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PRINCETON, N.J.—The Harvard men’s hockey team backed into its mini-winter break last night, losing 2-1 to the Princeton Tigers and falling below .500 in ECAC play.
The Crimson’s loss came one-game removed from one of its best performances of the year, a 5-3 victory over then-No. 8 Massachusetts last Saturday at Bright Hockey Center.
Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said after yesterday’s loss that he would like to see better execution on the power play, on the penalty kill and in shooting the puck.
The best indication of the Crimson’s failure to execute? Harvard outshot Princeton by 12 over the course of the night and still had trouble finding the net. The Crimson launched 69 shots on the night—23 were knocked down by the Tigers’ defense and 14 missed the net entirely.
“Part of shooting the puck is hitting the net, and goal scorers hit the net,” Mazzoleni said.
Implied in that statement is the fact that Harvard’s goal scorers were missing in action. Not said by Mazzoleni, but obvious from a quick glance at the post-game stat sheet, is that the Crimson’s goal scorers either didn’t shoot or didn’t hit the net.
Junior center Tom Cavanagh, the critical cog in Harvard’s offense, took a grand total of zero shots on net. Senior wing Dennis Packard, Cavanagh’s running buddy on the top line, mustered only one shot over 60 minutes. And sophomore Charlie Johnson, despite time on the team’s second line and with the second power play unit, added only one attempt on net.
“It’s a matter of being able to execute and finish your scoring opportunities,” Mazzoleni said. “That’s been something that’s plagued us all year. All year.”
Likewise, a struggling power play and penalty kill have hurt the Crimson. Playing even-handed, Harvard has a strong defense. For the year, the Crimson has allowed an average of only 2.11 goals against per game.
But where Harvard’s regular team defense has succeeded, the team’s penalty-kill unit has struggled extensively. The penalty kill is rated eighth in the ECAC, killing off only 81 percent of the chances against them.
Mazzoleni estimated that his team has allowed nearly a goal a game with a man in the box. While somewhat of an overstatement, the team’s struggles on the defensive end are eclipsed only by the team’s futility with the man advantage.
The Crimson’s power play unit ranks second to last in the ECAC, having converted on only five of its 37 chances before tonight’s game. Not that Harvard fared any better against Princeton; the Crimson went 0-for-3 on the power play, despite a 5-on-3 advantage in the second period, and managed only three shots while up a man.
Despite its special teams’ struggles and knack for not hitting the net, Harvard played the Tigers evenly for most of the first two periods, and really asserted itself in the final frame, but only after Princeton scored less than a minute into the third to take a 2-1 lead.
“It was a turnover by a junior or senior defenseman behind our net with a one-man forecheck and [then] the puck is in the net,” Mazzoleni said.
“We only gave up 20 shots—it’s not like we came in here and got nailed 5-1 or something. We didn’t execute when we had to.”
Standing before the Crimson is an 11-day hockey hiatus; the team next skates on Dec. 27 against No. 10 St. Cloud State in the Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Pot.
And a timeout is just what Harvard requires.
“[We need to] not think about hockey for a couple of days,” junior defenseman Noah Welch said. “This team needs a break right now.”
—Staff writer Timothy M. McDonald can be reached email@example.com.
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