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Saturday thoughts: Imagine that

November 1, 2009

That’s more like it.

Where Lowell did dictate the pace and style of play for most of the game last night but at times broke down and allowed inexplicable opportunities, be they odd-man rushes or straight breakaways, to go the other way, they were much more thorough and earnest in their pursuit of playing “their game” tonight. Not surprisingly, Lowell won 3-2 tonight primarily because it was more focused and determined than it was last night, and moreso than BU was at any point over the last two days.

BU’s primary mistake was getting away from what made it so successful in Friday’s affair. Instead of scoring three goals off transitions and stretch passes, it took Lowell’s tack of playing a more dump-and-chase-style game and trying to use its slight advantage in size along the boards. Occasionally it worked. For the most part, it did not. BU is best at playing the game in the middle of the ice and engineering rushes from its own zone with quick passes and not one guy lugging the puck and throwing it cross-corner.

But that they were unable to play their style is a testament to Lowell sticking to its own systems and not biting on BU’s expertly executed skill plays in transition. Lowell is the type of team that, if you want to beat it, you will have to do so through the middle of the ice, and BU found that it could not do so tonight. But to just give up doing so? That was a foolhardy move. Lowell INVITES teams to take them to the perimeter because the River Hawks are owners and proprietors of the boards and will straight-up boss any team foolish enough to stop in for a visit.

Indeed, the first of Lowell’s seven power plays was drawn as Kory Falite held the boards against Max NiCastro and was hacked in the ankle for his efforts. While the ‘Hawks failed to score on that, they went back to the power play a little over 2:30 later and that time the Lowell power play hit paydirt for the first time this weekend, staking Lowell to a 1-0 lead, as Mike Scheu banged home a tricky little slap pass from David Vallorani, who had some kind of weekend for the ‘Hawks, picking up three assists and winning 14 of 21 draws.

Winning draws, by the way, is something Lowell did throughout the night. To say it was done with great aplomb would be to pump the tires of anyone who ever had that term applied to them for anything ever. Final faceoffs tonight were 41-19 in favor of the River Hawks. Forty-one to nineteen. Close to 70 percent of the draws went to Lowell, and all of the significant ones we can think of. In the liveblog of tonight’s game, we must have said a variant of “Lowell wins the draw” more than we used the articles “a” and “the” combined. It was inconceivable that BU would allow itself to get beaten so thoroughly and consistently. Winning a draw is not just an individual skill, it’s almost always the result of five players working hard and in concert (except Soup and Val seem to be able to win them with an airy nonchalance, which is also nice). So what this basically says is that Lowell had all four lines consistently outworking their bigger, more skilled opponents. And that will win you a lot of hockey games.

So Lowell led 1-0 through the first 20 minutes and, while no one-goal lead should ever feel comfortable against BU, this one almost did. As we said, BU was playing Lowell’s game for some reason we still don’t understand and it was a plan that was failing miserably. But early in the second period, BU drew a penalty and did what they did so well last year: whip the puck around the zone at breakneck speed and wreak havoc on the opponent’s penalty kill. A bang-bang-bang passing play resulted in an open point shot from Wade Megan and while Nevin Hamilton made the first stop, the rebound kicked out past an attacking player and a defender who were jockeying for position, so it seems unlikely that he saw Vinny Saponari’s shot, which crossed the line literally less than a second after the BU power play ended, until it was too late. But BU being BU, which is to say, uncomposed in defense, they conceded the lead quicker than they’d snatched it away, giving up a goal to Chris Auger on an absolutely abysmal defensive breakdown that allowed Paul Worthington to whip it from the corner into the slot where Auger was uncovered and just like that it was 2-1 Lowell just 43 seconds after BU leveled.

Lowell continued to carry play in the period, and ended up drawing several more penalties, until one eventually resulted in an insurance goal. With Eric Gryba (who else?) off for boarding — and we mean boarding — Mike Budd, Kory Falite stepped into a perfectly-fed pass from Paul Worthington and rifled it off Kieran Millan’s mask. Ben Holmstrom knocked it out of midair and in while falling backwards. BU pulled even on a power play goal by Kevin Shattenkirk* that, once again, was the product of outstanding puck movement (and a bit of an overcommitment by a Lowell forward), and Lowell entered the second intermission just as it had the first: up a goal against a not-especially-menacing BU team.

But hey, BU had broken out in the third period of last night’s game, so what was to say they wouldn’t do it again? The answer, of course, was Lowell. Lowell was the one to say, “All done now, BU.” The Terriers, to their eternal credit, did play well for about three and a half minutes in the period, and that certainly helped contribute to their plus-6 shot advantage, but overall? Peh. Apart from David Vallorani’s ill-advised penalty late in the game, there wasn’t really a nervous moment to be found in the game’s final 10 minutes or so.

This was, in many ways, a perfect road game. The goals conceded weren’t really anyone’s fault (well, except that one forward on Shattenkirk’s* goal ha ha ha) and Lowell was successful in getting the Terriers to play Lowell’s style and, in doing so, lose. It was also important because Lowell salvaged a split from what would have been an otherwise disheartening weekend, and ensured BU has to win the season series at Tsongas Arena come February, which should be no easy task. BU’s big guns were, for the most part, silenced, and their shortcomings were exploited to great effect. If the world (of at least Hockey East) was equitable Lowell would have gotten at least three points from BU this weekend. But things being as they are, we will take the two points here and call it a deserved(ish) result for both sides.

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