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(Very late) Saturday thoughts: Panic! in Chicago

January 5, 2009

Evidence of a systemic problem: Carter Hutton has not conceded more than two goals in any of the seven games in which he has played, and yet has a 2-5-0 record.

This is a bad thing. It’s even worse when his latest effort-gone-for-naught was a 2-1 loss against Union. Hutton was solid as ever, making 21 saves on 23 shots (a .913 save percentage if you were wondering) but taking his third consecutive loss. The last time he won, in fact, was against Providence on Oct. 24.

Since then, he is 0-3-0 in four games (he got a no decision in the first BU game when he left after 40 minutes and the team completely collapsed) and he’s arguably played just one bad game all season, the 2-1 loss at Colgate in which he gave up a pair of goals on just 18 shots. He’s given up 12 goals in 418:22 on 178 shots. And he’s TWO AND FIVE!

It’s said that badly-coached teams don’t defend very well, so what does it mean when a team can’t score at all? Who’s to blame there? Lowell’s gotten just four goals in its last five games and even an excellent goalie like Hutton, whose stats sparkle at 1.72/.932, can save them. Where’s Kory Falite in all this? Where’s Mike Potacco? Where, for that matter, is David Vallorani? All go lamentably unmentioned on the scoresheet.

This was supposed to have been a gimme. Easy W. Back to .500. And instead the River Hawks are now two games back of that mark with losses two Colgate and Union, a pair of typical ECAC doormat schedule-padders. We didn’t actually hear the game broadcast and thus are unwilling to cast about too many aspersions, but any time you only score once and allow two goals against Union despite 31 shots in your favor (and we don’t care how spectacularly Corey Milan played) and only two penalties to kill, you have proven yourselves to be a massive failure. The fact that Union actually led 2-0 for a little less than 16 minutes is ridiculous regardless of circumstance.

It might officially be time to panic. Long gone seem the days of scoring four against BU and eight against UNH and five against Providence. If Hutton has to stand on his head to the tune of nearly a shutout every night, it’s unfair to expect that he “steals” Lowell too many games. All things considered, he might turn out to be less like Johnny Curry, who at least got some kind of run support from the offense but often bailed out his mediocre defense, and more like Joe Exter, who was universally regarded as one of the best goalies in Hockey East and would have won every MVP award known to man “if he was on BC or someone like that.”

Is Lowell really at that point? Do we have to realistically look at this team right now and say it’s a lot like those old Merrimack teams that could occasionally beat a Big Four team but never really scored enough goals to prove a threat to anyone? Honestly, Lowell has 35 goals in 11 Hockey East games, two back of the league lead held by UNH in one less game. But take away the obvious outliers of the 8-3 UNH game and the two games against woeful Providence and Lowell has 17 goals in eight games. That’s bad.

When the River Hawks score 2.95 goals — the average goals per game in Hockey East and thus a reasonable minimum expectation for an offense with this much talent — or more, they are 7-2-0. When they do not, they are obviously 1-8-0 (the only win being a 2-0 shutout over UMass Amherst in which Nevin Hamilton played extraordinarily well). Same thing is true of Hockey East play, where a much stingier 2.74 goals for per game is the league average. Lowell is 4-1-0 in games in which it went over that figure and 1-5-0 in games in which it did not. The fact that Lowell has scored two goals or less in six of its 11 Hockey East games is very, very upsetting. The fact that they’re not in ninth or 10th in the league because of it speaks to the quality of the goaltending Lowell has received in general.

It’s very hard to be supportive of the team after this past weekend stretched the losing streak to five games and the offense only scored twice. Weekends like this are the reason we created the “Give Hutts some help” tag.

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