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SLU hockey needs to break out of recent funk

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence University men’s hockey team is already facing a crossroads in its season.

Although the Saints will be hosting a nonconference opponent — Vermont at 7 p.m. on Saturday — this could prove to be a key juncture in their campaign.

St. Lawrence (7-7-2), which lost twice last week to rival Clarkson, will be looking to snap out of a three-game slide against the Catamounts (3-8-3) in its final game before its holiday break.

“The biggest concern for me is we’ve gotten away from the way we need to play to be successful,” St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said. “Obviously we need to get a win here with our holiday break coming up so we can go home feeling good about ourselves.”

The Saints, who are one game away from the midway point of their season, have won only two games since the first weekend of November, faring 2-6-2.

“We know we have to be better,” senior defenseman and assistant captain George Hughes said. “Every season has its high and low points, and this last game was obviously not a high. We still have a lot of games left, so we have to stay positive.”

St. Lawrence is currently in an offensive drought having scored a single goal in each of its past three games.

“We just realize that we can’t just rely on (Greg) Carey and (Kyle) Flanagan to score highlight-reel goals for us,” Carvel said. “As a team we’ve got to score more ugly goals, we need to get pucks to the net and bodies to the net, like Gunnar Hughes’ goal on Saturday night. We’re not playing with as much tempo as we were earlier in the year. We’re not moving the puck as quickly, we need to get out of some bad habits.”

Conversely, the Saints have allowed 16 goals over their past five games for an average of 3.2 goals a game.

“Most of the goals we gave up to Clarkson were on odd-man rushes and often coming off turnovers,” Carvel said. “We play a system where there are layers that the opposing team has to get through in order to get the puck to the net and get scoring chances. ... They (Clarkson) scored some goals on breakaways when they were one-one-one with our goaltender and that’s inexcusable.

“There’s a lot of things we’ve identified, but instead of just saying ‘we’re going to work harder,’ we’re working with the players on finding ways to fix this.”

The Saints are clearly not performing up to the level at the start of the season when they won five of their first six games, including wins at Western Michigan and Maine, which propelled them into the national rankings. SLU had opened the season at 5-2-2.

“Taking a look at our results, it’s obvious that we’re not playing like we were at the beginning of the year,” Carvel said. “So we’ve addressed this and the players are aware of our expectations and what made us successful at the start of the year — and why we’re not playing as well of late.”

To compound matters, St. Lawrence, which is 5-2-0 on Friday nights, is 2-6-0 on Saturdays, including five consecutive losses.

“We have to climb back,” George Hughes said. “We know we can be a good team, and we have to find a way to get back to where we were at the beginning of the season.”

This will be just the sixth home game of the season for the Saints, who are 2-2-1 at Appleton Arena.

“Every game is physical and if you don’t bring your best game, then you’re not going to win a lot of hockey games,” Carvel said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, whether its BU or Vermont — I’m more concerned about our team and the way that we should play in order to be successful.”

After returning from the holidays, St. Lawrence will host Rochester Institute of Technology on Jan. 4-5 to complete its nonconference schedule.

PENALTY KILLING STILL RED-HOT

The Saints’ power-play and penalty-killing efficiency both rank 10th in the nation.

St. Lawrence’s penalty-killing stands at 88.2 percent, which includes 12 consecutive successful kills over its past three games.

While the Saints’ power play has cooled off, it is still clicking at a 21.5-percent success rate.

SUCCESS VS. HOCKEY EAST

Before a 4-0 loss at Boston University on Nov. 24, the Saints had gone unbeaten in eight games (7-0-1) against Hockey East opponents.

This included two wins against Vermont, including a 2-1 decision in Burlington, Vt., last season.

AMONG THE NATION’S LEADERS

Flanagan ranks second in the nation in points (25) and is tied for third in assists (16), while he is fourth in points per game (1.56), and is tied for third in assists per game (1.00).

Carey is tied for second nationally in goals scored (11) and is fifth in goals per game (0.69) and eighth in points per game (1.38).

Justin Baker ranks 13th in points per game among defensemen (0.81) and George Hughes is 18th (0.75).

Goalie Matt Weninger is second in minutes played (968 minutes, 51 seconds) among goalies nationally.

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

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