Friday thoughts: All according to plan
There’s that old saying about the most important play of the game not showing up on the scoresheet.
If you look at the box score, you might see, “UML-5 Barry Goers (2-Hooking) MNE 0x4 1:13,” at the start of the third period and think, “Oh great an early-period penalty against the team with the best power play in the nation, that’ll end well.”
Well it did, since Lowell killed it, but the important part was the hook itself. That was by far the biggest, smartest, and most important play of the game.
With the game tied at one apiece, the play started with a Maine breakout that resulted in a 2-on-2 for the Black Bears. Steve Capraro blew his coverage of the guy streaking down the right wing, and a centering pass was right on target for his linemate to tap it in on the backside without much effort. Except Goers had the foresight to tie up the intended shooter, who never even touched the puck, and Lowell quickly touched it up for a stoppage in play.
Goers was sitting in the box for two minutes, his reward for singlehandedly preventing a sure Maine goal and keeping the game tied. Had the gimme shot found the back of the net, Maine would have led 2-1 despite being outplayed and outchanced the entire game and, well, who knows what would have happened then?
But Goers saved the goal, the game and perhaps even the season with one simple and effective hook, and that was the last reasonably close chance Maine got.
The rest of the game was, as we said, dictated by Lowell in every conceivable way except pace. Maine, given that it had a backup goalie with a history of playing like total garbage, wanted to slow the game down so as to prevent chances for Lowell, and they did so rather effectively. In fact, they were so successful in limiting Lowell’s chances that they, by proxy, limited their own as well. That shots were only 21-19 in Lowell’s favor at the end of the night, and that no period saw either team reach a double-digit shot total showed Maine had shut down both of the offenses exactly according to plan. The Black Bears, it seems, are so unaccustomed to playing in this fashion that it left them disjointed and ineffectual in pretty much every zone.
No two Maine passes in transition ever found their intended target back-to-back and oftentimes the breakout was turned back before it reached the red line with little or no effort exerted by any River Hawk. Lowell played sound positional hockey in its half of the ice and that was at least half the battle in rattling Maine’s cage.
Sure, Lowell’s two goals came off lucky bounces — Jeremy Dehner’s centering pass went in off a skate and Ben Holmstrom’s was swatted out of the air amid the confusion generated by a blocked shot popping straight up after a brilliant keep from Ryan Blair — but in a game with 40 total shots, we suppose you have to take what you can get. How the goals went in isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. That they did at all is more than enough.
Conversely, Maine got its one goal (coincidentally on their first shot of the game) exactly five minutes into the first period and spent the remaining 55 minutes trying to sit on that lead. Obviously that’s a strategy that shows up in big, bold, capital, red letters as “NOT ADVISABLE” in any book on coaching ever published. If Dave Wilson hadn’t played well above the expectations Maine fans seemed to have for him coming into the game, it would have ended about 5-1 Lowell, and even then, he got a couple of lucky bounces.
It didn’t help that the Maine attack, which averaged 29.9 shots per game coming in, runs almost entirely through Gustav Nyquist. He did almost nothing in the entire game. He was slow to every puck, he was hammered by a defender every time he did get to one, and when he carried it, he never once took it out of first gear. If that continues tonight, things aren’t going to look so good for Maine, since they’ve scored 69 of their 127 goals (54.3 percent) when he has been on the ice and given up just 30 of 119 (25.2). Obviously he drives possession as well as scoring, but he just hasn’t been doing it the last two weeks, in which he’s been on the ice for three of Maine’s six goals for (50 percent, obviously) and four of Maine’s 11 against (36.4). That’s a 15.4 percent swing just in scoring margin.
Lowell would be happy to have Maine play the same style tonight. It would guarantee the River Hawks another trip to the Garden.