Saturday thoughts: Float like a feather in a beautiful world
The trip to Lowell having reeled off seven wins in a row has in many ways not been all that pretty, but the results are, in the end, all that really matter. The same is true of this game. It was full of stops and starts, and made up in power plays for both teams what it lacked in aesthetic beauty.
Just to give you an idea of how sluggish this game was, there were 74 faceoffs, one every 45 seconds or so, and neither team ever did much to gain anything in the way of momentum for more than a few minutes at a time. But in the end, it was Lowell that capitalized on its myriad chances, and though things got a bit unwieldy toward the end, were always in control.
Let’s start with the most obvious thing to take away from this game and weekend: The power play that had been so dreadful to this point in the season put up two-thirds of its total output in two games. Six power play goals on 18 chances in 120 minutes, compared to nine on 69 in the previous 1,025. Obviously much of that is statistical correction, a noisy blip caused by a small sample size and playing a terrible opponent who wouldn’t stop going to the penalty box. The man advantage went from 13 percent to 14.3 percent in the space of a weekend, which is not an insignificant number.
Moreover, Lowell also took too many penalties and once again relied on its powerful kill to choke the life out of the Catamounts’ hopes of winning. Case in point: Lowell had to kill a 1:38 five-on-three midway through the first period and did o with aplomb. It aslo dealt with three more PKs over the remainder of the game, and once again stood tall. By our count, that’s eight straight games without allowing a power play goal for these River Hawks, who are 32 for their last 32 when a man down.
And what’s interesting about tonight’s game is that while things didn’t look so great at even strength for the River Hawks, they were lethal when up a man. Steve Buco opened the scoring at 16:57 of the first period on more or less the same play that allowed Josh Holmstrom to score the night before. Ryan McGrath worked a little space at the top of the right faceoff circle, got a shot off, and had it tipped home by the man fronting the net. Interestingly, that’s Buco’s fifth of the year, and that’s in just 10 games. He certainly formed a potent combo with McGrath and Derek Arnold, and seems to have chemistry with whomever you put out there with him. It leads us to wonder whether he’ll get himself another appearance against Providence on Thursday night.
Truth be told, we were content with a 1-0 lead through 20 minutes because it was played pretty evenly to that point and the River Hawks didn’t do much to really show why they were the wheat in this particular weekend series. That changed in the second period. As Vermont continued its parade to the penalty box, Lowell continued to gain more confidence with the man advantage and eventually the trio of Joe Pendenza, Riley Wetmore and Scott Wilson combined along the right halfboards to double the lead. Wilson worked through a check and got the puck to Wetmore, who got to the bottom of the circle and found Pendenza moving into the slot. To be fair to Vermont (though we’re not sure why we’d want to be), this was at the tail end of a bizarre sequence in which Connor Brickley went off for interference some 200 feet from his own net, then was followed 27 second later by Caylen Walls. Another 38 seconds after that, Nick Bruneteau also went off for interference, the result of him all but throwing Scott Wilson into the net and knocking it off its moorings. The Vermont penalty killers were understandably gassed by the time Pendenza scored.
But at the same time, it was a really nice little play that was very reminiscent of the way Lowell routinely domineered other teams on the boards last season and found guys who had shaken loose of their coverage. More of that would be rather welcome going forward, and indeed it was again on the third Lowell goal.
After UVM pulled back within one on a Bruneteau goal (a very nice shot out of a wild and lengthy netmouth scramble), Lowell went to the power play again late in the period, and Riley Wetmore scored less than a minute later when a Vermont player batted an aerial puck that was more or less a jump ball right onto his stick, and he isolated Brody Hoffman and beat him high.
Heading into the third period up 3-1 must have felt pretty good for a Lowell team that has at times been accused of lacking a killer instinct, and Scott Wilson made sure those concerns were allayed with another power play goal just 18 seconds into a chance on another Pattyn penalty. Tough beat for that kid, but Wilson was clearly the best player on the ice all night. Two assists, plus that goal and the two the night before, gave him a 3-2-5 weekend against a team he regularly smokes; he entered the weekend with 2-3-5 against the Catamounts in four career games.
But then, as the doubters might have feared, Vermont began to chip away. It stopped taking penalties (for the most part) and got down to the business of actually possessing the puck, and twice looked pretty convincing in doing so. Both those times led to goals, neither especially pretty, but both the result of prolonged time with the puck in the attacking zone. The goals came just 4:14 apart and put the River Hawks on their heels, or so it would have seemed. Just 1:36 after Caylen Wells’ first career goal made it a one-goal game, Chad Ruhwedel went coast-to-coast and scored on Billy Faust, who went in after Hoffman got the hook following Wilson’s goal. Terrence Wallin added an empty netter to close out the scoring.
That thing we said on Friday about how Lowell had a really good chance of winning even if it doesn’t play especially well? That stood up. Neither of the games this weekend were in any way the overwhelming showings we’ve seen this team turn out, but it’s impossible to argue with results. A reinvigorated power play, a still-dominant penalty kill, 10 goals, and four points. If that’s not a successful weekend, nothing is. Again, these were pretty mediocre games played on the road against a team we were told, repeatedly, wasn’t easy to beat in their building. And neither one looked especially close to being in danger of resulting in anything but Lowell wins for more than a few minutes out of 120. We said it last night, too, but if multiple-goal wins are the result of this team still shaking off the rust, then we’re perfectly content with that.
Seven in a row. No time to slow down.