Is he on fire? No, he is just a great goal scorer - one of the greatest who has ever played at Cornell.
Until late in the third period on Saturday night, this week's column was going to center around the small (in numbers), but extremely mature and productive freshman class. Matt Moulson's clutch tie-breaking goal at the 14:08 mark of the third period against St. Lawrence totally changed that. It was the second consecutive night that Moulson scored a big third period goal. It was the second consecutive weekend where Cornell won both games by scoring five goals and allowing two, and it was also the second consecutive weekend where Moulson would score in both games.
On Friday night against Clarkson, Cornell entered the third period with a tight grasp on the game thanks to a 3-0 lead. With aid from the officials, the Golden Knights battled their way back into the game and closed the deficit to one goal. Although the Big Red did a good job closing up defensively after the Knights' second goal, there was still plenty of nervousness around Lynah with the visitors hungry for the equalizer. With just over two minutes remaining, Shane Hynes won a battle along the boards of the defensive zone and got the puck to Daniel Pegoraro who promptly got the puck to Moulson. Moulson carried the puck through the neutral zone, battling through a few slashes up high to ultimately break into the Clarkson zone one-on-one with an opposing defenseman. He cut to the middle and quickly released a hard, low shot, beating Clarkson goaltender Kyle McNulty between the pads and finishing the job for Cornell. On the score sheet, the goal may not look all that significant, but it was a very important goal that came at a crucial time. Statistically, it is not a game-winning goal, but Moulson's goal assured the win for the Big Red in a time of possible vulnerability.
Although that was clearly a huge goal against Clarkson, Moulson would save his greatest heroics for the next night against St. Lawrence. In a game where neither goaltender could be beaten, most on-lookers expected a scoreless tie when the game entered its final stages. If anyone was going to break the tie for Cornell, it was going to be their most dangerous goal scorer: Moulson. Moulson had been kept relatively quiet during the game until late in the third period when he was left alone almost exactly on the faceoff dot to McKenna's right. After Hynes successfully won a battle on the boards, he was able to get the puck to Byron Bitz, who had just recently been moved to that line. He got the puck to Mouslon, who in his patented fashion roofed the puck with a perfect shot that sailed over McKenna's shoulder.
It was a different sort of weekend for Moulson because he received the most attention on the powerplay that he had received all year. Entering the weekend with only three of his thirteen goals coming at even strength meant that generating any offense at all would be incredibly tough for him with the added attention to him on the powerplay. The fact that he is Cornell's biggest offensive threat is not difficult to figure out - just look at the team's stats for the year. Although clearly frustrated at times this weekend, Moulson stayed patient and picked his spots. Some wonder why Moulson has somewhat modest assist totals. Because he shoots so high, rarely do his shots generate rebounds. That is of course when the goalie actually stops the shot. Most of the time, Moulson either misses the net or hits it cleanly. He simply does not need many chances to score. Give him only two or three opportunities in a game where he has a little bit of time and a little bit of space and he is going to put one in the net. That was the case in both games this weekend.
Moulson's goal scoring numbers this season are absolutely staggering. He has 15 goals in 20 games: ten on the powerplay, and five at even strength. He has only two two-goal games, so he has scored in 13 of the 20 games in which he has played. Only once has he gone more than one game without scoring and twice has he gone four straight with a goal including the streak he is currently on. Perhaps the most telling stat is that in the 13 games Moulson has scored a goal, Cornell is unbeaten with a record of 12-0-1. In games where Moulson does not score a goal, the Big Red is 3-4-1 (3-5-1 if the game which Moulson did not play at Dartmouth is included). As well as David McKee has played, Moulson is unquestionably the most valuable player on this team, scoring 15 of the team's 68 total goals.
In Cornell's defense-first system that almost never sees any forwards double shifted, it will generally be tough for Cornell players to top the ECACHL in any offensive categories, but Moulson is knocking on the door. He is second in the conference in goal scoring but first in goals-per-game average. He is destined for the IVY and ECACHL first teams. So what now for Moulson? He is going to have to continue to innovate his goal scoring abilities to continue his pace because he will only get more attention by opposing teams. What separates the truly special offensive players from the good ones at any level of hockey are the ones who still produce with the added attention they receive. On the biggest stage, the playoffs, Moulson has yet to make his mark. In ten career ECACHL and NCAA playoff games, he only has one goal and three assists, including just one assist in last year's three game meltdown to Clarkson. If he can sustain his output, the individual awards will only get bigger for Moulson to the point where he would be a legitimate Hobey candidate. But more importantly, as long as Moulson can stay an offensive factor, Cornell will continue to win and win and win until there is no more winning to do.
1. Matt Moulson
He scored huge third period goals in both games, including a tie-breaking marker late in the third period against St. Lawrence that stood up to be the game winner. He did not get a lot of scoring chances on the weekend, but he clearly does not need many chances to score. For the second straight weekend, Moulson scored 40% of the team's goals. In a league where goal scoring is so tough, any player that scores such a high percentage of his team's goals on a weekend will warrant the highest praise.
2. David McKee
It becomes more apparent each game that McKee is the perfect goalie for this team because he can handle going through long stretches without work and not lose his concentration. Last season, there were games where he would give up weaker goals after not seeing work for several minutes. In both games this weekend, there would be long stretches where he saw no work followed by stretches where he faced several tough shots. McKee was always equal to the task and was particularly impressive in shutting the door after allowing two goals to Clarkson in the third period. His mental toughness is improving every game and the team is playing with more confidence in turn.
3. Mike Knoepfli
Knoepfli has struggled of late, and was moved onto a new, more offensive line this weekend with Byron Bitz and Topher Scott. Knoepfli reemerged as an offensive presence, scoring a goal and an assist against Clarkson. As is his forte, Knoepfli thrived in doing the little things all over the ice. He made several big defensive plays in both games and is making a strong case for honors at the ECACHL's top defensive forward.
How did Dan Glover play in his injury fill-in duty?
Glover played no more than ten minutes against Clarkson, but saw a bit more ice time against St. Lawrence with Sasha Pokuluk being added to the injured list. He got more confident as he got more ice time, and displayed how responsible he can be in the defensive zone. Glover made a couple of great shot blocks on the penalty kill in the third period and was also noteworthy on the ice in the final minute, showing his defensive abilities. Glover could be a defensive rock if he could draw into the lineup regularly, and that may happen next season.
Is Byron Bitz Improving?
Bitz was moved to center a line with Topher Scott and Knoepfli to start the weekend, but was back centering Hynes and Moulson by the third period Saturday night. Bitz was more confident with the puck at times and was able to make better plays as a result. He picked up an assist each night and could have easily had more. He clearly has good vision and playmaking ability, setting up some good scoring chances on the powerplay. Bitz still struggled at times skating with the puck and thus does not always quarterback the powerplay. Bitz has played much better the last two weekends and is starting to find his comfort zone, but he is not there yet.
How did the 'defensive line' do?
One of the newly formed lines this weekend - Mitch Carefoot, Paul Varteressian, and Mike Iggulden - matched up with the opposition's top line each night. The fact that the Saints' big offensive line with T.J. Trevelyan and John Zeiler was totally held off the score sheet attributes directly to how the newly formed line did. St. Lawrence has the top offense in the ECACHL.
Did Alex Dell not get the memo on the Obstruction crackdown?
Perhaps we were spoiled by Tim Kotyra's well-officiated games from the previous weekend, but Dell was brutal in both games. He let Clarkson and St. Lawrence clutch and grab to an astronomical level. League brass absolutely loves talking about the obstruction crackdown, but their officials have done a marginal job at best of enforcing it. Players in the defensive zone are wrapping their arms around offensive players and holding them when battling for the puck not to mention getting in the skating lanes (or otherwise obstructing) on a regular basis.
The most anticipated weekend of the season is finally here. Colgate has struggled of late, losing two of their last three games. The two losses, to Dartmouth and Clarkson, both came on home ice. Prior to losing to Dartmouth last Saturday night, the Red Raiders were arguably the hottest team in the NCAA coming off of six straight wins, and wins in ten of their last eleven games. They may have cooled off a bit, but Colgate is for real, and Boston College is probably the only team Cornell has seen this year that is better. Colgate matches up more closely with Cornell than any other team in the ECACHL. They are a deep, physical team that thrives defensively. Steve Silverthorn fits as well with the Red Raiders as McKee does with the Big Red. Last season, there was bad blood between the titans with a minor melee taking place at the end of the first game between the two teams. Expect two tight, defensive battles and special teams to be the difference offensively. The rivalry is renewed Friday night in Hamilton and Saturday night in Ithaca. The winner of this weekend's series will likely win the ECACHL regular season crown, for what that is worth. This weekend could very well set the table for the post-season championship in March.
Cornell 1 - Colgate 2
Colgate 0 - Cornell 3