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Weekend preview: Can you dig it?

January 24, 2013

The Lowell River Hawks (13-7-1, 7-6-1 Hockey East) vs. the Northeastern Huskies (7-11-2, 4-9-2 Hockey East)

7 p.m. Friday at Matthews Arena, Boston, Mass.
7 p.m. Saturday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.

Lowell is sixth in Hockey East with 15 points from 14 games, and Northeastern is tied for eighth in Hockey East with 10 points from 15 games.

Last three games
Lowell  — 4-3 at BU, 2-1 vs. Providence, 6-3 at Vermont.
Northeastern — 3-9 vs. BC, 6-5 at BU, 1-1 (ot) vs. Maine.

Prior meetings
Lowell leads Northeastern 55-40-7, all-time.

Season series
Lowell clamped down on Northeastern in a 2-0 home win a month and a half ago in which the Huskies showed little to no spark, as you might expect.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Scott Wilson — 21 GP, 7-13-20 (14 GP, 5-11-16 HE)
Joe Pendenza — 21, 8-8-16 (14, 5-6-11)
Josh Holmstrom — 21, 5-10-15 (14, 4-5-9)
Chad Ruhwedel — 21, 5-8-13 (14, 3-5-8)
Ryan McGrath — 21, 5-8-13 (14, 2-5-7)

Northeastern:
Kevin Roy — 20 GP, 10-13-23 (15 GP, 9-5-14 HE)
Cody Ferriero — 20, 8-7-15 (15, 2-5-7)
Vinny Saponari — 20, 4-11-15 (15, 3-7-10)
Braden Pimm — 20, 4-7-11 (15, 3-5-8)
Garrett Vermeersch — 20, 1-8-9 (15, 1-6-7)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Doug Carr (7-6-1) — 15 GP, 831:21, 2.67 GAA/.905 sv% (11 GP, 642:04, 2.99 GAA/.895 sv% HE)
Connor Hellebuyck (6-1-0) — 8, 429:28, 1.54/.944 (4, 199:14, 1.20/.955)

Northeastern:
Chris Rawlings (7-7-1) — 16 GP, 859:27, 2.86 GAA/.911 sv% (12 GP, 620:50, 3.29 GAA/.903 sv% HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (21 games) — 62 goals for (2.95/gm), 49 goals against (2.33/gm). Power play 17/99 (17.2, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 66/77 (85.7%, 4 SHGF)
Hockey East (14 games) — 39 goals for (2.79/gm), 37 goals against (2.64/gm). Power play 12/74 (16.2%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 46/55 (83.6%, 3 SHGF)

Northeastern:
Overall (20 games) — 57 goals for (3.00/gm), 50 goals against (2.63/gm). Power play 12/80 (15.0%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 73/88 (83.0%, 2 SHGF)
Hockey East (15 games) — 32 goals for (2.13/gm), 51 goals against (3.40/gm). Power play 7/60 (11.7%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 53/66 (80.3%, 2 SHGF)

Outlook
This is very obviously a series Lowell should sweep. Plain and simple. Northeastern fans are calling for coach Jim Madigan to get canned, and the team is absolutely bleeding goals against just about everyone not named Maine. That 3.40 goals per game allowed in league is pathetic by any measure, though it’s weighted heavily by the fact that 14 of their 51 goals allowed came in the last two games alone (four to BU and NINE to BC in just 120 minutes of hockey).

Normally, we would say you could chalk that up to one thing: goaltending. Chris Rawlings has been an horrifically bad player for Northeastern for pretty much most of his career, but this year as been even worse somehow. A 3.29 goals-against average in 12 league games, and it’s been so bad that they’ve even enlisted Bryan Mountain for five appearances. Mountain’s stats, by the way, are appreciably better. But this time, we think it’s the defense, first and foremost. Even when it’s winning games these days, which isn’t very often, they’re not exactly locking things down no matter who’s playing behind them.

Moreover, the offense is pretty close to being equally abysmal. Scoring just 2.13 goals per game is really, astonishingly bad, and in fact it’s among the worst offensive outputs on a league-wide basis in the last few years (the last few Vermont squads, pre-Leaman Providence, and this year’s Maine team notwithstanding. Even 2010-11 Lowell was better at scoring goals, though not by much). More disturbing for the Huskies should be the fact that so much of their scoring runs directly through freshman Kevin Roy, who has nine of the team’s 32 league goals. It’s probably not a good thing for a team to have something like 28 percent of its conference goal output coming from one kid directly, especially if he assisted on another five (bumping it to almost 44 percent). As a consequence, you can expect Chad Ruhwedel to cover this kid like a blanket all weekend long. And one thing you might note, by the way, is that despite how bad Lowell’s defense was early in the season, Ruhwedel is rarely on the ice for goals against by too many teams’ best players. In fact, by our count, he has only been on the ice for 11 goals against all season, which is kind of amazing, considering how many minutes he logs against top competition.

The larger overall problem with Northeastern, though, is that it’s bipolar. Scoring nine goals in their last two games is great, obviously, but the fact that it went its previous four league games scoring just five goals is clearly not. The 14 goals against in the last two are also problematic, but they also allowed two or fewer in three of the last four. In short, they’re impossible to figure out from one night to the next. There is obviously the very real possibility that Lowell rolls them up into a little ball and shoots them into the nearest trash can with terrible ease like BC and Providence and St. Lawrence and Merrimack before them. There is also the chance they come out and engage the River Hawks in an offensive slugfest as they did with BU, UNH, and even Bentley. We also wouldn’t be totally shocked to see them win a tight game (one thing they don’t do is blow out anyone that isn’t Harvard).

Everything on paper says Lowell runs the winning streak all the way to 11 this weekend, but whether that actually happens depends very heavily — some might say entirely — on Northeastern.

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