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Saturday thoughts: Ugh

December 7, 2008

That thing we said yesterday about the fourth line’s deficiency of effort? Forget it.

Well, not forget it. But just know that despite having the first Lowell goal in two nights on another greasy little play by Sammy D’Agostino and opening the scoring on Lowell’s first shot, it’s not just D’Agostino’s linemates Jonathan Maniff and Chris Auger on the “doesn’t always try hard” list any more. Not after THAT 3-2 loss to a listless and unconvincing UNH side that completed the weekend sweep.

You can also put down lines Nos. 1-3. Final shot totals by forward groups go, sadly, like this:

Top line: 2
Second line: 2
Third line: 3
Fourth line: 1

A grand total of eight shots from the 12 forwards. Eight. It cannot be emphasized enough how badly that speaks to Lowell’s offensive performance, which, apart from a few power plays here and there and obviously the D’Agostino goal, was virtually nonexistent. Hell, Nick Schaus and Maury Edwards alone had seven. The two combined shots from Jeremy Dehner and Barry Goers make a total of nine from the blue line, and also make Lowell’s offensive output look even more pathetic. Lowell’s 12 forwards were outshot by four defensemen on the Whittemore Center’s oceanic sheet of ice.

We think, though, that may have almost been the gameplan. Not to get outshot by the defense, per se, but to not have a ton of shots to begin with. And if that was the gameplan, mission accomplished. Lowell mustered 17 shots in all, and even that number should feel high to those that watched the game. Only three in the first period, only six in the second, only eight in the third. There’s no excuse for those numbers, except if it was the gameplan.

But if it was the gameplan, then the gameplan was hilariously misguided and doomed to fail. Getting up by one goal bright and early then trying to sit on that lead for the remaining 58:09? To say that idea is stupid, especially at UNH, is to insult stupid ideas. But Lowell did just that and, whaddaya know, it eventually blew up in their faces on account of two fluke goals and one genuinely breathtaking one.

The first was Greg Collins‘ that tied the score at one just 14 seconds after one of Lowell’s too-frequent penalty kills. We say it was a fluke because, had D’Agostino not lost his stick in a teammate’s skates, he would have been able to use that stick to get into Kevin Kapstad‘s face, so to speak, and force him to make a decision other than the one he eventually made, which was to make an uncontested pass to Bobby Butler, who then fed Collins for his second of the year.

The score, despite Lowell being outshot 22-9, was still knotted at 1-all thanks to another effective if unspectacular performance by Nevin Hamilton, who frankly doesn’t deserve the 0-2-0 record provided him this weekend. Lowell seemed intent on setting up shop in its own zone and hoping for stretch passes that lead to breakaways and odd-man rushes, and while they got a few of those — Mike Potacco‘s breakaway late in the second being the best — you simply can’t let teams bomb it fom everywhere in the offensive zone before something gets by the goalie.

Lowell actually went up again in the third period when, after Joe Charlebois took his THIRD penalty of the night (he actually had all of UNH’s first three penalties), Collins folded up Edwards along the halfboards from behind to draw a boarding call and put the ‘Hawks up two men. And appropriately, it was Edwards who unleashed a shot so heavy not even light can escape and beat Brian Foster, who was untested in making 15 saves for the win. Lowell was only up a goal for all of 1:14 though.

Jerry Pollastrone‘s first of the year (that can’t be right, can it?) leveled the game again at 11:58 of the second, as his shot from the wing deflected of David Vallorani‘s stick and in for Fluke Goal No. 2. From there, of course, the game was over. Lowell was to be deservedly punished for its abysmal approach and execution, and by a kid we told you earlier this year to watch out for. Blake Kessel positively unleashed a snapshot (either the flex on his stick is a 15 or he can bench press 1,400 pounds) on UNH’s sixth power play to give the Wildcats the go-ahead with a mere 1:50 left on the clock.

That’s another problem Lowell had last night. The penalties they took were largely inexcusable. Goers drilled someone from behind away from the play in the neutral zone to get an interference call, Falite’s crosscheck wasn’t really a penalty but we can see why it was called, Goers’ slash along the endboards on a simple dump-in was foolish, the hooks from Nick Monroe and Michael Budd weren’t the best penalties in the world to take though they weren’t especially bad either. Edwards’ crosscheck, which led to the Kessel goal, was simply not smart. We’re all for hard penalties like that, which perhaps can serve to teach a lesson in some situations (as opposed to lazy hooks and trips which are soft penalties and should never happen to a fast team like Lowell). Hard penalties can be a “two minutes well worth it” type of thing. But ANY penalties that produce power plays for the home team inside of two minutes to go, especially a team like UNH at a rink like theirs, will almost always produce goals, and thus are never worth it.

Just another bad effort in a string of about four in a row (and 4 1/3 if you want to count the third period against Northeastern). By our count, Lowell has played 10 subpar to straight-up bad periods in the last 13 (the exceptions being the third against Merrimack, the second against RIT and the third against UNH Friday). That the ‘Hawks are 2-3-0 in those games tells you how bad Merrimack and RIT are.

All that said, Lowell is still a better team than UNH. That much is clear to us, at least. Lowell was done in by Lowell mistakes and not UNH’s ability to do anything impressive. To us, the real result of a well-played game between these teams falls somewhere between an 8-3 thwacking and what we saw this weekend, but Lowell would come out on top. Injuries and poor planning had a worse effect on Lowell than we could have imagined but it’s now officially difficult to consider Lowell one of the best teams in Hockey East.

There are five teams ahead of Lowell in the standings right now: Northeastern, Vermont, BC, UNH and BU. Of that group, Lowell has played all but BC at least once and is now 1-5-0 in six games against the rest. The loss to Northeastern was because Lowell pulled a no-show, as was the loss to Vermont and the two games this weekend. Going 1-2-0 against UNH after the beating Lowell laid on them in the series opener is totally unacceptable. The only one we won’t begrudge the ‘Hawks was the BU loss, which was caused by the rather extenuating circumstances of the Hutton injury.

However, when Lowell shows up, they can and do beat anybody. So the problem, then, is the increasing and frustrating frequency with which they do not show up.

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