RPI 2021-22 Mid-Season Review

John Beaton, Shane Sellar, Jakub Lacka, and Jake Johnson celebrate a goal in the Houston Field House (photo: RPI Men's Hockey)

As we are now halfway through the season, it’s time to review the team and their performance so far. It’s been an up and down first few months with plenty of positives and things to improve on. Let’s get into it.

Individual Players

RPI has leaned on its depth a lot this season, and many players are playing pretty well. They already have 7 players with 10 points, and there are another 5 players who seem likely to hit that mark as well.

Up front, it starts with Ture Linden who has been outstanding so far. He has without a doubt been one of the best centers in the ECAC, and he’s averaging close to a point per game. Behind him, Zach Dubinsky and John Beaton have been pretty good centering the 2nd and 3rd lines. At wing, Jakub Lacka and TJ Walsh have led the way. Lacka is playing the best hockey of his RPI career and has been excellent at generating scoring chances regardless of what line he is on. Walsh is absolutely dynamic with the puck on his stick, and RPI has really missed him the last 6 games where he’s been out. Ottoville Leppanen has been a key player with his playmaking, and Justin Addamo has been one of the team’s best goal scorers. Ryan Mahshie has dealt with injuries too, but when he’s in the lineup, he has added some really good secondary scoring. Shane Sellar has added good secondary scoring as well. The 4th line has been forechecking really well regardless of who is on it. Jake Lee and Jack Brackett have been given opportunities higher up in the lineup with the injuries to some forwards and have played well in those stints. There’s a lot to like about the forward group.

On the blue line, RPI has mostly played the same 7 players all season. Jake Johnson has been the best player on the team without a doubt. His +9 is significantly higher than every other player’s plus minus. He has used his offensive skills to be more aggressive this season, but he’s also smart about when he chooses to get involved offensively. He’s been absolutely elite at moving the puck in all 3 zones. He’s an All-ECAC player; the only defensemen in the ECAC who have been better are Zach Metsa and Sam Malinski. After him, Simon Kjellberg has been great offensively and a key contributor from the blue line. Anthony Baxter has been exactly as advertised. He’s very strong defensively and can play in all situations very effectively. He has been a great addition to the team. Jack Agnew has been a pleasant surprise, not because of his talent, but because was expected to take some time to adjust due to his youth. He also can play in all situations very well, and his skating and puck moving abilities have been very important to the team’s defense. His ceiling is sky high as he continues to develop. Lauri Sertti also has a sky high ceiling with his skating, skill and size. He has played very well as a young player still adjusting to college hockey. Kyle Hallbauer has shown off his usual skill with the puck and skating even though it has not led to a lot of points. He’s still an important player for the team. Lastly, Mason Klee is still strong in his own end and on the penalty kill, and he should continue to effectively fill a role as a stay at home defenseman.

In net, Linden Marshall actually leads the entire country in minutes played. The team has heavily relied on him, and he’s been pretty good. His numbers don’t tell the story very well because of the Cornell game. If you remove that game from his stats, his save percentage is pretty good at a .910. The goaltending is not a cause for concern at all, and Marshall should continue to be reliable in net as the team enters ECAC play. The only concern with the goaltending is really just Marshall being overworked. It would probably be good for him to get a break here and there since he has played the most of any goalie in the country. Outside of that, there’s no cause for concern.

Team Play

As I said the team play has been up and down, but it goes far deeper than that obviously.

Offensively, RPI is averaging 2.57 goals per game on about 27.3 shots per game. Both of these need to be higher to compete for the ECAC like the team hopes to do. It doesn’t help that the team is only operating at 14.7% on the power play, but the problems are at even strength too. The team is averaging 1.81 goals per game on 23.6 shots at 5 on 5. While luck definitely plays into that with only a 7.7% shooting percentage at 5 on 5, they still need to get better at creating chances and then finishing those chances. Getting the power play to operate at 20% along with improving at even strength is without a doubt going to be a big point of emphasis for the team.

The defense has clearly been a huge strength for the team so far this season. They are allowing 2.71 goals per game and only 24.1 shots per game. The goals per game number is obviously also massively inflated by the Cornell game. Without it, they are only allowing 2.3 goals per game. That mark and the shots allowed per game mark are outstanding. The defense will give RPI a chance in every game they play, and it’s honestly playing much better than it did in 19-20 despite losing both Will Reilly and Owen Savory from that team. The penalty kill has been a huge part of that as it is absolutely elite. Its 89.7% success rate is 6th in the entire country. At 5 on 5, the team is allowing only 2.05 goals per game and 20.8 shots per game. The defense just needs to maintain its current level of play in the 2nd half.

Overall, RPI has been very good at controlling play and possessing the puck. As I said in the ECAC Mid-Season Power Rankings, they were in the top 20 for both score-adjusted corsi and score-adjusted shot share before the games against Alaska. Even after a poor Alaska series, they still have good metrics overall. The main thing keeping RPI from a better record is their play in close games, which is definitely linked to their offense. Close is defined as a one goal game or less when you remove empty netters. I also removed empty netters from the chart below.

All numbers in close gamesG/GPGA/GPPP%PK%RecordWin%
2019-20 at halfway point2.142.1415.887.53-3-10.5000
2019-20 full season1.931.7914.689.47-5-20.5714

There’s a couple takeaways that I have from this data. The first is that with the way that RPI plays defense, it’s not like RPI needs to improve its offense an ungodly amount to win these games. Even improving up to 2.5 goals per game and an average power play would pay huge dividends in these games. As you can see, the defense has been excellent in these games, and it’s really just the offense that needs to improve. The offense in close games was not good in 2019-20, but with how well the team defended, it didn’t matter. The defense maintaining its level will start paying off for the Engineers.

Some may be confused by the offensive numbers getting worse in close games in the 2nd half of 19-20 because everyone remembers the team improving their offense. Those numbers are misleading because it is only close games. Basically, the defense was so lights out that anytime RPI scored 3 goals in the second half of the season, it was not a close game. That team was 9-4 in games where they scored 2+ goals (without empty netters) in the second half of the year. With Savory’s goaltending, that was all they really needed. That’s not a very repeatable result even though the defense is once again very strong.

Record in close games when…Scoring a PPGNot scoring a PPGAllowing a PPGNot allowing a PPGWinning Special TeamsLosing Special TeamsTying Special Teams

In our most recent Talkin’ Neers episode, Coach Smith thought that the power play and special teams would correlate to the record in close games. It doesn’t seem like that’s the case though based on these numbers.

Record whenLeadTrailTie
After 15-2-01-7-12-2-1
After 26-2-00-6-12-3-1

These numbers are for all games and not just close games. These all fall in line with about what you would expect, but you’d like to see them be just a little better in each area. Leading games going into the 3rd should almost always be a win; winning 75% of those games is fine, but you want that to be around 90%. You also would like to see them pull out a win when trailing going into the 3rd every once in awhile, probably about 20% of the time. When tied going into the 3rd, you want to win more than 50% of those. RPI is close to hitting those numbers in each category. With a strong second half, they can definitely hit those marks.

Overall, there should be hope for the second half. Remember that corsi has the highest correlation to future goals and goals allowed of all major metrics, even higher than current goals and goals allowed. RPI’s strong corsi numbers and puck possession abilities (assuming they can get back to the way it was before Alaska) bode well for scoring more and continuing to defend well. That alone should help them start winning more in close games. Another good indicator is their record in non-close games. They are currently 6-4 in non-close games, scoring 3.1 goals per game in these games (with empty netters removed once again). At the midway point of 19-20, they were only 3-6 in those games and finished 10-10 in them. That paints a pretty clear picture that the scoring picking up is all the team really needs. The team had a stronger first half than the 19-20 team and has better underlying metrics. We know how that team finished, and this team could do the same. Let’s Go Red!

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