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Weekend Preview: How green was my Valley?

November 19, 2009

The No. 4 Lowell River Hawks (7-2-1, 3-1-1 HE) vs. the Merrimack College Warriors (6-4-0, 3-2-0 HE)

7 p.m. Saturday at Tsongas Arena, Lowell, Mass.

Lowell is tied for second in Hockey East with seven points from five games and Merrimack is tied for sixth in Hockey East with six points from five games.

Last three games
Lowell — 4-0 at Alabama-Huntsville, 3-1 at Alabama-Huntsville, 6-3 vs. UNH
Merrimack — 4-6 at BU, 6-4 vs. BU, 5-3 vs. BC

Prior meetings
Lowell leads Merrimack 63-33-8 all-time.

Season series
Nothing to report.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Kory Falite — 10 GP, 5-5-10 (5, 2-2-4 HE)
Nick Schaus — 8, 4-6-10 (5 GP, 3-4-7)
David Vallorani — 10, 4-6-10 (5, 1-5-6)
Scott Campbell — 10, 3-7-10 (5, 3-3-6)
Ben Holmstrom — 10, 4-5-9 (5, 2-4-6)

Merrimack:
Stephane Da Costa — 8 GP, 8-6-14 (5 GP, 3-5-8 HE)
Chris Barton — 10, 7-5-12 (5, 2-4-6)
Joe Cucci — 10, 1-10-11 (5, 1-5-6)
Pat Bowen — 10, 1-8-9 (5, 0-4-4)
Brandon Brodhag — 7, 5-2-7 (4, 5-2-7)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Carter Hutton (4-2-0) — 6 GP, 361:29 minutes, 2.16 GAA/.916 sv% (3 GP, 183:29 minutes, 2.94 GAA/.899 sv% HE)
Nevin Hamilton (3-0-1) — 3, 245:00, 2.20/.920 (2, 125:00, 2.40/.921 HE)

Merrimack:
Joe Cannata* (3-3-0) — 6 GP, 337:13 minutes, 2.85 GAA/.911 sv% (2 GP, 217:33, 2.76 GAA/.912 sv% HE)
Andrew Braithwaite* (3-5-0) — 5, 258:34, 3.25/.895 (2, 80:00, 5.25/.857 HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (10 games) — 37 goals for (3.70/gm), 22 goals against (2.20/gm). Power play 13/59 (22.0%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 37/42 (88.1%, 0 SHGF)
Hockey East (5 games) — 19 goals for (3.8/gm), 14 goal against (2.8/gm). Power play 9/32 (28.1%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 22/26 (84.6%, 0 SHGF)

Merrimack:
Overall (10 games) — 40 goals for (4.00/gm), 31 goals against (3.10/gm). Power play 15/55 (27.3%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 57/66 (86.4%, 0 SHGF)
Hockey East (5 games) — 23 goals for (4.60/gm), 18 goals against (3.60/gm). Power play 9/29 (31.0%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 32/38 (86.2%, 0 SHGF)

Outlook

It’s very odd to say it, but the Merrimack Warriors will be, by far, the toughest test the River Hawks have faced this year.

These are two teams that are very, very similar. Both have an excellent offense; Merrimack’s is, somehow, the best in Hockey East and Lowell’s is third-best, only a fraction of a goal per game behind UNH. Both have very strong power plays; once again, they’re first and second in-league. Both have excellent penalty kills; first and second in Hockey East. You may notice a recurring theme. So how does Lowell take down a team that, in many ways, reminds us of Lowell two years ago?

It’s simple: exploit the only glaring difference between the teams. Where Lowell’s defense has fluctuated between “good” and “stellar,” Merrimack’s has, rather flatly, been subpar all year. Lookit the team defense numbers. Lowell’s conceding 2.2 goals a game to the ‘Mack’s 3.1. In Hockey East play, the stats are even more grim: 2.8 for Lowell but a whopping 3.6 for Merrimack.

It would appear, then, that the plan is simple. You can’t stop Merrimack from scoring (granted, it has played just one passable defensive team in league play, that being Vermont), but you can sure as hell outscore them. BU put up nine goals against the Warriors last weekend and only earned a split. BC earned a split by hanging seven on them. Allowing 18 goals against BU, BC and Vermont tells us one thing: the Warriors can have all the offensive firepower in the world, and the two-headed monster of Stephane Da Costa and Chris Barton certainly provide it, but it’s still the same ol’ Merrimack at the blue line and in net.

The numbers are shocking. A team save percentage of .890 in-league isn’t going to win you many games, especially when you consider their team shooting percentage in those games of 16.1 is just screaming out to forcefully regress toward the mean with a resounding thud. And a team save percentage of .901 overall, considering the quality of their non-league opponents (Holy Cross, Army and UConn among them) is not very good at all.

Lowell, meanwhile, is scoring by the boatload, having not netted less than three in any game this year, but with a much more sustainable in-league shot percentage of 13.0. A swing of 3.1 might not sound like much, but if you look at the opposing team’s save percentages it puts it in a much more palatable light: opposing goalies have a save percentage of .870 against Lowell, but just .839 against Merrimack. Eight-three-nine. No team can keep that up forever, and it’s up to Lowell to ensure they don’t.

Keep shots to the outside and don’t allow rebounds. Make them work out of the corners instead of straight ahead. No one cycles like Lowell. No one controls the boards like Lowell. And that leads to drawing penalties, especially against a team like Merrimack that takes a ton of penalties per game. They think their PK is so good? Make them prove it.

They want to get into an offensive slugfest? That’s fine. Because Lowell isn’t like BC and BU who rely on nothing but skill to get their work done. Lowell and Merrimack are the same. They get it done in the trenches.

And Lowell is better in the trenches than anyone.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 20, 2009 4:30 pm

    The weekend’s already started well with a nice commitment for 2011. Now Lowell just needs to keep this 3 game win streak (and 5 straight without a loss) going.

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