By the end of the first period against Yale on Friday night, fans had reason to worry about the Big Red's inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities. The Big Red had several great chances in the first period, capped by a Shane Hynes breakaway in the final ten seconds, yet after all these golden opportunities, had no goals to show for them.
The second period opened much the same way. Then the floodgates opened at 8:55 of the period. The Big Red scored five goals over the next 9:53 -- five goals in just under ten minutes, after just six non-empty-net goals in the previous five games. In all, Cornell would light the lamp 11 times in two games, combining for their best weekend output since the opening weekend of the season, when they scored 14 times against Army and Sacred Heart.
Perhaps the best part of the offense's resurgence was the fact that it did not all come from one player or one line. The deep offense that was so prominent in the first four games reasserted itself as a unit that can convert with any of its players in any situation, converting six five-on-five goals, four powerplay goals, and one four-on-four goal. Most impressive is that every single forward recorded at least one point on the weekend, eight of them recording two or more points. Even better, ten different players scored goals this weekend, Matt Moulson being the only player to have two.
So which is it? An offense that barely averages a goal per game or one that's extremely potent? It may be more of a coincidence than one may think that Cornell has been so effective offensively against lesser opponents yet struggled against the stronger ones. For the most part, the team has looked far more comfortable at home than on the road, which is evident by the contrasting records. In their games at home, the Big Red have adopted a much more physical game as opposed to a more passive style on the road, where they've almost seemed to be waiting for their opponent to dictate the play.
We'll really see what Cornell's offense is capable of in a couple of weeks when they play the highly touted Boston College at the Everblades Classic at the end of this month. Both games they play in Florida, whether it's St. Cloud State or Maine in the second game, will pit the Big Red against strong opponents, so the big test awaits not only the offense but the entire team. Harvard, Michigan State, Vermont, and Dartmouth are all teams that Cornell has played that can be considered better than average, and against those teams, the Big Red has been outstanding defensively yet generally anemic offensively. However, with the exception of the first game against Michigan State, they have had their share of chances. It is a question of capitalizing. In the first period against Yale, they executed their game plan relatively well in the offensive zone yet could not finish the job, but the second period was a totally different story. With Cornell's size and depth up front, they should always get those scoring chances. Whether they score or not is the question.
The Big Red played with plenty of physical conviction this past weekend and it made all the difference in the world. Although they were getting scoring chances during their four game winless streak on the road, that physical conviction was not there at the level it needs to be. The difference in how the opposition operates in their own end is considerable depending on whether the Big Red is pressuring them physically. It does not matter who the opponent is or how good they are, Cornell can always finish their checks. Their effectiveness in the offensive zone has and will continue to directly depend on how physical they are from beginning to end of each game.
Coming back to Cornell's depth, there was considerable scoring depth displayed on the weekend, further highlighting the Big Red's strength in this area. They have four lines that can score, but their four lines are all quite different from each other, further signifying that if the team is on its game and initiating the play, they can skate with any team. These were also the first games all season in which the team's top 12 forwards all played, albeit not all played healthy. Of the Big Red's seven even-strength goals, two came from the top line, one from the second line, two from the third line, and two from the fourth line. Of the four powerplay goals, two came from the first unit and two from the second unit. For the season, Dan Glover, Kevin McLeod, David McKee, and Troy Davenport are the only Cornell players that don't have two points. (The latter two are goalies, and the former two have only played in five games and one game, respectively, or they could well each have more points by now.)
The usually stingy Cornell defensive scheme struggled a bit compared to other weekends, but it did not end up mattering with their revitalized offense. There are going to be games where Cornell gives up more than one or two goals and in the past this was a losing recipe. If the offense is here to stay, however, Cornell will nearly always be on the winning side of the 2-1 and 3-2 games that will become more and more frequent as the season progresses. The Big Red's considerable scoring depth could actually rival their stifling defense for the team's biggest forte by season's end.
1. Shane Hynes
Friday night against Yale, Hynes turned in one of the more dominant performances by a Cornell player in quite a while. Every time he was on the ice he was creating offense with his size, skating, and underrated puck skills. Hynes scored a goal and two assists but was also responsible for a ton of Cornell opportunities. Additionally, he made his presence known every time he was on the ice, mixing it up with a couple Yale players, and physically imposing the entire night.
2. Jeremy Downs
Once again, he was Cornell's best defenseman, standing out in all three zones. He is starting to become a consistent offensive presence, adding a goal and an assist on the weekend for two goals, four assists, or six points on the season, tied for first among Big Red blueliners with the more heralded Charlie Cook. Downs did the job defensively too, being his usual reliable self in the defensive zone (except for the second Princeton goal which appeared to go off his skate).
3. Mitch Carefoot
Carefoot returned to the lineup after missing four games due to injury, and looked great in the process. His contributions often go unnoticed, but he really stood out on the weekend, making the fourth line a constant threat. Carefoot notched a goal and an assist, effectively killed penalties, was a physical presence, and looked very comfortable for someone who'd just missed three weeks. His return to the lineup will make a huge difference for Cornell.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Moulson, Mike Knoepfli, Paul Varteressian, Chris Abbott
Why can't people just get to games on time?
It just does not make any sense. You pay for a whole ticket; why not get the maximum utility out of it? What else can you being doing at 6:50 on a Friday or Saturday? Perhaps people are eating dinner although there is not any reason why they cannot eat earlier or after the game. Maybe people think it is cool to come late. Whatever the reason is, it is preposterous and unnecessary. For non-student fans, there is a several year long waiting list for tickets, and there are always students that get shut out of season tickets, so really it is sad to see Lynah significantly below capacity at 7:00. PLEASE be at games by 6:50.
Why can't people stay at games until they are over?
This is a universal problem in spectator sports. When games are seemingly decided in the final minutes, people head for the exits. It is more comedic at professional games where the tickets cost a ton of money and the same people who complain about how the ticket cost are the ones leaving early to beat the traffic. Support the team through thick and thin, and if that means sitting in traffic for a few minutes, so be it. One of the more special times at Cornell hockey games is the moment the opposing team steps off the ice at the conclusion of games, and the team salutes the Faithful. It happens every game, regardless of the outcome. The crowd goes nuts in appreciation of the team's appreciation of them, and everyone leaves the game feeling that much better. It very much embodies what it means to be a part of Cornell hockey.
How high will Sasha Pokuluk be drafted?
Of course this question is somewhat contingent upon when the next draft will take place. But the 2005 draft class will be drafted at some point, regardless of when and how the lockout is resolved. If there is anything NHL scouts love, it is size. Looking up and down the Cornell roster at who has been and who has not been drafted very much signifies this. If Pokuluk was just a 6'5" scrub, then he would still be drafted. The big guys get the benefit of the doubt as it pertains to the NHL Draft. Pokuluk, as it happens, it not just a 6'5" scrub. His offensive abilities are extraordinary for a player his size and he has displayed them a good amount this season, garnering two goals and three assists in 11 games. He has looked pretty good on the first powerplay unit but will certainly get better as his career progresses and he becomes more comfortable. For someone his size, Pokuluk could stand to be more physical. As well, his decision making can and will improve. That all being said, Pokuluk will go very high in the draft. His rare combination of size and skill will be greatly coveted by NHL teams. A comparable player, Ryan Whitney, formerly of Boston University, was drafted fifth overall by Pittsburgh in the 2002 draft. Pokuluk probably will not go that high, but expect him to be a first round pick and possibly creep into the top 15.
Will Doug Krantz get back into the lineup?
Dan Glover struggled over the weekend and likely failed to assert himself into the number six position. As has been pointed out in the past, Krantz and Glover are totally different defensemen, and whom the opponent is will likely determine who draws into the lineup. Neither player has stepped up to claim the spot yet, but expect one of them to do so by the stretch drive.
Is Byron Bitz growing into the center position?
He looked better at center this past weekend than he has at any other time that he has played there. In the three games since his inclusion on the top line, its three players have combined for five goals and 11 assists. Bitz did an excellent job at center ice in all three zones over the weekend, doing a particularly good job making plays in the offensive zone with size coming off the end boards. Bitz appears to give this line the right combination of size and skill. Another area in which he has been very successful is on faceoffs. Not sure when the last time Cornell boasted a big, rangy, play-making center of the Joe Nieuwendyk-mold, but it appears that Bitz is on his way to filling that mold.
Check back the next two Mondays for further analysis. I will be in attendance in Florida, so thoughts from each game will come after their respective conclusions.