Without question, the catalyst of Cornell's offense this season has been their power play. No weekend was has that been more evident than this past one, when the Big Red scored four of their five goals on the man advantage. Matt Moulson notched two of the four power play goals on identical plays, while the other man advantage goals came on scrambles in front of the net. The lone even-strength goal came on Friday night, on a sort of fluky play authored by Doug Krantz.
The power play has surged for much of the season with Moulson scoring ten times to lead the way. The next highest total is Mike Knoepfli's with three, followed by five others with two. The power play has totally carried the offense, with 26 of its 63 goals coming on the man advantage. In addition to Cornell's three short-handed goals, they have only eight fewer power play goals than even-strength goals.
Moulson could very well have the best shot in the NCAA. Most of his goals during his career have been perfect shots from the high slot into the top shelf. Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon took responsibility for leaving Moulson open on Saturday night, admitting that he did not tell his penalty killers to press high on him. What would have happened if they had pressed high? Does Cornell have other weapons on the power play? There is no question that they do. However, they are keying too much on Moulson picking the top corner. As early as this coming weekend, Moulson's shot option in the high slot will be shut down, so the unit is going to have to adjust. Sasha Pokuluk has occasionally snuck down to the weak side top of the crease for a backdoor play, but rarely. Charlie Cook has sporadically teased with his shot, but is still generally reluctant to use it. Stationed down low on the right side, Topher Scott has done a great job of getting the puck to Moulson in the high slot, but he has not seemed willing to use other options such as a cross-crease pass or even throwing the puck at the net; as a result, he has not been fully utilizing the player in front (either Byron Bitz or Shane Hynes). Moulson is obviously getting the job done, but the fact that the team's offense is relying so much upon him makes the power play and the team's overall offense vulnerable.
It is great that the power play is clicking at such high proficiency, but the real test for it will arrive when teams have adjusted to the Moulson option. The Big Red has plenty of weapons besides Moulson on both units, so there should be no excuses when Moulson is forced out of the equation. Scrambles in front of the net like the ones on which Pokuluk and Scott converted this past weekend will probably not work on a regular basis. Teams will get better at defending against Cornell's power play, and how Cornell responds to that will determine whether the power play flounders or continues to surge. Dartmouth made the adjustment in the third period Friday night, and as a result Cornell only managed one shot and two scoring chances on a five-minute power play.
The call for certain adjustments on the power play should not take away from anything the power play has accomplished, because one thing is for certain: if not for the power play's general proficiency, the team would have been far less successful this past weekend. Of course they are not going to score every time out, but the key is for the Big Red to manufacture at least one power play goal per game and sustain that. To that end, the power play is spectacular, clicking at 25.2 percent, good enough for second in the NCAA. But Cornell is simply not generating enough offense five-on-five to continue their positive results. You might be thinking, "How can you complain about the offense of a team that is twelfth in the NCAA in total offense?" The answer is relatively complex. First, any good team needs a healthy balance of scoring. That means a consistently efficient power play that can convert different ways from both units, and a deep, well-balanced offense. There was a time this season when the Big Red met these standards and were seemingly scoring at will. Of late, the offense has hardly been multi-faceted.
It is becoming obvious how to play defense against Cornell: shut down Moulson on the power play. Otherwise, they are not generating much. Five-on-five, the Big Red has not been nearly good enough. It is unrealistic to think that the power play will score twice a game and therefore the emphasis on even-strength goals is essential. Cornell may be on a four-game winning streak, but they have only scored even-strength goals in two of those games, and just four total. On paper, Cornell boasts incredible scoring depth. Regardless of what the line combinations may be (see below), Cornell has a great mix of talent, enough for four lines of consistent offensive threat, not to mention a relatively able defense corps. There is no question that they have the weapons to be at least efficient offensively; it is just a matter of blending that talent the best way possible. The players need to do a better job taking the bull by the horns and initiating offensively, both off the rush and off the cycle. Forwards could do a better job of getting the puck to the net and crashing the net for rebounds. It is cause for concern when no Cornell player has scored more than four even-strength goals this season.
Scoring three goals will almost always be enough for Cornell to win games the way their defensive scheme is executing. The Big Red has the number one team defense in the NCAA, allowing a meager 1.53 goals per game. At 13-4-2 and sixth in the Pair Wise Rankings, it may seem curious that I would question any aspect of Cornell's game. But it is imperative to recognize that it is all relative. Regardless of how well a team is playing, there are always areas that need improvement. Winning does not ever mean nothing can be improved. This week's practices will most definitely see the team working on their five-on-five offense and on ways of improving a vulnerable power play to make sure the team continues its positive fortunes.
Only in one game this season has Mike Schafer had the luxury of having his top twelve forwards, but with Shane Hynes due to return Friday night against Clarkson, it appears he will have that luxury once again. The only constants on the team's lines this year have been Matt Moulson with Shane Hynes, Mike Iggulden with Mike Knoepfli, and Chris Abbott with Paul Varteressian. It is unlikely that Schafer will break up any of those duos, but pretty much everything else is subject to change with the number of different combinations thrown out there in the last month. As I have mentioned in this space before, Byron Bitz is far more suited for the wing than center, and this was evident over the weekend when he played two of his better games of the season. His size is far more useful on the boards than in the middle. Pegoraro has earned a shot at centering the top line, and he did not look out of place there over the weekend, so he should stay there. Hynes has played with Moulson for over a year now, and the two complement each other well. Bitz would drop down to play with Cam Abbott and Topher Scott to add needed size and physical play to that line. The line of Knoepfli-Iggulden-Carefoot would stay intact even though they struggled over the weekend. The Varteressian-Abbott-Sawada line, put together four games ago at Union, has done an outstanding job, physically dominating opponents every shift. This is all, of course, assuming that nobody was severely injured this past weekend or gets injured during practice this week.
1. Matt Moulson
The fact of the matter is that Moulson is almost single-handedly carrying Cornell's offense. The Big Red scored five goals this weekend, and two came from Moulson, including the game winner against Dartmouth. He has an amazing shot, and nearly all of his goals this season have come from the high slot on the power play as both did this weekend. His value to the team is unparalleled because one of the few things you cannot teach in hockey is goal scoring.
2. David McKee
McKee continues to elevate his game and is giving the team a ton of confidence playing in front of him. Cornell has displayed an extraordinary defensive scheme of late, but when it has collapsed, McKee has been there. He makes the tough saves, but what best exemplifies his value are the timing of his tough saves. That was absolutely the case in both games this weekend when he shut the door at the exact right times. Even after giving up a fluky goal in the third period against Dartmouth, McKee held strong, making several key stops to prevent the Big Green from re-entering a game they had no business being in.
3. Doug Krantz
Since the beginning of the season, Krantz is probably the team's most improved player. There was never any question of his ability, but Krantz really struggled in his first several games. It almost seemed as if he could not go a shift without making a major mistake. This past weekend, it was quite the opposite as Krantz was possibly Cornell's best overall defenseman. He made no mistakes and was extremely effective rushing the puck. He has a Mark McRae-like ability to find the open ice on the rush. Expect his offensive contributions to continue to improve, and don't be surprised to see him promoted to the top power play unit.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Abbott, Daniel Pegoraro, Topher Scott
It is almost painful not to give any of these players recognition for their performances over the weekend. Abbott is hands down the hardest working player on the team and was all over the ice in both games. Pegoraro proved that he has the ability to be a top line center and his creativity would make Moulson and Shane Hynes bigger threats five-on-five. Scott factored in on four of Cornell's five goals on the weekend and was his usual hard-working self, consistently making smart decisions on the power play.
Who is the best referee Cornell has seen this year?
Tim Kotyra officiated both games this weekend and it can safely be said that he was the best referee Cornell has seen this season. Jeff Fulton wasn't bad either, but Kotyra clearly respected the flow of the game far more than any of his colleagues. He had absolute control of both games, while allowing the teams to decide the outcomes of the game. Most importantly, Kotyra actually called obstruction rather than just talking about calling obstruction as almost every other official has, while actually allowing players on both sides to finish their checks and cleanly knock down opposing players. He was truly a breath of fresh air after the performances of the last few weekends.
Does Cornell's play drop off in the third period?
Topher Scott's power play goal against Vermont on Saturday night was the team's first third period marker in eight games. That is a pretty staggering statistic, especially considering Cornell was 5-2 during the seven-game stretch where they failed to convert a third period goal. In those seven games, however, Cornell has only allowed three non-empty net goals in the third period. But two of those goals proved to be the difference, with Boston College and Harvard both breaking tie games in the final frame. It really seems like Cornell has sat back a little too much in the third period this season, allowing late goals on a few occasions.
Who is the most undisciplined team in the ECACHL?
This question is set up to point out how undisciplined Dartmouth is. The Big Green made a handful of extremely dirty, attempt-to-injure plays, for one of which they were caught. Their coach, Bob Gaudet, seemingly sets the tone with his fiery personality, and has always had the reputation of being a bit of a loose cannon. One thing is for sure, Dartmouth is the dirtiest and most undisciplined team Cornell has seen this year, to the point where there was concern that Big Red players could get hurt.
How good is Dartmouth?
They are a lot better than the team that played at Lynah on Friday night. The Big Green have dealt with some major personnel problems this season, and Friday night in particular when the played without two of their best offensive players, Eric Przepiorka and Hugh Jessiman. Add the fact that three forwards left the team in the last month, and Dartmouth has only 21 skaters on their roster. In their last five wins, Dartmouth has scored a staggering 35 goals. Expect a different Dartmouth team if Cornell sees them in the playoffs. Also, expect Dartmouth to make a lot of noise come playoff time as a dark horse to win the post-season tournament.
Why doesn't Charlie Cook shoot the puck more?
Cook has an absolute cannon, but most people don't know it, because he rarely uses it. He shot more over the past weekend than he usually does, but he still is not shooting enough on the power play. The power play is keying too much on Moulson shooting the puck, and the better teams will adjust better to that play than many have this season.
The Lynah Faithful and the players alike have been looking forward to this game for several months. The last time the Golden Knights played at Lynah Rink, they pulled off an unprecedented upset, blowing out the Big Red in Game 3 of the ECAC quarterfinals last spring. Unfortunately, Matt Nickerson will not be playing, but as many as 16 regulars who played for the Knights last year will be. Clarkson has struggled to a 7-15-2 record this season, including 3-8-1 in the ECACHL. They are no pushovers, however, with wins over Dartmouth and nationally-ranked Ohio State. That being said, the Big Red are licking their chops going into this one, with a chance at revenge against a struggling team.
Clarkson 0 - Cornell 5
St. Lawrence has quietly put together a decent season. They have won six of their last seven games and have boasted a few wins over quality opponents this season as well, including Maine, Michigan State, Miami, and Harvard. The Saints boast what is likely the deepest and most balanced offensive attack in the ECACHL, with nine players having ten or more points. Conversely, their defensive game is among the weakest in the conference, which should match up interestingly with Cornell's outstanding defense and inconsistent offense.
St. Lawrence 4 - Cornell 3