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College hockey: Saints need to clean up defensive zone play

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence University men’s hockey team still sports the top-ranked power play in the country.

However, the Saints have allowed nearly as many power-play goals (29) as man-advantage tallies scored (32).

This contrast essentially sums up St. Lawrence’s disappointing season to date.

“Unfortunately they’re balancing each other out,” St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said. “We do produce a lot on the power play ... but we’ve got to get our penalty killing going. I really believe that if we strengthen our PK, I really think we can be an effective team that’s hard to play against.”

Mired in a seven-game losing skid, their longest in 10 seasons, the Saints’ poor penalty killing has kept them in a long slump.

While St. Lawrence leads the nation in power-play goals and efficiency at a gaudy 30.2 percent, it has sunk to third-to-last in penalty killing at 73.1.

Only Robert Morris (71.3) and Alabama-Huntsville (69.9) have worse penalty-killing numbers among the 79 Division I schools.

St. Lawrence (8-12-2, 2-6-2), which has also lost 10 of its past 12 games, will again try to right the ship as it plays at No. 12 Cornell and Colgate tonight and Saturday, respectively, in ECAC Hockey game, both at 7 p.m.

“We have to be better,” St. Lawrence senior captain Kyle Essery said. “Our power play is doing well right now. If we can get our penalty kill straightened out, we’re going to be a tough team to face.”

The Saints vowed to improve on their penalty killing after being soundly beaten at home by Brown and Yale last Friday and Saturday — after they focused on special teams during practice the previous week.

How much was this a priority while preparing for this weekend?

“Our focal point is preventing goals against,” Carvel said. “We’re looking specifically to address this and penalty killing is also at the top of the list.”

St. Lawrence has yielded 12 power-play goals during the losing skein, including five last weekend.

“We’re trying to get more aggressive while at the same time sticking to our structure a little better,” Carvel said of the team’s penalty killing concerns.

Poor starts have also proved to be critical for St. Lawrence, which hasn’t scored a first-period goal over its past four games, being outscored 9-0.

“First-period scoring has obviously been an issue for us lately, especially after we came back from the break,” Carvel said. “But again, our focus is more about not getting scoring on then scoring. I think we’re probably a fragile team and that’s why I think we’re not producing as much in the first period as we are later in the game.”

Special teams had much to do with the Saints’ 4-1 loss to reigning national champion Yale on Saturday, as the Bulldogs scored two power-play goals to open the game and the rout was on.

St. Lawrence allowed the game’s first four goals to both Brown and Yale, including three scores in the first period.

“I think of late we’ve played hard and we’ve play with energy,” Carvel said. “But the breakdowns that we are having are costing us.”

The Saints, who haven’t won since Nov. 29 and have also dropped six consecutive conference games, will be in search of its first league victory since Nov. 9, winning 8-5 at Dartmouth.

“I don’t think we’re talking about positives or negatives, it’s just about what we have to do to win,” Carvel said. “Again, we’ll have a very precise game plan against two very good teams this weekend. So we have to be disciplined and committed to what we need to do and play as hard as we can. I know we’re capable of beating good teams. We just have to get back to it.”

CALLING ALL ROAD WARRIORS

While the Saints are only 3-7 at home this season, they’re 5-2-2 on the road.

Just three of their losses during their current seven-game skid have come away from Canton.

Cornell has won six consecutive games against St. Lawrence at Lynah Rink, with the Saints last win a 2-1 decision in 2007. In contrast, St. Lawrence has won six of its last seven outings at Colgate’s Starr Rink.

CAREY WATCH

Riding a 17-game point streak, in which he’s generated 12 goals and 21 assists, St. Lawrence senior winger Greg Carey stands third in the country in points (40) and ranks second in points per game (1.82) and second in assists per game (1.18).

Carey is tied for the team lead in goals (14) with younger brother Matt, who leads all rookies in points per game (1.23), is second in the nation among first-year players in goals and is tied for second in points (27).

Senior defenseman Justin Baker is fourth in the nation among defensemen in points per game (0.91).

Chris Fitz Gerald covers St. Lawrence hockey for the Times. He can be reached at cfitzgerald@wdt.net.

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