Loose pucks: Enjoy the view
Three things we could get used to:
1) Getting over the speed bump.
You’ll recall we did a great deal of fretting over the two losses to Merrimack and Maine a few weeks back, and at the time we were perfectly justified. Lowell entered that weekend having played rather poorly in a pair of games against Northeastern, but due to the badness the Huskies has shown more or less from start to finish this year, was able to persevere for three points they perhaps didn’t deserve all that much. The 1-0 loss at the ‘Mack reinstilled a fear that perhaps the better teams in the conference could continue to shut down the River Hawk attack, which had previously been quite potent. The 4-3 overtime loss to Maine brought back bitter memories of the season’s first half, and all the problems that came with it. But now, Lowell is on five straight wins, three of which were played away from Tsongas Center, and three of which were against nationally-ranked opponents. Moreover, all of those wins were fairly convincing, and that’s enough to have us firmly back on the bandwagon, believing that this team can certainly take eight points from the final two weekends of the season. It’s playing at a shockingly high level right now.
2) Joe Pendenza.
Speaking of which, Pendenza now has six points in his last three games and has broken the point-a-game plateau for the first time in his career. For a kid who had just 42 points in his freshman and sophomore years — though at least 10 goals in each of them — this revelatory season, and incredible recent run, has been really great. Last night was also his 100th career game with the River Hawks, so congratulations are in order there as well. We think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the league playing as well as Pendenza is night in and night out at this moment. Nine points in his last six games, and 15 in his last 10. This is something special.
3) Team defense.
You’ll notice that these days, Lowell just isn’t giving up a lot of shots. Boston College mustered just 24 last night. BU just 16 Saturday and 25 Friday. Amherst only 25 the week before. That’s a mere 90 shots allowed over four games, all of which were wins. Ninety divided by four is 22.5, and if you’re only giving up 22.5 shots in a game even twice in a row, that’s pretty strong, and gives you a good chance to win every night. You see how that’s working for Lowell. More to the point, though, this is all happening because Lowell is simply getting the puck and keeping it away from its opponents, and while perhaps not outshooting them as drastically as that 39-16 embarrassment of BU on Saturday, is still very clearly running each of these games.
Two things we’re still uncomfortable with:
1) Tough decisions.
It’s become fairly apparent that Connor Hellebuyck is now Lowell’s No. 1 goaltender, and with good reason: His stats dictate that he should be between the pipes for every game. But at some point you have to wonder about fatigue, at least if you’re playing five games in eight days. And Lowell is. He started both games against BU as you might expect, then perhaps somewhat surprisingly got the midweek nod as well, in what was admittedly Lowell’s most important game of the year. However, doling out starts on the basis of games being Lowell’s most important of the year means that he’s also starting the next four, including two against Merrimack in just a few short days. People have wondered if this means we’ll see Doug Carr at some point in the next two games, but given the gravity of them, and the way the team has been playing in front of Hellebuyck, we can’t imagine the workload is doing too much to stress him mentally or physically. But we’ll see.
2) Once again not having a lot to complain about.
If we don’t get to worry we don’t know what to do with ourselves.
Stat of the Week
With Lowell now having taken down wins in 15 of its last 18 games, and tied in another one, we got to thinking that this is very obviously one of the hottest teams in the country right now (with all due respect to Quinnipiac). But the question in our minds quickly became, “Is this one of the hottest teams in Lowell history?”
We don’t think it will surprise you to learn that the answer is, “It could be very soon.” There have been only three runs of success with similar winning percentages. The current one 15-2-1 (.861 winning percentage) is obviously very impressive, but it has some competition from the run seen prior to the Olympics in 2001-02, when Lowell opened the season 16-3-1 for a winning percentage of .825 between Oct. 12 and Jan. 12. Another such notable run occurred just last year, when Lowell ripped off 18 wins in the space of 22 games, going 18-4-0 from Nov. 5 to Feb. 10, for a winning percentage of .818.
But the all-time best run enjoyed by any Lowell team since the program went Div. 1 in the mid-80s was when the 1995-96 squad went 16-2-1 between Jan. 6 and March 9, a winning percentage of .868. Lowell can obviously match that run (by a team that made the NCAA tournament, we’ll note) with a win on Friday.
And for the record, even though it’s not especially comparable, we also took a look at some of the performances from the school’s Div. 2 dynasty days, and boy were those teams great. We’ll only note that the 1981-82 team, which won the last of Lowell’s national titles, won its first 20 games of the season, lost three straight, won nine more, lost once, then won two more to capture the championship. That’s fairly impressive.
This series with Merrimack is the most important the teams have played since they were both Div. 2 powerhouses. It doesn’t get any better than that. Go Lowell.