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Weekend preview: With all the power in us, we’ve never quit

February 26, 2009

Your No. 20 UMass Lowell River Hawks (15-13-2, 12-9-2 HE) vs. the No. 4 Northeastern Huskies (20-8-4, 15-5-3 HE)

7 p.m. Friday at Matthews Arena, Boston, Mass.
7 p.m. Saturday at Tsongas Arena, Lowell, Mass.

All-time head-to-head Lowell leads Northeastern 50-32-7.

Lowell is fifth in Hockey East with 26 points from 23 games. Northeastern is first in Hockey East with 33 points from 23 games.

Last three games
Lowell — 1-0 at Vermont, 3-3 at Vermont (ot), 4-4 vs. BC (ot)
Northeastern — 1-1 vs. BU (ot), 2-2 at BU (ot), 1-4 vs. UMass Amherst

Prior meetings
Northeastern edged Lowell 4-3 on Nov. 22 behind three third-period goals, all of which were off rebounds. Lowell went 0 for 6 on the power play and outshot NU 39-32 but didn’t get the second-chance goals that Northeastern did. Lowell also failed to capitalize on 10 power play shots in 11 minutes of man-up time in the first period that could have almost certainly put the game away. Greg Costa had a hat trick for the Huskies, and Ben Holmstrom led Lowell with a pair of assists. Brad Thiessen outdueled Nevin Hamilton for the win.

Season series
Lowell trails Northeastern 0-1-0.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Maury Edwards — 30, 8-16-24 (23, 7-15-22)
David Vallorani — 30, 7-15-22 (23, 6-11-17)
Jeremy Dehner — 30, 2-19-21 (23, 2-16-18)
Scott Campbell — 30, 10-10-20 (23, 5-8-13)
Kory Falite — 24 GP, 12-6-18 (17 GP, 8-3-11 HE)

Northeastern:
Wade MacLeod — 32 GP, 13-18-31 (23 GP, 9-15-24 HE)
Ryan Ginand — 32, 19-11-30 (23, 14-9-23)
Joe Vitale — 32, 6-17-23 (23, 5-12-17)
Steve Quailer — 32, 8-13-21 (23, 3-10-13)
Tyler McNeely — 32, 8-11-19 (23, 4-8-12)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Nevin Hamilton (8-5-1) — 15 GP, 875:07 minutes, 2.13 GAA/.925 sv% (14 GP, 815:11 minutes, 2.06 GAA/.930 sv% HE)
Carter Hutton (6-7-1) — 15, 845:50, 2.20/.913 (10, 549:13, 2.51/.905 HE)

Northeastern:
Brad Thiessen (20-8-4) — 32 GP, 1,941:47 minutes, 2.19 GAA/.929 sv% (23 GP, 1,395:51 minutes, 2.19 GAA/.931 sv% HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (30 games) — 89 goals for (2.97/gm), 69 goals against (2.30/gm). Power play 28/153 (18.3%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 123/141 (87.2%, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (23 games) — 72 GF (3.13/gm), 57 GA (2.48/gm). Power play 20/109 (18.3%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 101/114 (88.6%, 5 SHGF)

Northeastern:
Overall (32 games) — 100 goals for (3.12/gm), 74 goals against (2.31/gm). Power play 29/184 (15.8%, 6 SHGA), penalty kill 159/182 (87.2%, 6 SHGF)
Hockey East (23 games) — 69 GF (3.00/gm), 53 GA (2.30/gm). Power play 22/132 (16.7%, 1 SHGA), 108/126 (85.7%, 6 SHGF)

Outlook
This is pretty much it right here.

Any hope Lowell has of making a run at home ice goes straight through the No. 4 Northeastern Huskies this weekend. And what a wild series this should be.

The first meeting between these two teams this season highlighted many of the season-long strengths and weaknesses that both teams face. For Lowell, the strengths were exhibited in its resiliency (it dodged more than a few bullets and battled back to make it a one-goal game), the quality of the power play (it rained 10 power play shots in the first period alone) and the penalty kill (NU was 0 for 5). Northeastern’s strengths were, of course, goaltending (Brad Thiessen made 36 saves, several of them ridiculous game-savers), the ability to capitalize on opponent’s mistakes (three of their four goals came off rebounds) and their ability to silence a building (Lowell had two leads in the game that lasted a total of 3:50).

The weaknesses, or at least Lowell’s, were evident as well. Three more third-period goals spelled doom, of course, as did the team’s occasional inability to score on the power play despite boatloads of chances and its failure to stand on a team’s throat when it has to. Northeastern’s so-so penalty kill was poor in everything but result as it allowed shot after shot to get to Thiessen, and despite that, the team still played undisciplined hockey (the Huskies took 10 minors and are the third-most penalized team in league play).

The difference, as we alluded to and as it so often does, came down to goaltending. Brad Thiessen made the difficult stops, including pulling a puck back off the line, Nevin Hamilton gave up two big rebounds in the third that led to soft goals. That’ll do it every time.

But that game was literally three months ago, and a LOT has changed since then. Lowell’s goaltending has improved dramatically since then (while Hutton’s stats aren’t quite as good as they were, the poise he showed in Vermont has us feeling fine about him now) and the penalty kill, which was at 84.4 percent, has jumped to 87.2, and don’t think the two are unrelated.

Northeastern, meanwhile, had been scoring more than enough goals to help Thiessen get them wins (37 in their opening 12 games, during which they went 8-2-2), but now are struggling to find the back of the net (four goals in the last three games and 11 in the last five, going 1-2-2 in the latter stretch). The main reason for this, near as we can ascertain, is that Northeastern’s power play productivity, and indeed its special teams net, has crashed to earth with a resounding thud.

At the time of the first meeting, the Huskies’ league stats were a ridiculous 23.5 percent power play efficiency (7 of 40) and a penalty kill pushing 90 percent (44 of 49!). Now those numbers, as you can see above, are a bit more dire thanks to a 3-for-36 power play (8.3 percent) and a 27-for-32 PK (84.4) in the last five games. Judging by what we’ve read, even the PK number is more the result of luck — i.e. BU uncharacteristically not finishing golden opportunities — than anything else.

Lowell’s special teams, meanwhile, have improved vastly. Lowell entered the last meeting with a 10-of-51 power play (19.6) and a blah penalty kill number of 38 of 45 (84.4). In the last five games, Lowell’s power play is a pretty bad 3 for 23 (13.0) but its PK is a lights-out 27 of 27 (100.0). That’s a huge turnaround, and, when those four special teams numbers come to a confluence, it spells much more trouble for the Huskies than it does the River Hawks.

If this is going to be a goaltending and special teams battle (and the first game, with just 29ish minutes of 5-on-5 play, indicates that it will be), you gotta think the goaltending could be a wash with Thiessen more likely to steal a game than Carter Hutton or Nevin Hamilton, and the special teams edge going to Lowell by a decent-sized margin.

And heck, who remembers the second-to-last weekend of the season last year? We sure do. And we’re hoping for the same result: a Lowell sweep.

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