Records don’t lie. But they certainly don’t tell the whole story.
Although Rutgers—which the No. 7 Blue Devils will face Saturday in New Brunswick, N.J.—has the worst record of any of Duke’s opponents this season, the Scarlet Knights have the tools to keep pace with any team in the country.
“You’ve got to discount their record,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “They played [No. 2] Notre Dame better than we played Notre Dame, and they had [No. 3] Syracuse on the ropes last week. When you’re really good at the faceoff X and really good in the goal, you can compete with anybody. We expect this to be a great contest.”
In the midst of a 10-game losing skid, the Scarlet Knights (2-11) are coming off a 12-11 loss to Syracuse. Four of their last five games—including a 7-6 loss to Notre Dame—were against top 20 opponents.
“I’m very proud and happy with our guys’ performance even if our record isn’t impressive,” Rutgers head coach Brian Brecht said. “They go out and play hard every day. We’re a better team than we were last month.”
The Scarlet Knights boast a top faceoff man in Joseph Nardella, who has won 65.5 percent of his faceoffs on the season, good for third in the nation. Rutgers is the only team on the Blue Devils’ schedule with a better faceoff specialist than Duke junior Brendan Fowler, who ranks fourth in the country in faceoff percentage.
“Faceoffs will definitely be important,” Fowler said. “[Rutgers’] faceoff guy has been terrific all season. It’s going to be a tough matchup, and I’m excited to go against him.”
Danowski, who agreed on the importance of a strong showing at the faceoff X, also highlighted the need for solid wing play.
“It’s not all about Brendan,” he said said. “There will be a lot of emphasis on Luke Duprey, Will Haus, David Lawson, Josh Offit and Brian Dailey. We need to get really good wing play.”
In addition to featuring one of the nation’s top faceoff men, the Scarlet Knights’ roster includes one of the best goalies in the nation. With a 60.1 save percentage—good for fifth in the country—freshman Kris Alleyne has wasted no time adjusting to the starting role in his first season at Rutgers.
Fowler noted that in preparation for Saturday’s game, the Blue Devils have turned much of their attention in practice to shooting. Alleyne is one of just five goalies in the nation with a save percentage higher than 60 percent. But the Scarlet Knights know that on the defensive end of the field, a good game from Alleyne alone won’t cut it against Duke, which ranks third in the country in scoring offense with 13.4 goals per game.
“Duke is a very high-scoring team with a lot of offensive firepower,” Nardella said. “We have placed a lot of emphasis this week on identifying who their top guys are, such as Jordan Wolf, Jake Tripucka and David Lawson. If we limit those top producers, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Riding an eight-game winning streak—the longest active streak in the nation—the Blue Devils (10-4) hope to build on their momentum with a victory against Rutgers before they set their sights on the ACC Tournament next weekend.