in the last four games, and while many kinks still need to be ironed out, the percentage is up to a respectable 13.5% and the streak of one powerplay goal in eight games is forgotten.

After missing a few games earlier, Colin Blackwell has returned and is skating as well as he did at any point in his fantastic rookie campaign, currently enjoying a three-game point streak. He has found a rival, however, for the team's most dangerous offensive threat in Tommy O'Regan, a total wizard with the puck. O'Regan is still a little eager to enter the zone 1-on-3 and put the puck through the legs of defensemen, but his visionary passing ability has him tied for the team lead in points with Fallstrom at 10. Against his freshman brother, Danny, the elder sibling stole the show at Agganis and assisted beautifully on Conor Morrison's game-winner. His +5 rating leads the team.

Kyle Criscuolo remains injured, and the Crimson miss his two-way play, as the freshman had established himself alongside Morrison and Greiner as Harvard's best defensive forward. In his absence, however, Donato has found an excellent replacement in sophomore Ryan McGregor, who missed most of his freshman campaign with injury and did not skate in several contests early this year. McGregor has played well in his own zone, won a number of key face-offs, and picked up two assists against BU for his first career multipoint game. When Criscuolo returns, it should surprise no one if McGregor remains in the lineup.

The Defensemen + Girard
Early in December, the Crimson learned they would be playing without Patrick McNally and Max Everson for the time being, and suddenly a deep group of blue-liners became anything but. To add to the trouble, games lost among the forwards have forced Donato to play John Caldwell up front. As a result, against Princeton and Quinnipiac, the Crimson iced five defensemen, and it showed.

Danny Biega and Dan Ford have played well and limited turnovers in their own zone, but with so many stressful minutes on the legs of both and the Crimson's inability to win high-scoring games until Wednesday night, the duo have seen their offensive production drop well below the paces they set last year. Neither has scored a goal, and they have seven assists between them. They have often been unable to join the rush, scrambling back as soon as they cross the red line to prevent a chance the other way.

Dez Bergin has played the role of McNally Lite and shows no fear of the puck or the offensive zone. He's picked up four points so far, and while he's committed a number of freshman giveaways in his own zone, Bergin stands at a -3 rating, the same as Biega and only one goal worse than Ford. His continued improvement is a promising story to watch for the Crimson and may make a big impact on the ECAC standings yet. Brendan Rempel has served as Bergin's capable and more conservative partner, and has also played solid and significant minutes on a penalty kill that's ranked fifth in conference games only at 86%. However, with so few men at the back, the pairings have been highly unstable, and no two outside of Biega and Ford have truly had the chance to develop any real chemistry, contributing to Harvard's breakout problems and conference-worst 3.11 goals against average. Moreover, Donato still has not trusted junior Dan Fick with major playing time even when undermanned. Fick is pointless on the year.

In net, Raphael Girard was irreproachable through the first two months of the year. Since then, he's been pulled several times and allowed a handful of soft goals, but it's hard to lay too much blame on his head Harvard has been regularly out-shot, and of the ten goals scored on the Canadian against the Bobcats and Terriers, he was truly beat on perhaps four at most. The Crimson have done a particularly poor job lately of clearing the crease, and against BU, Girard gave up three goals only after having already made a few stops. He hasn't been spectacular, in particular with finding the puck around his feet, but he hasn't given any games away either. Freshman Peter Traber has looked solid in garbage time.

MVP So Far
Biega. If there was a statistic kept for racing back into your own zone to successfully snuff out a 2-1, Biega would be leading the nation. He's picked up two assists in the last two games, and while any chance of a renaissance rests on the scoring prowess of Vesey, O'Regan, and the seniors, none of it would even be thinkable without the captain.

Looking Forward
The Crimson travel to Dartmouth on Saturday. The Big Green, once the last undefeated team in the nation, have cooled off considerably, so the Crimson have a great chance to take a third win from a ranked opponent this year and prove that Wednesday was no fluke. Later this month, the Crimson travel to Yale, Brown, and Union for the second showdown of the year against each team. The Bulldogs and Dutchmen defeated Harvard by a combined 11-3 margin. Needless to say, the men's hopes for an ECAC bye cannot afford a repeat performance. Finally, on January 25th and 26th, the Crimson return to the Bright to play Clarkson and St. Lawrence for the first time this year.

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