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Saturday thoughts: Bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you

November 23, 2008

On the one hand, it’s difficult not to be disappointed with the way the game worked out, but we’re not taking this one too harshly.

Lowell didn’t bring its “A” game for the first period and failed to put Northeastern away despite ample opportunity, and the rest of the game was so choppy that neither team ever established anything resembling a flow, so the resultant 4-3 loss was at once slightly disappointing but not entirely unexpected.

The change in this game (as opposed to the three previous wins) was that Lowell, for what seemed like the first time in ages, failed to score on the power play despite six opportunities to do so. After a shaky start, the power play, did look fantastic as the first period progressed, moving the puck very well and generating lots of shots and shot attempts (10 on 15 in about 11 minutes of PP time, according to GameTracker) but with no man-up opportunities in the second and just five shot attempts, all from the blue line, on three tries in the third, the power play’s danger was not quite so evident in the game’s later stages. But not scoring in the first took a LOT of the pressure off Northeastern, especially when coupled with the fact that Lowell allowed just its third first-period goal of the year so, instead of being able to play with the lead headed into the dressing room through one. Lowell is 5-1-0 when leading after 20 minutes, but when behind or even they’re 1-4-0. Clearly, if the Hawks get a lead, they tend to hang onto it. Except, apparently against the Huskies.

On the two Lowell goals that opened leads, Lowell held them for a grand total of 3:50. Greg Costa scored the first of his three 3:25 after Michael Budd opened the scoring, and his second came 25 seconds after Paul Worthington staked Lowell to a 2-0 lead just 20 seconds into the third period. Lowell’s inability to hold any advantage in score for longer than three and a half minutes was a major issue and one that has, for the most part, not existed in prior games this year. Lowell is, in fact, 0-3-0 in one-goal games, with losses to Colgate, Michigan State and now Northeastern. NU, by contrast, is 4-0-0.

That’s the real reason NU won: goaltending. Had Brad Thiessen not been between the pipes for the Huskies, Lowell would have won the game with ease. Thiessen was phenomenal in turning aside 36 shots and making several big-time saves late in the game when Lowell was pressing and on the River Hawks’ early power plays. But on the other end, Nevin Hamilton, who was otherwise solid and made 28 saves, gave up a pair of Downy-soft goals plus another good one in the third period to spot NU a lead it would never relinquish. Lowell simply failed to capitalize on numerous early chances presented by Thiessen’s early struggles with his rebound control and the Huskies capitalized on three late ones despite just seven third-period shots. That’s how it goes sometimes.

It’s also important to note that Lowell is currently outscoring opponents 22-15 when playing 5-on-5 hockey, and the two teams didn’t get to play nearly enough of that last night with 36:14 being played on either special teams or at 4-on-4. If Lowell is unable to establish offensive zone pressure with either the CPR line, which usually rules the boards with an iron fist, or the Falite-Ferreira-D’Agostino line getting greasy down below the red line, it does tend to struggle to establish an attack of any kind. Neither line did much in the way of this tonight and the Lowell assault we’d become so used to seeing was not so apparent for large portions of the game.

While we weren’t especially encouraged by the result we weren’t devastated by it either. Northeastern is a buzzsaw right now but Lowell gave them a tighter game than the scoreline shows. This is a game that could have ended in a tie or even a Lowell win and it would have been difficult to say it was undeserved. Hockey East is so wide open this year that it’s tough to line up against losing to anyone, especially since Lowell put three past Thiessen.

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