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College hockey: St. Lawrence seeks improved play on defense

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CANTON — In his playing days at St. Lawrence University, Greg Carvel was known as a standout defensive forward and honored by the ECAC as such.

This doesn’t mean Carvel is now primarily a defensive-minded coach, yet tightening up the Saints’ defensive game was one of the priorities in the team’s practices this week.

After allowing 10 goals in two ECAC Hockey losses last weekend, St. Lawrence (6-4-2) will try to get back on track when it plays a pair of games at Rochester Institute of Technology (1-6-2) on Friday and Saturday, both 7:05 p.m. starts.

“We’ve just got to get back to playing at a good, competitive level,” said Carvel, whose team is 3-1-2 in road games this season. “And we need to be better on special teams.”

The Saints yielded five goals in ECAC Hockey losses to Colgate and Cornell last Friday and Saturday, while generating just five goals in the process.

“I went and watched the video and we didn’t give up that many scoring chances,” Carvel said of the Cornell game. “ ... The past couple years, the defensive side of the game is where we have needed to improve, offensively we’re a pretty good team. But this week we focused some on our defensive play and I think special teams is a part of this, particularly our penalty killing.”

The Saints allowed three man-advantage goals last weekend from eight opportunities, including two power-play goals in the first period against Cornell.

“We definitely have to tighten up,” senior center and team captain Kyle Essery said of the Saints defensive play. “We’ve had some mental breakdowns on defense and every team has those. But we have to work harder and stay more focused in our defensive zone.”

St. Lawrence surrendered four goals to the Big Red in the opening period, the most they’ve allowed in a period since a 4-0 loss at RPI in Jan. 27, 2012.

“Other than that first period when we gave up those four goals, we played unreal for the next 40 minutes,” Essery said. “If we can carry that over from those two periods, we should have success.”

Heading into their two-game set against RIT, the Saints are tied for sixth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 3.75 goals a game.

But defensively, they’re allowing 3.5 goals per game which places them in a tie for 47th in the country.

“I think our play without the puck can be better,” Carvel said. “From positioning to how we compete and battle for pucks as well as awareness in our zone. That’s all part of playing defense, as well as getting saves from your goaltender ... You have to work as hard without the puck as when you have it.”

After a promising start in which he only lost twice in his first nine starts, including five wins and two draws, senior goalie Matt Weninger allowed seven goals on 34 shots over the weekend. He was pulled in the first period against Cornell with freshman Tyler Parks playing the rest of the way.

“Our goaltenders need to be a little better,” Carvel said.

They’ll try and get well on the blue line against an RIT team that is ranked 53rd in team defense, surrendering 3.67 goals a game.

Last season, St. Lawrence split a two-game weekend with RIT in Canton, with each team winning by a goal in a pair of 4-3 decisions.

“Playing against RIT, they’re always a good team,” Essery said. “Two years ago and they came back and won in OT and they won a game against us last year. So we’re looking for some redemption, especially after (last) weekend, those two losses really hurt.”

In all, eight of the Saints’ 10 games this month are on the road, concluding with a Thanksgiving week journey to North Dakota.

“With this series we want to get our momentum going,” Essery said of RIT. “ ... North Dakota is speculated to be one of the best barns to play college hockey. There’s going to be a lot of energy and a lot of emotion and they’re always a great team.”

POWER PLAY REPORT

St, Lawrence’s power-play generated just two goals from 12 chances last weekend, but still ranks in the top 10 nationally, checking in at seventh with 25.5 percent efficiency (14-for-55).

CAREYS WATCH

Senior Greg Carey is tied with younger brother and freshman Matt Carey for the team lead in goals with eight each.

Greg Carey stands second in the country in points (23), points per game (1.75) and in assists (13).

Matt Carey is tied for first in goals scored among freshmen (with Quinnipiac’s Sam Anas) and is fourth among rookies in points per game (1.25).

ON THE MARK

One of the bright spots in Saturday’s loss to Cornell was sophomore winger Sean McGovern, who scored his first collegiate goal.

It was the first tally at this level in 46 career games for McGovern.

INJURY UPDATE

Freshman forward Drew Smolcynski continues to be sidelined with a separated shoulder. He had posted four (3-1) points in eight games before he was sidelined with the injury.

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