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Saturday thoughts: Signs of improvement

November 7, 2010

This game cemented two things for us tonight: First, that Lowell is improving at a fairly impressive clip, and second, that Doug Carr has no business ever not being The Man for Lowell the rest of the way.

But let’s start at the beginning: An opponent putting Lowell in a hole to start the game. Again.

You might say that one of this team’s Achilles heels (and certainly, there are a still few from which to choose), is its almost unfailing ability to concede early goals. Just look at the results: it took 1:09 to fall behind at Maine, 6:09 at Niagara, 4:36 against Providence, 5:12 against Northeastern, 10:08 against BC, 9:20 against Vermont and, tonight, 4:25 against UNH. Seven of Lowell’s 10 games have seen the ‘Hawks play a significant portion of the game with the vague hope that they will answer at some point.

The good news is that they’re starting to do so with greater regularity.

Even a few weeks ago, say, if this had been the Northeastern game, Lowell would have folded up tents when UNH went up in the first period. Or when it continued to ladle on the pressure. Or when it outshot them 17-8 and 14-3 in the first two periods. Or when it couldn’t draw a penalty if it had access to ink and paper.

But this team’s getting it together, and fast. The turning point was likely the 2-1 game at BU, where it tried desperately to cling to a one-goal lead that it picked up, somehow, in the third period, and failed miserably. The BC game was a hopeless endeavor, obviously, and for this team to then answer with a win and an admirable loss is, to our minds, fairly impressive, especially considering Hockey East piled FIVE games on the team between last Friday and tonight.

Because of the frankly bizarre scheduling, Lowell has nearly played a third of its league and regular schedules after the first week of November, and if you had told us this would be the first 10 games of the year, we’d have likely taken it. A couple of the results, like the Maine game, not so much. But overall, why wouldn’t you be happy with how this team started out?

The freshmen have, for the most part, been as advertised or better. You couldn’t want more from a defenseman than what Chad Ruhwedel has given at both ends of the rink. Derek Arnold’s playing pretty well (except for bottling a tap-in tonight, in spectacular fashion). Joe Pendenza’s scoring at a pace we doubt anyone expected. Josh Holmstrom has been the best player on the team for a couple weeks now. All strong, solid stuff.

And tonight was no different. Even after conceding the early goal, and getting drastically outpossessed and outshot, Lowell at least had some fight in it. Matt Ferreira’s goal pulled the River Hawks even midway through the second only to see that dashed a few minutes later.

But the so-so second gave way to a spirited third, which saw Lowell pile on the chances and put the Wildcats on their heels. Apparently, that’s a thing at which the River Hawks have become rather adept. Which is nice. In fact, Lowell has now scored 11 third-period goals in 10 games. The only problem is they’ve scored three in the first period and seven in the second, compared to allowing 14(!) and 12 in those, respectively.

That Lowell failed to win tonight is not entirely surprising and certainly not something over which we’ll be wringing our hands all week. The River Hawks were in it far longer than they statistically should have been, and that’s down to the defense and, of course, Doug Carr.

After that atrocious first period of his career, and the distasteful performance against Providence, this kid has become an absolute rock. He’s still good for a softie a game (see: John Henrion’s game-winner tonight), but he was dead to rights on the opening goal, as UNH was, at that point, breezing into the zone and rifling shots uncontested. Once the defense got its act together, though, Carr was making difficult saves look routine, and while there were certainly many to be made, he made them with confidence and ease. You almost wouldn’t believe this was the kid who gave up eight goals in the first four periods of his career.

This is the point at which Blaise needs to hand the kid a saddle and ask him to strap it on until he can’t run any more. Not just because this team is doomed without him (it is) or because Marc Boulanger is positively hemorrhaging goals (he is). It’s because Carr unequivocally deserves the title of “The No. 1 Goalie” at this point. He’s earned sole possession of the mantle far faster than any goalie we’ve seen come through Lowell in a long time. Carter Hutton finally wrested the job from Nevin Hamilton after about 3.7 seasons. Before that, the only clear No. 1 in semi-recent memory was Peter Vetri. And that was six years ago.

You can’t say enough good things about Carr’s three-goals-allowed-on-73-shots performance this weekend. You can’t say enough good things about where he’s leading this team.

The only thing you can say is they need to start giving him a bit more offensive help.

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