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Friday thoughts: Don’t let me down

November 19, 2011

Lowell’s wins over Maine last weekend were momentous. For a number of reasons.

First and most obviously, it was the team’s first sweep in Alfond since the dawning of Hockey East, and that alone is a major accomplishment for which the team should be praised for some time. Second, it was the result of hard work in both games and, for Saturday in particular, a kind of never-give-up-never-surrender attitude that we’d long since forgotten Lowell could command.

And as a result of those results, the world sat up and took notice of the River Hawks in a way that it did not even after the team clobbered BU 7-1. Every major college hockey publication wrote how Lowell very well may be for real this year and going forward, and isn’t that great for a team that was in turmoil just eight months ago and a brand new coach? What we hope didn’t happen — and given last night’s weak result, an atrocious 5-0 loss to New Hampshire, we have no evidence to the contrary — is that the team bought the hype.

We had been mildly concerned during the week to read that despite Doug Carr’s sterling performances in three straight games, coach Norm Bazin had yet to settle on who his No. 1 goaltender was. We hoped that wasn’t true of course, given that the last two results for Brian Robbins had been poor ones (for evidence, see his 14.16 league GAA coming into the game!), whether it was his fault or not. But woe fell hard upon us when we saw that Robbins and not Carr would be getting the start in Durham.

There is a theory in hockey circles, one to which we subscribe not at all, that when you have a home/road back-to-back against to different teams, you start your backup against the stronger of those opponents. The reasoning for this is supposedly two-fold: 1) it may give the team a little extra jump headed into the tougher one, particularly if it’s on the road, and 2) it helps to ensure that your team gets the necessary two points against the weaker team. And that might be all well and good in the NHL (it’s not), because clear No. 1 goaltenders are asked to play 50 or 60 games a year at minimum. Sometimes they play as many as four or five in a seven-day period. A night off for them is rare, necessary, and always appreciated.

But there’s no such problem in college. Yeah, you play two in a row nearly every week, but you also get six days off between those games. And as we’ve seen, riding one goaltender for almost an entire season doesn’t necessarily preclude you from being successful (Kieran Millan, John Muse).

Starting Robbins unequivocally put Lowell behind the 8-ball last night, before the puck even dropped, in terms of its having the ability to win. And Robins’ performance didn’t help either. He waved at the first goal like it was an old friend on the other side of the street, gave up a fat rebound on a shot that hit him in the midsection, didn’t even react to a shot off the draw until it was behind him (admittedly, he was probably screened), gave up another big rebound and then got beat clean by an unscreened shot from the wing. Of those goals, maybe one should have happened. Maybe two. Certainly not five.

Now we must acknowledge here that rumors are floating around about Carr being a little sore yesterday and that’s why he didn’t start, and if that’s the case then that’s unfortunate. Hope we can get confirmation on that, but it wasn’t mentioned on the broadcast, or in any of the coverage we read. But if you’re hoping to go through a whole hockey season without bumps and bruises and soreness, you might wanna try the field variety. And even then, those sticks and balls seem unnecessarily hard to us.

And none of this, by the way, is to lay the blame entirely at the feet of Robbins, who, we must stress again, should have stopped at least three of the goals he allowed last night, or Bazin, whose decision to start the freshman was as baffling now as it was then.

Certainly, even if Robbins had been top-of-his-game stellar, the team in front of him getting zero goals would have still likely lost him the game. This was absolutely the worst effort the team has turned in all year, given that the previous record-holder (the 6-3 BC loss) at least featured a passable impression of a third-period comeback attempt, even it was way too little and far too late. We’d talk to you about how bad the forecheck was, but that would require Lowell to have run any kind of forecheck at all, and it failed to do so. Lots of coasting around without the puck and, guess what, playing at UNH and not skating hard is pretty much the best way to make sure you end up getting outshot and outscored.

The same is true of the team’s net-front presence. And by that we mean it existed only in theory. The wins over BU and Maine were characterized largely by determination in the dirty areas, along the endboards and within five or 10 feet of the crease. If Lowell ended up anywhere near those areas last night, you can rest assured that this was wholly by accident, and a mistake most offenders would not repeat again. Further, we feel we must mention Lowell’s power play which was — how best to put this? — putrescent. Lowell had a five-minute major (on a call that was one of the softest we’ve seen in some time) and, during that, a lengthy two-man advantage, though we’d argue that to call it an “advantage” is terribly misleading. We saw on the box score that Lowell was credited with 31 shots and boy doesn’t that make a scrub like Matt Di Girolamo look great, but damned if we can remember one that troubled him any more than slightly. Most were from the perimeter — and on an Olympic rink, the perimeter a is sizable distance from the goaltender — and of particularly low quality as a consequence.

This is the kind of loss the team should be ashamed and angry about. Just as quickly as they’d built up goodwill in the past two weeks, a performance like this serves little purpose but to dash it. Even if it had been a noble loss — 3-2, 2-0, etc. — we’d have still felt pretty good about it. After all, the team hasn’t won in Durham in EIGHT years (and during that time, they earned just four draws at the Whitt) and we are, it’s important remember, still seeing this program rebuild itself.

Given that we watched all of last season, we are now really quite familiar with ugly results. This one was particularly hideous.

They damn well better gut Amherst tonight.

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