Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Scouting the enemy: Rensselaer Engineers

The No. 5/7 Quinnipiac Bobcats returned home from Belfast, Northern Ireland this week after a league tie against Saint Lawrence and a loss in the Friendship Four championship game to Vermont. For the 9-4-2 Bobcats, it was a struggle to find the back of the net with the team scoring only one goal on the weekend across the Atlantic. They now welcome the 3-12-1 Rensselaer Engineers into High Point Solutions Arena on Friday night. RPI might be just what the doctor ordered for the Bobcats offense as the Engineers the 56th team in the pairwise rankings have struggled mightily this season. Head coach Seth Appert is signed through 2021 but has had only 4 winning seasons in his 11 seasons in Troy. One of those seasons ended with a trip to the NCAA tournament but those other three seasons were only a few games over .500. Appert for his career has a .427 winning percentage which is 3rd worst in the ECAC behind Princeton's Ron Fogarty and Brown's Brendan Whittet. With the way the team has played under Appert this season, they look headed for their third losing season in the last four years. Of the three wins they have this year (RIT, Brown, Arizona State) not one is from a quality opponent. They have lost a couple of games in overtime to Union and Yale that possibly could have turned into wins or even ties making their record a bit better.

Evan Tironese (photo by Grand Forks Herald)
Offensively RPI is one of the worst teams in the country at scoring goals. They average two goals per game which is good for 56th in the nation and they are the second worst scoring team in ECAC Hockey behind Brown (1.78 goals per game). They are not the biggest team up front with many smaller quicker forwards but they lack scoring talent up front. The leading scorer for RPI is sophomore forward Evan Tironese who leads the team with 17 points (3 goals and 14 assists) in 15 games. Senior forward Riley Bourbonnais was the teams leading scorer a year ago is second on the team in points with 13 but is tied for the team lead in goals at seven. Three of the seven goals he has are on the power play while two of the seven have come shorthanded this year. He is a one of the teams threats at five on five, the power play and the penalty kill. The Bobcats keeping Bourbonnais silent on Friday would be a wise option. Junior defenseman Jared Wilson has seven goals from the blue line with four of them on the power play and three game winning goals this season. A couple other producers are freshman forward Jacob Hayhurst (2 goals and 6 assists) and junior forward Drew Melanson (4 goals and 3 assists). The lone draft pick up front is Lou Nanne a 2012 7th round pick by Minnesota who has a goal and four assists on the season. RPI has a power play in the bottom third of Division I scoring at a clip of 14.46% (12-of-84). I'd expect the RPI power play to struggle with how well the Bobcats are on the penalty kill at 89.4%. The lack of scoring depth has hurt RPI this season so if the Bobcats can focus on keeping some of the top scorers quiet it should help in winning this game.

Riley Bourbonnais (photo by Sara Melikian)
Defensively RPI has shown to be a very poor team five on five. They are 54th in the nation in scoring defense giving up 3.50 goals per game on the season. Only the Brown Bears are worse on defense in the ECAC than RPI. A season ago they gave up 2.60 goals per game on the season.The Engineers have a lot of height on the blue line with six players 6'. 1 or taller. This is a defense that is a collectively minus 54 already this season. Last season the defensemen were a plus 4. It's surprising they have played so bad as RPI lost only two defenders to graduation. They returned four upperclassmen on the blue line so one would think they would get better from a year ago not worse. If they do anything well on defense its that they block shots. They are averaging 15 blocked shots per game this season with a game high of 27 and they did that twice this year. They are also a very good team on the penalty kill where they rank 7th in the nation killing them off at an 89.3% clip. RPI needs the defense to improve to have any chance at recovering from the team's poor start. If not it could be a very long winter in Troy for the RPI faithful.

Sophomore goaltender Chase Perry a transfer from Colorado College has gotten the bulk of the work load so far this season playing in 11 games. The 2014 5th round pick by the Detroit Red Wings is a tall athletic netminder with good flexibility and reaction to make those second and third saves more frequently. His numbers this season don't tell the whole story as his defense has really let him down in front of him. On the season he is 1-9-1 with a 3.67 goals against average and a .899 save percentage. It's likely his numbers would be much better if the players in front of him played better. Backup Cam Hackett has seen game action in six games and statistically has been the better goaltender with a 2-3 record with a 2.67 goals per game average and a .913 save percentage. Both are talented goaltenders who need the defense to pick up some slack in front of them. Hackett has played in two of the last three games so its unknown who Appert will turn to Friday night against Quinnipiac.

The Bobcats need to excel on the fore-check to keep the RPI defense from gaining any confidence and to force mistakes against them. On defense, Quinnipiac needs to a do a good job closing off passing lanes, shutting down some of the top players on RPI (Tironese, Bourbonnais and Wilson)   and blocking shots. If they do these things that should put them in good position to come away with two ECAC points.

Jonathan Singer is a 2004 Quinnipiac alum. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathan_singer.

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