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Lowell at the break: We have seen its true face

December 21, 2008

On a national level, Lowell is 18th in goals for (3.12/game), 13th in goals against (2.19/game) and 12th in scoring margin (.94/game). The power play is 14th (18.6) and the penalty kill is tied for 23rd (85.7).

So why is Lowell 8-8-0 and seventh in Hockey East? Statistically, Lowell has its best team in years. But as far as execution is concerned, this team has a long, long way to go if it wants to even challenge for home ice.

To see why, it’s first necessary to realize that the vast majority of Lowell’s eight wins have been against opponents of middling to low quality. These wins have also provided much of the cushion in Lowell’s plus-15 goal margin. Let’s have a quick look at Lowell’s sub-.500 opponents.

Opponent Record Result Margin
Colgate 4-7-3 Loss -1
Michigan State 4-11-3 Win +3
Michigan State 4-11-3 Loss -1
Providence 3-12-1 Win +3
Providence 3-12-1 Win +5
Merrimack 4-8-3 Win +2
RIT 8-9-1 Win +3

So basically what that tells us is that in seven games against teams with an average record of 5-9-2 if you round everything off, Lowell is 5-2-0 with a goal margin of +14. Add in a good 8/37 power play (21.6 percent efficiency) and a so-so 25/30 penalty kill (83.3 percent), and you have a recipe for success. But those eight power play goals account for half of Lowell’s season total in a relatively small space (compared to 8/49 in the other games).

Lowell’s clear success against very bad teams is what accounts for the disproportionate statistical swings, because its play against teams at or above .500 has been positively disheartening.

Opponent Record Result Margin
Quinnipiac 7-6-1 Win +3
Boston University 11-4-1 Loss -2
Vermont 9-4-2 Loss -2
New Hampshire 8-6-3 Win +5
UMass Amherst 8-6-1 Win +2
Northeastern 11-3-2 Loss -1
New Hampshire 8-6-3 Loss -2
New Hampshire 8-6-3 Loss -1
Boston University 11-4-1 Loss -1

These numbers, of course, tell us several things. First, Lowell is 3-6-0 against teams above .500 with a goal margin of plus-1, but that, of course, is buoyed by the blowouts against UNH and Quinnipiac that spot Lowell a plus-8 from two games. Against Hockey East opponents above .500, Lowell’s record and margin are a grimmer 2-6-0 and minus-2.

“But,” cry the more positive among us, “an 8-8-0 record isn’t SO bad for a Lowell team that’s finished below .500 and has only won once in the playoffs the last three years.”

We get that argument. So, okay, fine, let’s look at it without all that pesky pragmatism muddying things. Realistically, is this where you think a team with this type of talent should be? And what’s more disappointing? That Lowell’s record in December was 0-3-0 thanks to a couple of no-shows or that it has given away four leads in those games despite numerous chances to widen the differential (think of the first period against BU last weekend and weep). Had Lowell won the game at UNH and/or at BU — and let’s be honest, they should have pulled at least two points from those games — we’d be feeling a lot better about Lowell’s second-half chances. Instead of seventh and three points (and tiebreakers) out of fourth, Lowell would be anywhere from second and three points above fourth to fourth and a point above fifth, plus hold the tiebreaker against UNH.

To look at the larger details is to see a team that’s lost a lot of one-goal games (six if you discount empty netters) and scored a lot when they win, which is all well and good. But this is also a team that has allowed 14 third-period goals in its eight losses, and the disappointment is compounded when one realizes it allowed 11 goals in the other sixteen periods in those games. We said last year, and even the year before that when we hadn’t yet started this blog, that the astonishing number of one-goal or two-goals-with-the-empty-net losses (20) and ties (8) would start swinging back the other way at some point, and Lowell would turn those into wins. Well, sadly, it hasn’t happened. The ‘Hawks still lose winnable games, like both with BU and those against Northeastern, UNH, Michigan State and Colgate, and with frustrating regularity.

That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom along banks of the Merrimack River. There is still a lot to like about Lowell. There have been disciplined, measured performances against teams that Lowell should beat, like both Providence games, and were it not for the extenuating circumstances around Carter Hutton‘s injury against BU and Blaise MacDonald‘s befuddling decision to use TJ Massie in relief, that’s an extra two points in Lowell’s account. This season has also given us the further emergence of Kory Falite as an elite sniper in Hockey East, the steady goaltending work of both Hutton and Nevin Hamilton and the pleasant surprise of a nearly-point-a-game performance of freshman David Vallorani. Toss in a blue line that is, on the whole, very good at both ends of the ice and a quietly strong power play, and this is a Lowell team that could turn it on in the second half and challenge for a home ice spot.

The problem is that Lowell should be there already.

First semester grades
Three quick things to note: all grading is done solely by us and is relative to our expectations of them rather than any single metric. Also, players are listed numerically by position and have to have played in six games (more than 33 percent of the schedule) to receive a grade.

Matt Ferreira (13 GP, 2-2-4): C-
Frankly, we wanted more offense from Ferreira. While he’s been a capable fourth-line center and has won his fair share of draws and generally played some heads-up hockey, both of his goals came in one game, the 8-3 win against UNH. He hasn’t been bad or anything, he’s just performed a little below our expectations.

Mark Roebothan (13 GP, 1-4-5): D+
Only one goal and five points is a disappointment no matter how you want to look at it. Being outstanding at cycling the puck is great and all, but Roebothan, who scored 14 goals last year, should have been one of the most important offensive cogs in the River Hawk attack. He is currently tied for 12th in goals on the River Hawks with such snipers as Nick Schaus and Nick Monroe. Trivia question: Can you name the game in which Roebothan scored his goal?

David Vallorani (16 GP, 4-10-14): A+
You can’t count on much better production out of a freshman than 4-10-14 in the first half. Vallorani’s skill and vision have been a revelation on both the third line and second power play unit. This kid’s gonna be a good one.

Sammy D’Agostino (16 GP, 3-0-3): B-
D’Agostino does a great job as an energy guy, can lay down some big hits, get his stick in passing lanes and even contribute the odd goal. His skill isn’t exactly top-flight, obviously, but he’s definitely one of those guys that gets every ounce of performance out of his talent. One of our favorite ‘Hawks for sure.

Kory Falite (16 GP, 10-5-15): B
He’s on pace for 21 goals but his point total might drop from the 32 he put up last year. And his penchant for not showing up to some games continues unabated.

Nick Monroe (16 GP, 1-3-4): B
This is not the Nick Monroe we’re used to. His move to the wing seems to have freed him of any concern, and now he makes things happen offensively as well as being a top-notch defensive forward and penalty killer. There have been several games this year where we said, “Whoa, who was THAT?” and were shocked to find it was Nick Monroe. This is a dream senior campaign for him.

Scott Campbell (16 GP, 7-6-13): A-
Okay, five of his 13 points were in one game, but Campbell’s value to the team cannot be measured in mere goals and assists. We pretty much feel like if there’s a draw, Campbell wins it. We’re right about 70 percent of the time. What do premier faceoff men usually win? Something like 58? The offense has been good, but the stats that Hockey East can’t be bothered to measure are outstanding.

Chris Auger (3 GP, 0-1-1): Incomplete
With nearly half the season lost to a shoulder injury, Auger came in when Lowell was hit by the injury bug and, for the most part, performed admirably and was a serviceable No. 14 forward. That’s all he needed to be. Unfortunately for him, with Lowell’s depth down the middle, Auger might not get too much ice time for the rest of his career unless he decides to start putting in an effort on every shift of every game.

Patrick Cey (16 GP, 3-2-5): C
Every once in a while you’ll see what Cey can really do and wonder why he doesn’t do it more often. When Falite got dropped to the fourth line, Cey played pretty well alongside Ben Holmstrom and Paul Worthington, and we wouldn’t mind seeing him up there for the remainder of the season from a pure chemistry standpoint. We’ll quote what we said in last year’s final grades, which we think more or less sums up Cey’s career to this point: “We like what we saw, we just want to see more of it.”

Mike Potacco (16 GP, 4-6-10): C-
Potacco has played well enough, one supposes, but the performance is a bit below the standard he set last year. He’s on pace for fewer goals and assists in more games and he just doesn’t seem to be making things happen with his speed as much as he did in his junior year. We’re really hoping he picks it up in the second half, because we had him down for 15 goals. That seems a bit of a pipe dream now.

Ben Holmstrom (16 GP, 2-10-12): C+
Another typically slow offensive first half for Holmstrom, who has scored just four of his 13 career goals before break. That said, we can grudgingly accept where he’s at right now, but if he wants to be one of the team’s leaders, Lowell really needs him to be a monster and make the offense go in the second half.

Paul Worthington (16 GP, 3-3-6): D+
We want to like Worthington, we really do. But the flashes of offensive brilliance he’s shown have been few, with far too much time and poor decision-making filling the intervals. He has struck us as hesitant to make a play and, as evidenced by his 20 shots so far, reluctant to put the puck toward the net. Everyone’s more effective when they shoot more. Worthington’s shooting percentage is fifth among Lowell forwards and third among regulars, but there are seven guys ahead of him in shots. That doesn’t add up to a successful season.

Jonathan Maniff (4 GP, 1-1-2): Incomplete
There’s no reason for him to be anywhere near the ice except in the event of horrific injuries. The things he does well in the offensive zone don’t balance out the things he does badly everywhere else.

Jason DeLuca (3 GP, 0-0-0): Incomplete
It is admittedly hard to get a feel for a kid who has played one game we were able to see. We never disliked anything he did in that one game or last year, but he’s just another victim of Lowell’s depth. We wouldn’t mind seeing him more, but an increase in his ice time means more people are hurt, so that’s a tough situation.

Michael Budd (9 GP, 3-3-6): B+
Plays convincing offense and strong defense, plus he does a lot of dirty work around the net that leads to positive play. A very strong start for a kid we figured would be the third or fourth freshman forward. It’s a shame that he missed more than a month early in the season, because his numbers could be much bigger than they are.

Jeremy Dehner (16 GP, 0-10-10): C+
We think even Dehner would admit that he hasn’t had his strongest semester. Don’t get us wrong, he’s still excellent and you’d be hard pressed to come up with a Hockey East defenseman we’d trade him for, but by his standards this has been a subpar half-season. Let’s hope he can kick that goal total up a bit in the second half, eh?

Steve Capraro (14 GP, 0-0-0): B-
He’s noticably quicker, having shed a good 10 or 15 pounds over the summer, and he’s doing some good work in all three zones. When your No. 6 defenseman is a plus-1 and getting significant minutes, he’s doing a-okay.

Tim Corcoran (2 GP, 0-0-0): Incomplete
When Capraro has been out, Corcoran has done well enough as a fill-in. He makes good decisions with the puck and is rarely out of position. That’s fine by us.

Nick Schaus (16 GP, 1-8-9): A-
We really like this Nick Schaus. He hits people and plays defense as well as he did before, but now he’s jumping up in the rush constantly and contributing on offense. Can’t go wrong with play like that. Definitely Lowell’s biggest all-around improvement on the blue line.

Barry Goers (16 GP, 0-2-2): C-
We like the improvement in his defensive game from last season, but the complete flatlining of his offense has us concerned. The own-zone upgrade hasn’t been inversely proportional to the attacking-zone downgrade and frankly we expect more from Goers than what he’s shown.

Maury Edwards (16 GP, 5-7-12): A
Edwards has and will always be a force to be reckoned with in the attacking zone. His shot’s a bomb and his passes are usually well-chosen and precise. We expect that and get it. But the uptick in his defensive performance has been jaw-dropping. He was a minus-5 last year with 19 points. Right now he’s a plus-6. That’s a HUGE swing.

Ryan Blair (16 GP, 0-6-6): B+
Blair is the other thing that helps Edwards considerably, of course. If Edwards wants to join the attack, Blair’s fine back there by himself in the event of catastrophe. He’s one of the few Hockey East d-men we’ve seen this year that actually knows how to use his size and as such he can always be counted upon to get a stick where it needs to be. As he was last year, Blair is the team +/- leader for a reason. We don’t get enough chance to express it, but we’re huge Ryan Blair fans.

Nevin Hamilton (10 GP, 5-4-0; 2.20, .925): B
Once again this year, when Hutton went down with an injury, everyone got awful nervous only to have Nevin Hamilton prove himself a more than capable No. 2 goalie. Those stats are pretty nice and when he’s on, he’s very difficult to beat. But there’s a Big However: he can be frustrating to watch, especially in games like the losses to Vermont and Northeastern. Were he a bit steadier, he’d be a perfectly good starter.

Carter Hutton (6 GP, 2-3-0; 1.60, .938): A
Those stats are outstanding, but the run support wasn’t. Apart from the first Providence game and the first BU game, the only time Hutton got more than two goals’ worth of help from the rest of the ‘Hawks was when he pitched a shutout at Michigan State. His losses were 1-2, 1-2, and 2-3. It kind of feels like back when Pedro Martinez had to go seven or eight innings and give up just one run to get a win.

TJ Massie (2 GP, 1-1-0; 3.76, .875): Incomplete
He was fine in his one start, but the third period against BU in early November effectively ended any hope he had of sticking with the team for the rest of the year. The stint in juniors will probably do him a world of good. He was highly-recruited for a reason and we very much hope he finds his game in Iowa. See ya in Sept. 2010.

We’re gonna take a little while off here. Enjoy your holidays and check back for a tournament preview a few days after Christmas.

Blog stats at the half
43,449 words over:
49 posts (886.7 per).
10 weeks (4,344.9 per).
104 pages, single-spaced.

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