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Friday thoughts: We’ll take it!

October 25, 2008

It wasn’t the prettiest of 4-1 wins, but any such win in the Hockey East schedule is fine by us.

It helps, of course, that the game was against Providence College, who for all their shots on goal in Hockey East (62 in just two games) have but one goal to show for it. It also helps that they’ve given up four goals a game in both of those as well.

What Lowell ran into, then over, last night was an incredibly disjointed team with no offense whatsoever and fairly poor goaltending to boot. Were it not for Maine, who lost to Northeastern 5-0 at home last night, Providence College would be the worst team in Hockey East. Their play, combined with Lowell’s insistence on trying the stretch pass and failing repeatedly, made for an awful choppy game with no real flow to speak of. However, if Lowell can put up four goals when the offense isn’t working especially efficiently, we look forward to the nights where it is.

That said, it is obviously very important to win those games, and especially the ones at home. That Lowell came out looking dangerous against them was vital, and scoring a power play goal (the first in a non-exhibition by Nick Schaus since his freshman year) 6:06 into the contest helped establish Lowell’s dominance as the game went forward. Once Lowell got its second goal on a very nice connection between Mike Potacco and Mark Roebothan on the rush, we figured it was reasonable to assume that the game was over. Jonathan Maniff‘s super-pretty backhander after an end-to-end rush was the icing on the cake.

Let’s go back to the Schaus goal for a minute though. It was clear that the power play had worked on sneaking a defenseman in on the backdoor, as they did it all night and PC never seemed to pick up on it. Setting up the play, of course, was David Vallorani, who also added an assist later in the game to run his season total to five. That kid’s just dynamite. There were several times last night where his value in all three zones was abundantly evident, and his puck support during the Providence forecheck was very noticable as well. Most other centers would have let the two d-men handle it, but Vallorani was a good 20 feet inside his own zone most of the night and helped spring a number of breakouts that otherwise would have been turned back even before they started. He’s making a very strong bid for the the River Hawks’ title of Most Complete Forward (with all apologies to Scott Campbell and Ben Holmstrom).

Lowell’s second two goals were more or less identical plays right up to their finishes. In both situations, a Lowell forward went streaking down the right wing with a chance for a cross-ice pass to the opposite wing and a likely tap-in goal. Potacco opted to use that pass to hook Roebothan up with his first of the year, so when everyone in the rink was looking for the pass on the third goal, Maniff was smart to not make it.

Even the empty-netter by Paul Worthington was the result of hard work. Even though he was tripped up from behind and earned a sure penalty, he stayed with the play, got up and tapped a roller into the net from the top of the slot.

A bit lost in Lowell’s minor offensive explosion was Carter Hutton, who made a number of very good saves (those tow saves right up against the post when the game was still within reach, for example). Hutton has been a rock for Lowell this year, which has allowed just five goals in four games. The numbers don’t lie, and Hutton’s goals-against average of 1.26 and save percentage of .947 (90 saves on 95 shots!) tell the tale of why Lowell’s defense has been so spectacular. Even in the rare instance when Lowell’s D has made a mistake, and by all accounts that hasn’t happened often this year, Hutton has been there to bail them out. Even PC’s goal, a second-chancer where a Providence player barreled into him, Hutton was not really at fault. It sure is nice having a No. 1 goalie.

Also of note: the play of Pierce Norton, who usually kills Lowell to the tune of seven points in his nine career games entering Friday. He was flat-out awful, took a number of bad penalties (the first of which was an elbow that no one in the arena seems to have seen, and led to the Schaus goal), and really played a surprisingly low-rent game toward the end, as did the rest of his teammates who took most of the third period to prove a point instead of play hockey. If the point was that PC isn’t a very good hockey team and has to resort to thuggery to make up for their complete lack of speed, skill or goaltending and the fact that this team won’t make the playoffs, consider it proven.

It was a very good performance for Lowell in front of a very good crowd of almost 6,200 that was loud, energetic and surprisingly involved despite sitting through a game that wasn’t going to win any beauty pageants. Starting 1-0 in Hockey East? That’s where we want to be.

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