This weekend, Cornell men’s hockey will pack up the bus and head to Clarkson and St. Lawrence for the slog through the cold and snowy North Country. Saturday’s 2-1 loss to RPI brought a crashing end to an 11-game unbeaten streak, and showcased some limitations of Cornell’s offense. In order to succeed in two hostile arenas, Cornell will have to focus on its power play and secondary scoring to reestablish their offense.
Cornell’s power play has only scored four goals in nine games in 2018. Simply put, this is not up to the standards of the nation’s No. 3/4 team. Cornell can and must do better. Another interesting trend that perhaps correlates with this power play inefficiency is that of senior forward Trevor Yates’ goal drought. He is in second place on the team with 11 goals, but has not lit the lamp since Jan. 6. Yates led the team in power play goals last season, and typically is the netfront presence on the power play. If Cornell returns Yates to the front of the net and does a better job finding him with passes and shots to tip in, perhaps the Red can reverse both these trends.
On a more macro level, Cornell’s power play has simply become too predictable, with players occupying typical positions at the point and the top of the circle, and exchanging passes. To change up their power play, Cornell could borrow a stratagem from RPI. It may sound crazy to suggest that fourth-ranked Cornell could learn from the 59th-ranked Engineers, yet their power-play alignment confused the Cornell defense and created many opportunities. While Cornell and many other teams position three forwards down low near the net on the power play, RPI occasionally pulled the center back into the high slot, closer to the defensemen. In order to defend the center, Cornell had to adjust its defensive assignments on the fly, which left more Engineers open.
While the strategy did not directly lead to an RPI power play goal, if Cornell’s higher-skilled forwards tried it, perhaps it would confuse the North Country defenses and lead to goals. In particular, one could imagine Beau Starrett being particularly effective in this role, as he could use his size and passing ability to get open and create opportunities for others. Furthermore, this strategy would make Cornell less predictable and more creative, which should lead to more high-quality chances.
A second focus to reignite Cornell’s offense is secondary scoring. In recent weeks, juniors Anthony Angello and Mitch Vanderlaan have led the Red’s offense. However, Vanderlaan will now miss the rest of the regular season with an injury, which will increase Cornell’s reliance on secondary scoring. The top two Red lines are Angello and Vanderlaan’s, as well as Yates’s. If Yates continues his scoring funk and the new Angello line does not quickly settle in, Cornell will rely on the third and fourth lines to provide offense. In the fall, everyone chipped in on the offensive fun, and the defensemen in general are having an excellent offensive year. Sophomore defenseman Yanni Kaldis has 11 points, and four other blueliners have at least 8 points. The third and fourth lines found themselves in the spotlight last weekend as senior forward Jared Fiegl, who has diligently played almost every game over his four-year career as a checking-line player, scored in each game. The Red may need players like Fiegl and Noah Bauld, who scored against Union, to have strong games at Clarkson and St. Lawrence while the offensive shuffle takes place.
Cornell’s offense has not reached the lofty levels it performed at in the fall in recent weeks. In order to re-establish its offensive potency, the Red should experiment with a new power play strategy and return Trevor Yates to the front of the net. Second, the Red will benefit if its secondary scoring can steal the spotlight this weekend with a few timely goals. This way, Cornell men’s hockey can best position itself for two big road wins.