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A Tale of Two Games
The Engineers split the weekend against Colgate/Cornell in two vastly different games
The Colgate Game Showed Our Depth
Last Friday, we got to see the closest thing to our best lineup since the Vermont series back in November. If you remember, we missed Beaton, Brackett, and Budy in the Quinnipiac/Princeton weekend, and then were without Mahshie in Bowling Green. Granted, there probably is some room for debate around the margins of the lineup, but at the very least, our best 15 or so skaters were on the ice.
And the game played out quite well for RPI – they won the Corsi battle with 55.3% of the shot attempts taken and dominated in the shot quality department, creating 64.8% of the expected goals at 5v5 (of course, they won the game as well!).
One of the biggest reasons for their success in this game is that all four forward lines were clicking. This really was the kind of game that showed how good depth can lead to wins. Guys like Jake Lee and Brendan Budy had strong games and were able to get on the scoresheet. Beaton’s line with Brackett and Evans was consistently creating chances despite not finishing on any of them. Nykanen had one of his best games of the season and I thought really cemented his place in the lineup.
So much of this season, RPI have only had one or two truly effective lines going per game. Friday night was different – it showed what the team was capable of with their depth.
But the Cornell Game Showed We Still Have a Way to Go
If Friday night showcased the team’s depth, then the game Saturday night against Cornell showed that despite that depth, there is still a big talent gap between RPI and the top ranked teams in the nation.
Not a typo – I clocked only a single scoring chance at 5v5 for the Engineers on the night. It was a Brackett tip in front of the net right around the 9th minute mark of the first period. After that, the only real good looks at net were on the powerplay.
Cornell are a really strong team, as Stephen covered in his preview of this game. They tend to fly a little under the radar with Quinnipiac and Harvard getting a lot of the spotlight this year. But make no mistake, they will almost certainly be a tournament team this March.
Reasons for Optimism
RPI might not currently be on the same tier as Cornell and competing for national championships, but that doesn’t mean that there aren't reasons to be optimistic going forward.
As we have talked about on here previously, RPI shouldn’t lose many players at the end of this year. Ideally, it will be more of a reload rather than the rebuild that has been necessary each of the past two off-seasons.
Guys like Muzzatti, Smolinski, and Evans have shown real promise as freshmen this year and will only keep improving over the next couple of years. Stephen gave a great preview of the recruits in the pipeline, which include high-ceiling players like Tyler Hotson and Jack Ziliotto.
Sprinkle in a couple of transfer portal additions, and you don’t have to squint to see that things are trending in a good direction.
What the Underlying Numbers are Saying
As a brief aside, I wanted to give a quick update on what the underlying numbers are saying about the team. I picked out the top-10 forwards and top-5 defensemen from the model here sorted by their individual xG% (rightmost column).
However, I also included their offensive and defensive contributions in the first and second columns. “xGF/GP” roughly translates to how many expected goals per game are created when they are on the ice, and “xGA/GP” conversely is how many expected goals are allowed with that player on the ice.
They are best read as offensive and defensive contributions.
Dark-blue shading is good (high xGF/GP or low xGA/GP) compared to the team and dark-red is generally bad (low xGF/GP or high xGA/GP).
I will add a note that since this is normalized by games played and not time-on-ice (which we don’t have publicly), so it’s by no means perfect, but it still can give a good sense of who is helping more offensively vs. defensively.
On the Roger Wyland show Tuesday morning, Smith mentioned that 3 of the top 4 scorers on the team would miss this weekend’s games. Here is what we know:
Jake Gagnon injured his shoulder in the Colgate game
Jake Lee left the Cornell game early - he is presumably one of the three mentioned
That leaves either Mahshie/Walsh/Heidemann as the third player to miss the games
Two winnable league games this weekend - we’ll have previews over the next few days.
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