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Sunday thoughts: Progression to the mean

November 18, 2012

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of how hockey works knows that the more you shoot, the more likely the puck is to go in at some point.

Coming into tonight’s tilt with Amherst — hilarious, reliably bad Amherst — Lowell had just 13 goals on 260 shots in nine games. A shooting percentage of 5 percent. Compare that with last year’s shot percentage of about 9.95 percent and you can see the areas from which a lot of the frustration on offense have sprung. This goes one hell of a long way to explaining Lowell’s eight goals on just 23 shots (in fact, the River Hawks were outshot by their hosts in this one). The team’s total shooting percentage increased nearly 50 percent for the entire season in this one game.

A statistical correction was always going to come, because no team can shoot 5 percent for the season unless they’re truly, historically bad. Lowell’s start to the season might have been dreadful to this point — and don’t get us wrong, we’re not convinced they’re even remotely out of the woods yet no matter how many goals they score in a single game — but they’re not close to being old-Merrimack-teams bad.

And so yes, an 8-2 win, especially one over Amherst, which a) is the most fun team to pummel, and b) seemed to be good this year, is very welcome, especially after how ugly Friday was. But it’s important to keep circumstances in mind as well.

Not to make excused for the Minutemen, given that we hate them with every fiber of our being, but they just got back from a Friday game in Orono, which can’t be a pleasant drive, and were, for some baffling reason playing their terrible third-string goalie as the starter. The logic behind that particular decision was at least somewhat understandable: Lowell couldn’t get rebounds from a Shooter Tutor for most of the season so why not run out the kid who can’t stop pucks and at least see what happens? Finally, Amherst also has a game Tuesday, and was likely trying to save its clear No. 1 for the tilt against Vermont (the indignity of looking the easier opponent when compared with the Catamounts is depthless).

What happened was he gave up three goals on the first eight shots Lowell mustered. The first came from Dima Sinitsyn, whose offensive prowess, like the mythic Sasquatch, was often whispered of, but rarely seen. The second came from Riley Wetmore, and the third from Joe Pendenza. It should be noted that those goals came in just 16:26. And so it was that Jeff Teglia was given the merciful hook, and replaced by only-marginally-better Steve Mastalerz, who fared little better. While he got out of the first without allowing another goal, he didn’t fare so well in the second. Lowell scored three goals in 1:24, with Wetmore completing the hat trick sandwiching an honest-to-god Scott Wilson strike. Wilson, in fact, had three points on the night, running his season total to 2-2-4. More statistical correction there, you have to think.

And then, with the game 6-0, Lowell started taking penalties. Lots of them. Where it was whistled for three in the first 25 minutes of the game or so (not a good amount but a tolerable one if you’re scoring that often), it took three more between 13:34 and 17:02 of the second. The first two came just nine seconds apart and resulted in an extended 5-on-3, during which Amherst scored. But during the third of those penalties, Pendenza re-extended the lead to six, so in the end, it seems to have all come out in the wash.

The penalties continued into the third period, though for both teams (even as Josh Holmstrom extended Lowell’s lead to 8-1). By game’s end, both got nine power plays, with Amherst scoring twice on those chances and Lowell once, because why should the special teams units click as well as the even strength play did?

As easy as it would be to laugh at the ineptitude seemingly on offer in Amherst in perpetuity, the important thing to remember is that Lowell is just beginning to piece itself back together after the disastrous start, if it is at all. This was the palate cleanser Norm Bazin talked about after the Vermont and BC results, a chance to flush out the horrible toxins that collected over these grisly first eight games. Eight goals to make up for it must feel great, especially for the guys whose name we called time and again in the early stages of the season, saying they needed to do more. They delivered here tonight, but the real question is whether it continues.

Obviously this is a good step in the right direction, but if Lowell starts hanging its hat on somethings as rote as pummeling Amherst, then we’ll know we’re really in deeper than we thought possible.

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