Maryland was in a precarious position going into last Tuesday's game with Penn. While it's still February, and we've seen plenty of examples lately of teams that struggle in February go on to win the title - Hi, Duke! - it was an important game. They had suffered a tough loss to Yale and needed to at least leave a mark in this opening month with a quality W. That's what Penn was. The Terps played a strong, all-around game and came away with a 4 goal victory. This Saturday they take on Drexel, which surprisingly could prove to be the easiest test of February for the Terps.
Drexel opened the season ranked #18 in the country, coming off a season where they went 13-5 and made the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals. But they lost Ben McIntosh and Nick Trizano, Seniors who combined for 88 goals and 120 points. They were the Dragons top two scorers and important leaders on their team. Cole Shafer and Ryan Belka have returned, with them combining for 98 points in 2014. But the loss of McIntosh and Trizano has been evident. In their opening game they were outscored 6-4 in the second half by Virginia, falling 14-10 after getting off to a fast start. Against Villanova they were outscored 4-1 in the final quarter and fell 14-11. The Dragons are absolutely desperate for a win at 0-3.
A key for Maryland in this one will be getting off to a fast start, which they did against both Yale and Penn. Against Yale they jumped out to a 2-0 and against Penn they jumped out to a 3-0 lead. They never trailed in the latter. If the Terps can get out to another strong lead this will put Drexel under loads of pressure. It will also force them to find depth in their scoring, which they don't really have. It's Shafer and Belka, and that's it. If the Terps can jump on them early and zero in on the match-ups against Shafer and Belka, they'll be in very good shape.
Maryland will also likely need to establish Henry West and Joe LoCascio early as well, to force the Drexel defense to account for them and mark them as well, and not zero in on Matt Rambo. West and LoCascio have accounted for 9 goals and they're snipers. They will look to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. This will likely lower Maryland's shooting percentage but if they're clicking and scoring, it will allow for a real balanced Maryland attack. That is Matt Rambo and Dylan Maltz being the main threats down low looking to attack the cage and West and LoCascio posing the sharp shooting threat from the outside. And there's Jay Carlson as well, who's looked a more well-rounded player so far this year.
A big reason for Maryland's win over Penn on Tuesday was the strong face-off play of Jon Garino, who went 14-of-22 from the x. It allowed Maryland to look like.....Maryland. A methodical, deliberate offense that leads to goals. Then winning the face-off. Then doing the same thing again. Whoever's taking the face-offs on Saturday will have a much tougher task. Drexel's Nick Saputo was an pre-season honorable mention on the All-America teams, and is without question one of the best FOGO's in the nation. He's perhaps as good as anybody at winning face-offs and taking all the way for a goal. Just ask Penn: Nick Saputo scores 3 times from face-off wins. The Terps can likely handle winning a lower share of the face-offs than they did against Penn due to Drexel allowing an average of 14 goals per game so far, but Maryland's a team that thrives on it's possessions. It's a possession machine. That's what they do so well, and they'll need a big day from Charlie Raffa or Jon Garino, whoever it may be.
This game will be a test sort of in the same way the Navy game was. Drexel is desperate for a win, they want to make their mark on this season and kickstart a poor start to their campaign. But they're just not very good. If Maryland is efficient and smart on offense and their defense does what they do...they'll be fine and should take care of this game pretty comfortably.
The game will be available for streaming on BTN Plus. That is a paid stream. It is not free. There will also be a live stats page available here: Live Stats. Start time is 12:00 PM.