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Saturday thoughts: Getting there

October 17, 2010

It was one of those things that seemed impossible. This Lowell team showed some resiliency against Niagara in twice battling back from one-goal deficits, but we figured that this game was over and done with the second RIT scored its fourth goal of the game with just over five minutes to go in the third period.

Scott Campbell had other ideas.

This game, from which Lowell pulled a point it in no way deserved, showcased everything that was wrong with this team through the first two games of the season, but also gave us a tantalizing glimpse at what it could become in the near future.

For one thing, it conceded far too many chances, and far too many shots. RIT put 34 on Marc Boulanger, and in doing so saw Lowell vault well over 100 shots allowed on the season (112 to be exact) in just three games. That’s an average of 37.3 per game. And that is a huge problem, especially considering how badly the penalty kill has performed.

And make no mistake, it has performed abysmally. Lowell is now just 8 of 13 when a man down, and that’s actually a vast improvement over where it was just the night before. It allowed two power play goals on the first three shorthanded chances it had, and while it went 3 for 3 the rest of the night, that’s not a corner into which a team would like to paint itself. Similarly, the power play has been pretty much just as bad. It went 0 for 7 last night and is now just 2 of 18 on the year, which puts it at a nice 11.1 percent. With the amount of talent Lowell has on its special teams units — unlike the majority of the lineup, they only have freshmen like Chad Ruhwedel and Derek Arnold on them because they are very good at what they do — it shouldn’t be looking at a net special teams of 10 for 31, which collegehockeystats.net tells us is the second-worst in the country ahead of only Vermont.

Lowell also continues to be plagued by soft goals, and goals that shouldn’t happen. We understand this is a young team, but if Lowell is going to leave players open in the slot all night, then it will be a long, arduous season indeed. The decisions many of the more veteran players on the squad seem to make on a nightly basis are, to put it nicely, baffling. Maury Edwards, from what we’ve seen and heard, has been awful so far, and that shouldn’t be the case with a former All-American who is now a senior. Lowell didn’t face the staunchest of opponents this weekend, but most of this team’s defense has been awful this year, and it needs to rely on people like Edwards and Ryan Blair rather than cover for them.

But that does lead us into what this team can be. Witness the greatness of Chad Ruhwedel: the team’s co-leader in plus-minus and points thanks to his plus-4, three-assist performance last night. Earlier this year we said we were hesitant to dub him the new Jeremy Dehner just yet, but any time you’re a plus-4 despite your team having allowed 14 goals in three games, you’re doing some stellar work.

The same is true of Pat Cey who has surprisingly become one of the more authoritative two-way players on the team. He was a plus-3 last night and is tied with Ruhwedel for the team lead in that category. He also had an assist two get his second point of the weekend (and it could’ve been three). This is what we mean when we talk about senior leadership, and it came from a completely unexpected source. We would love for him to keep up the scoring, and overall strong play, en route to a Chris Auger-like final campaign.

Another person that’s tied with Ruhwedel for the team lead in something: Scott Campbell, who scored his third point in as many games at a time when Lowell needed it most. He netted the game-tying goal with 1.3 seconds left on the clock, if you can believe that, and not only rekindled memories of that nice little run of scoring ridiculously clutch goals at the death of massively important games, but hopefully signaled that this is the kind of thing we can expect all year from the senior captain as well. We thought he needed to take a big step forward this year for several reasons and we hope this is the start.

And that Campbell goal might show a bit of the resiliency this team has. It came a few seconds after the expiration of a penalty that put Lowell down to four skaters with just 2:04 remaining in the game. The team has spent most of this season playing from behind, and in fact only got its first lead last night. In all, Lowell has played up a goal for just 9:48 in the 190 minutes it has played so far. But the good news is that last night saw the amount of time it’s been tied eclipse the amount it was behind, so, perhaps, things are getting to where this team can be expected to compete every night.

They get their first test against Hockey East teams next week, but at least have the benefit of easing into things against Providence and Northeastern. Then we’ll see what this team really has in store for the remainder of the year.

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