Being back to back ECAC champions, and now the #1 team in the country, the bullseye has been on Yale’s back for awhile now. But this weekend will be one of the most important regular season weekends in the three year run the Bulldogs have been on.
It starts with a trip to Union, the 2nd place team in the conference. Their last matchup was a 5-0 Yale win but since then the Dutchmen have lost just 1 game in ECAC play, same as the team they are chasing. It also is a double matchup of the irresistible force vs. the immovable object: the #1 offense in the conference (Yale) vs. the #1 defense (Union) and the #2 offense (Union) vs. the #2 defense (Yale).
The Bulldogs obviously have the edge, but Union does have an advantage in one area: their 29.6% power play is best in the conference, and Yale is booked for 16 PIM per game, 3rd most in ECAC Hockey. Yale is right behind Union in terms of power play ability, but the Dutchmen are the second most gentlemanly team in the league, with only 10.6 PIM per game.
On Saturday Yale travels to face Rensselaer, who, despite being 5th in the conference, are ranked 14th in my rankings, and higher than that in all of the national polls. As if the game needed any additional hype, it is RPI’s annual Big Red Freakout game.
Rare is the game in which Yale doesn’t have the best player playing, but that will be the case on Saturday as RPI trots out Chase Polacek, who leads the conference with 34 points and is tied for the lead with 14 goals. (though I should note that he is tied for 2nd in points per game).
I think RPI’s success this year has been a bit of fools gold, as they are 6th in the conference in offense and 4th in defense, and they are middle of the pack in both special teams categories. There’s something to be said for winning games to be sure, but the underlying reasons why teams win games don’t really seem to be there for the Engineers. It’s a small sample size, but they have been outshot in quite a few games they have won, including being outshot 38-16 in a 3-2 win vs. Harvard. Those types of things don’t always catch up to a team but I wouldn’t bet on RPI to advance far in the NCAA tournament.