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Weekend preview: Vermont doesn’t try when games don’t matter

February 21, 2008

No. 18 UMass Lowell River Hawks (13-11-4, 8-9-4 Hockey East) vs. the Vermont Catamounts (10-11-7, 9-7-5 Hockey East)

Friday and Saturday at Tsongas Arena, 7 p.m. – Officials TBA

All-time head-to-head: Vermont leads 9-8-1

Lowell is seventh in Hockey East with 20 points from 21 games, Vermont is tied for fifth in Hockey East with 23 points from 21 games

Last three games
Lowell: 2-5 vs. Boston College, 3-1 at Boston College, 2-6 vs. Boston University
Vermont: 2-1 vs. Merrimack, 4-1 vs. Merrimack, 3-4 (ot) at Providence

Prior meetings
Vermont edged Lowell 3-2 on Feb. 3 despite being badly outplayed at home. Lowell got off to a slow start and trailed 2-0 early in the second period. Ben Holmstrom pulled Lowell within one with his third goal of the year at 8:22, but Viktor Stålberg netted the eventual game-winner just over four minutes later. Kory Falite scored for Lowell midway through the third. Carter Hutton made 18 saves in the loss, and Joe Fallon made 31 stops.

Season series
Lowell trails Vermont 0-1-0.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Kory Falite – 28 GP, 13-9-22 (21 GP, 12-6-18 HE)
Ben Holmstrom – 28, 5-17-22 (21, 4-14-18)
Mark Roebothan – 28, 12-8-20 (21, 10-4-14)
Barry Goers – 28, 3-15-18 (21, 2-11-13)
Mike Potacco – 22, 6-10-16 (17, 3-9-12)

Vermont:
Colin Vock – 28, 5-16-21 (21, 3-13-16 HE)
Viktor Stålberg – 28, 8-12-20 (21, 8-11-19)
Dean Strong – 28 GP, 5-15-20 (21 GP, 5-10-15)
Peter Lenes – 28, 8-9-17 (21, 6-7-13)
Corey Carlson – 28, 6-10-14 (21, 5-7-12)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Nevin Hamilton (8-5-2) – 16 GP, 924:25 minutes, 2.66 GAA/.908 sv% (13 GP, 744:50, 2.74/.911 HE)
Carter Hutton (4-6-2) – 12 GP, 706:19, 2.21/.918 (9 GP, 527:10, 2.73/905 HE)

Vermont:
Joe Fallon (8-9-5) – 22 GP, 1,283:03 minutes, 2.76 GAA/.905 sv% (18 GP, 2.77 GAA/.907 sv% HE)
Mike Spillane (2-2-2) – 8, 428:06, 3.64/.868 (5, 239:34, 4.26/.841 HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (28 games), 79 goals for (2.82/g), 70 against (2.50/g). Power play 20/128 (15.6%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 98/115 (85.2%, 0 SHGF)
Hockey East (21 games), 58 goals for (2.76/g), 60 against (2.86/g). Power play 16/94 (17.0%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 68/83 (81.9%, 0 SHGF)

Vermont:

Overall (28 games), 68 goals for (2.43/g), 87 against (3.11/g). Power play 14/108 (13.0%, 6 SHGA), penalty kill 115/135 (85.2%, 2 SHGF)Hockey East (21 games), 56 goals for (2.67/g), 67 against (3.19/g). Power play 10/73 (13.7%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 68/83 (81.9%, 2 SHGF)

Outlook
Well this is certainly a big weekend, isn’t it?

Lowell can play this weekend’s two-game series with Vermont two ways: win, or kiss the prospect of home ice goodbye.

Vermont fans, as we detailed yesterday, are already chalking this one up as a big sweep for their boys, who are 4-2 in their last six, which has, in the minds of the good people of Burlington, transformed them into an unbeatable juggernaut. A pair of wins over last-place Merrimack apparently does wonders for the psyche.

Ignored, of course, is the fact that Vermont’s power play is quite literally a disaster, their penalty kill is pedestrian, and that their team stats rank among the lowest in Hockey East (seventh in offense, ninth in defense).

Last week, we told you that Lowell would have to limit BC’s chances because of how dangerous the Eagles are on the power play (right again, by the way), but that shouldn’t be a problem this week. Since last these teams met three weeks ago, Vermont is 1 for 20 on the power play, and was held 0 for 11 by Merrimack, which boasts an anemic 83.8 percent efficiency on the kill (it was at 81.9 going in).

Allow us, for a moment, to be blunt. There were a lot of mitigating factors when Lowell lost to Vermont on Super Bowl Sunday, which we’ve gone into in the past. Finishing chances was certainly one of them, as Joe Fallon made 31 saves. However, Lowell’s power play has since improved by leaps and bounds. The ‘Hawks have scored six times on the power play in the last four games. Ben Holmstrom and Kory Falite, of course, are the main reasons. But the reinsertion of Mike Potacco into the lineup will certainly give the secondary scoring a boost as well. His ability to make things happen on the counterattack was sorely missed in Burlington.

This, finally, is Lowell at nearly full strength. Chris Auger is the only regular still missing from the lineup, and he’ll be out a couple more weeks. But the return of offensively gifted players like Potacco (16 points) and Paul Worthington (12 points in a shortened freshman season) certainly portends a better fate for the Lowell offense than two measly goals on 31 shots.

Vermont, meanwhile, can brag all it likes about splitting with Providence (wow!) or sweeping Merrimack (wow!). The fact of the matter is that its offense is still appallingly bad, its defense is suspect and its goaltending is just now beginning to round into shape.

Worse still, the Catamounts have spent exactly zero games at .500 this season. Indeed, only 44:59 of its first game was spent tied with Miami. Since Justin Mercier scored that fateful goal, Vermont hasn’t even been able to entertain the thought of a middle-of-the-road season. That’s pitiful.

Still, schedule-wise, the teams are oddly similar despite Vermont’s woeful stats. Both are 2-2-2 in completed season series, and have strangely close records against common opponents. This is not to discount the fact that Vermont has indeed beaten Lowell (still we cry, “Mitigating factors!”).

So where does this leave us? Do the apparently hot Catamounts come in to Lowell and manhandle the reeling River Hawks? Does Lowell successfully hold down Fortress Tsongas (where it is 9-6-1) for another week? We are certainly hoping and preparing ourselves for the latter.

We’ll put it this way: we’ve seen Vermont on television a few times this year and can safely say that this is not a team like BC or BU, which have torched Lowell with dynamic offense. Vermont, in fact, averages just 24.6 shots per game. Lowell is 9-3 when allowing 25 shots or less.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    February 29, 2008 7:26 pm

    Merrimack’s anemic PK of 83.8% … Ummm, “your” Hawks are at 84.3.

    Oh, and with last weekend included, the Mack’s is not at 84.9% … aka, better than UML’s.

    Suck it, monkey breath

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