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Thursday thoughts: Drew it up that way

January 23, 2009

Apparently, the game plan against Merrimack is to let it hang around for two periods before just pummeling it in the third. At least, that’s the impression we’ve gotten from the two games so far this season.

In the opening two periods of both games this year, Lowell has managed 17 shots and one goal in each game. But then in the third period, it has two goals per and an average of 15.5 shots. This, we believe, is because Merrimack tends to come unraveled, being uncomfortable with holding a lead or even a tie, and the cream rises to the top, so to speak. Which is to say that Lowell will almost invariably score on late-game penalties from the Warriors and get some puck luck along the way to ice a game that they, frankly, do not deserve to win.

Merrimack outworked Lowell for 40-plus minutes last night but once again came up with nothing at all to show for it thanks to Lowell’s power play (now 3 for 8 against the ‘Mack this year) and its ability to clamp down on anything resembling a Warrior attack in the final 16 or so minutes. Shots were 12-5 in the first period and still 22-17 through two, but because Merrimack is Merrimack and Lowell is Lowell, the latter took over the game when it mattered. When Jeff Velleca (who?) scored Merrimack’s second goal fairly early in the third on a very nice shot, we were more than a little nervous. Lowell simply hadn’t show up for the game, we figured, and the fact that it was 1 for 5 on the power play to that point despite a 5-on-3 and an ugly Merrimack kill served as the evidence to this end.

But all it took was one bad bounce in Jeremy Dehner‘s favor to change all that worry into absolute confidence. With a neutral-zone faceoff on the near dot to Joe Cannata‘s right, Scott Campbell won a draw (obviously) back to Dehner, who aimed to dump the puck in. But it hit a stanchion and, as Cannata went behind the net to play it, it hopped lazily into the empty net and tied the game at two. One of the wackier goals we’re going to see this year, for sure, but if a team gets a goofy goal like that, it typically does not lose.

Indeed, Dehner’s goal (his second of the night and of the season) gave Lowell all the juice it needed to wake up, pin the Warriors in their own zone more often than not, and draw a boarding penalty on Adam Ross that led to Michael Budd‘s game-winner on a play that was not dissimilar to Nick Schaus‘ game-winner against BC last weekend. David Vallorani fed a cross-ice pass through the box for Schaus, who, instead of shooting, rifled it in front of the net where Budd shoveled it over Cannata’s shoulder. Pretty play to set up a nice skill goal.

Really, we don’t know what we were ever worried about. We knew Merrimack was going to give Lowell a good amount of power play minutes following that debacle against BU and we knew that Carter Hutton (27 saves) would be able to carry the game at the back if there weren’t too many defensive miscues. There was one, of course, that led to Jesse Todd‘s very pretty breakaway goal, but what’re ya gonna do?

It was also very nice to see Mark Roebothan begin to insert himself into the offense a bit more and play his first truly great game since his return from injury, and maybe of the season. He had six shots on net and, while he didn’t get any points, he did help to reestablish the CPR line as an offensive threat as well as one that was defensively responsible and conscientious on the forecheck. Budd may have been Lowell’s best player on the ice for most of the game, but Roebothan’s leaps-and-bounds improvement from last weekend’s so-so efforts went a long way toward stabilizing his line.

However, despite all this, Lowell needs to steamroll Merrimack on Saturday to leapfrog into fifth and really put pressure on Amherst, BC and Maine in the coming weeks. Wins like this aren’t going to cut it forever, especially since Merrimack seems simply unable to win one-goal games. We can’t, obviously, like the Warriors’ chances this weekend in general, but because Lowell needs this one, we want the ‘Hawks to leave the Volpe Center looking like the jailhouse after Anton Chigurh got arrested.

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