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Sunday thoughts: This sky, too, is folding under you

February 3, 2013

It might now officially be time to panic. It’s not that losing two games, both of which were on the road, is in and of itself cause for concern, but it’s the fact that Lowell has now delivered four consecutive performances in which they richly deserved to lose. Now, as one might expect, it is doing so.

There can be no consolation to take from Lowell’s 4-3 overtime loss at Alfond Arena today. It was Maine’s first win at home against literally anyone all season, which is bad enough, but the way in which Lowell all but boxed up the game for their opponents in another game in which it vastly outshot them is now both de rigueur and more than a little frustrating.

For one thing, the penalty kill, which has been problematic but not exceedingly harmful for the last few games, reverted to being absolutely terrible. Lowell went just 3 for 5 on the kill, and, if we’re reading the stats right, it’s the first time the Black Bears have scored more than one on the power play against a league opponent all season.

This was, in many respects, a very odd game. As it did on Friday, Lowell dominated the second period, pouring 12 shots on Martin Ouellette, and conceding just six. The problem with that, though, is while just three of those came on the same number of power plays the Black Bears enjoyed in the middle period, two of them beat Doug Carr, who had another ghastly game just two days after playing so well in the loss to Merrimack. In all, the River Hawks gave up 29 shots — not a great number but certainly not a bad one — and four of them got past him. That’s far more in line with what we’ve unfortunately come to expect, and perhaps a sign that Friday’s performance was a fluke, and not the start of a return to form. Connor Hellebuyck, by the way, has reportedly been downgraded from day-to-day to week-to-week, which is not entirely helpful to this team’s chances of beating BC at the Heights on Friday, or anyone going forward.

We don’t mean to hang all of this on Carr, though. The PK was, again, not very good, as two of Maine’s four goals were scored on it, and the other two were the result of baffling defensive breakdowns. Both benefited Joey Diamond, much to our dismay.

The opening goal came on a very nice individual effort by Diamond when he got the puck around the top of the left faceoff circle, and went around every defender on that side of the ice. You could say Carr overplayed the angle, because the one from which Diamond finally shot was rather low, but the attempt itself was of high quality. Obviously it should have never gotten to that point, though; someone should have picked him up, or at least not gotten deked out of their equipment. The other was obviously the overtime game-winner, the result of a positively disgusting own-zone giveaway by Josh Holmstrom that sprung Diamond for a chance all by himself. A couple moves later, the puck was in the back of the net. Just a brutal way to end the game.

This, by the way, goes without mentioning that Diamond also seemed to have scored pretty early on in the game when Lowell presented Maine with a 2-on-0 break. Carr made the initial save, and the only thing that kept it from counting was that Diamond batted it into the net with a high stick. Diamond also hit a post in the first after torching Dmitry Sinitsyn, so things were pretty bad all over when the Black Bear senior was on the ice.

Lowell, to its credit, at least brought the offense this time around. Just 14 seconds after Diamond opened the scoring at 9:50 of the first, Michael Fallon and Terrence Wallin went down the ice and scored right away. Riley Wetmore and Ryan McGrath both scored on the power play in the second period, the result of strong puck movement that caught Ouellette doing a little too much moving from east to west and back again. Both Lowell power play goals were scored into relatively open nets as a result. They were really nice, and Maine’s PK went just 1 for 3 on the day.

Maine’s power play goals, though, were not so much nice as they were the result of Lowell scrambling around in a rather silly fashion the entire time. Jake Rutt was the impetus on both. On the first, he fed a nice pass to Ryan Lomberg at the top of the crease, through traffic no less, and while it took the latter a second to corral it, he eventually was able to tuck it around Carr’s right pad to put the Black Bears back even. Rutt did it himself on the second, shooting through a screen from just about the same spot from which his pass to Lomberg came, as Steven Swavely stood like a sequoia in Carr’s way, untouched and seemingly unnoticed by any of the nearby defenders.

That second goal, by the way, came because Wetmore took a penalty just 20 seconds after McGrath staked Lowell to another lead, and was scored just 20 seconds into the power play. Bad bad bad. Wetmore actually went to the box three times in the game, including on an incidental call in the overtime period.

Speaking of overtime, Lowell dominated it. In the 3:59 of it that was actually played before the Diamond goal, the ‘Hawks had seven shots on goal, a number of them very dangerous, but Ouellette, who made 35 saves in recording his third win in four games, was obviously equal to all of them.

Like we said, this was a game Lowell didn’t deserve to win, in what is becoming a discouraging string of them. This weekend’s losses, coupled with Merrimack’s impressive win over UNH last night, puts the River Hawks sixth in the league, with no games in hand on any of the four teams above them, three points back of a home ice spot currently occupied by BU. It’s an unenviable situation in which to find this team, but we’ve been saying that all season. Hopes of home ice, let alone the NCAA tournament, seem to be quickly slipping away.

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