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Weekend preview: All-important

January 16, 2013

The Lowell River Hawks (11-7-1, 5-6-1 Hockey East) vs. the Providence College Friars (9-8-3, 7-4-2 Hockey East) and the Boston University Terriers (12-7-0, 9-4-0 Hockey East)

7 p.m. Thursday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
7 p.m. Saturday at Agganis Arena, Boston, Mass.

Lowell is sixth in Hockey East with 11 points from 12 games, Providence is fourth in Hockey East with 16 points from 13 games, and BU is third in Hockey East with 18 points from 13 games.

Last three games
Lowell  — 6-3 at Vermont, 4-2 at Vermont, 6-2 at Clarkson.
Providence — 2-0 vs. UMass Amherst, 5-4 vs. UMass Amherst, 0-4 at Minnesota State.
BU — 4-1 at Merrimack, 5-6 vs. Harvard (ot), 3-2 vs. RPI (ot).

Prior meetings
Lowell trails Providence 41-49-11 and BU 20-68-8, all-time.

Season series
Lowell hasn’t played either team yet this season.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Scott Wilson — 19 GP, 7-11-18 (12 GP, 5-8-14 HE)
Joe Pendenza — 19, 7-8-15 (12, 4-6-10)
Josh Holmstrom — 19, 5-8-13 (12, 4-3-7)
Ryan McGrath — 19, 4-8-12 (12, 1-5-6)
Riley Wetmore — 19, 8-3-11 (12, 6-2-8)

Providence:
Derek Army — 20 GP, 8-7-15 (13 GP, 7-4-11 HE)
Ross Mauermann — 20, 7-6-13 (13, 4-2-6)
Tim Schaller — 20, 5-8-13 (13, 4-8-12)
Myles Harvey — 20, 0-10-10 (13, 0-6-6)
Mark Jankowski — 16, 4-5-9 (11, 2-3-5)

BU:
Cason Hohmann — 19 GP, 6-14-20 (13 GP, 5-11-16 HE)
Wade Megan — 18, 11-7-18 (13, 8-7-15)
Danny O’Regan — 19, 7-8-15 (13, 3-6-9)
Matt Nieto — 19, 5-8-13 (13, 2-5-7)
Garrett Noonan — 19, 3-10-13 (10, 3-7-10)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Doug Carr (6-6-1) — 14 GP, 771:21, 2.64 GAA/.904 sv% (10 GP, 582:04, 2.99 GAA/.894 sv% HE)
Connor Hellebuyck (5-1-0) — 7, 369:51, 1.62/.939 (3, 139:37, 1.29/.947)

Providence:
Jon Gillies (9-6-2) — 17 GP, 1,013:08, 1.95 GAA/.931 sv% (12 GP, 725:41, 2.15 GAA/.924 sv% HE)

BU:
Matt O’Connor (7-5-0) — 13 GP, 743:49, 2.82 GAA/.914 sv% (10 GP, 560:26, 2.25 GAA/.932 sv% HE)
Sean Maguire (5-2-0) — 7, 393:08, 1.83/.938 (4, 211:39, 1.98/.937)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (19 games) — 56 goals for (2.95/gm), 45 goals against (2.37/gm). Power play 15/87 (17.2, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 62/72 (86.1%, 3 SHGF)
Hockey East (12 games) — 33 goals for (2.75/gm), 33 goals against (2.75/gm). Power play 10/62 (16.1%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 42/50 (84.0%, 2 SHGF)

Providence:
Overall (20 games) — 57 goals for (2.85/gm), 48 goals against (2.40/gm). Power play 11/85 (12.9%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 76/94 (80.9%, 2 SHGF)
Hockey East (13 games) — 35 goals for (2.69/gm), 31 goals against (2.38/gm). Power play 6/59 (10.2%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 50/61 (82.0%, 2 SHGF)

BU:
Overall (19 games) — 57 goals for (3.00/gm), 50 goals against (2.63/gm). Power play 11/82 (13.4%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 75/92 (81.5%, 2 SHGF)
Hockey East (13 games) — 39 goals for (3.00/gm), 30 goals against (2.31/gm). Power play 9/58 (15.5%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 57/68 (83.8%, 2 SHGF)

Outlook
Usually when we look at a weekend series coming up, we can form a pretty decent opinion about the teams Lowell will play and, presumably, beat. But with these two teams, we honestly don’t know what they’ll present to Lowell.

The easier team to figure out is Providence College, which Lowell should be able to beat if things go well enough (note: This doesn’t preclude a win if things don’t go extremely well). Providence may be fourth in the league at this point, but they’ve had an awfully soft schedule, perhaps one of the easiest in the league. In fact, according to Mike McMahon’s weekly “expanded standings” they played the second-softest league schedule, ahead of only UNH, prior to the weekend. With UNH taking on BC, and Providence facing off against Amherst, you can also bet they flip-flopped.

So no, the Friars having gone 7-4-2 against the worst teams in the league — three against Vermont and Amherst, two against Northeastern and Maine — doesn’t do much to impress us, especially when you take into account that only three of those wins have come in six road games against garbage opponents (they split with Vermont, then beat Merrimack at Volpe in OT when the Warriors couldn’t beat a path, and then most recently edged Amherst 5-4). There is no reason at all Lowell shouldn’t be able to beat these guys the same way they did Vermont.

That is, of course, with the notable exception that Jon Gillies, maybe the best goaltender in the league this season, can very easily steal a game even if his defense abandons him. The kid is apparently just as good as advertised coming into the season (see the scary stats above) and we suspect that if the Friars of all teams were to knock Lowell off its winning streak, well, Gillies will be the reason. Not that we think it’s terribly likely the way the offense has been playing of late, but it’s a possibility for sure.

On the other hand, there’s BU, which has been as Jekyll-and-Hyde a team as Lowell this season but obviously has the higher talent level to buoy it when it doesn’t bring the serious heat that it absolutely can on any given night. In its last seven games, BU has given up five, two, zero, six, two, six and one goal. It has also scored two, three, one, zero, three, five and four. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is just 4-3 in that time. Losing to BC at the Heights and Denver in Colorado is one thing (we’ve been there, brother!). But when you’re edging out Maine 1-0 at home, and losing to Harvard 6-5 in OT in the same building, that’s got to be concerning.

What’s interesting, though, is that the Harvard loss, which took place a week ago, prompted the team to call a players-only meeting that apparently sorted out a lot of issues. The 4-1 demolition of Merrimack two nights later speaks to a Terrier squad that might just be refocused, which would speak poorly of Lowell’s chances.

But then, this is a team that has risen to the occasion from time to time this season, and certainly showed it was capable of playing with BC for the entirety of that first game, and Denver for most of that meeting as well. We really don’t know what to expect from this matchup, but there’s not a result that would surprise us save for a Lowell blowout, and even then, it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing of the season.

The goal should, obviously, be another four points, but we’re not sure it’s realistic. Definitely have to beat Providence. No doubt about that. But where BU is concerned, things get a little dicier.

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