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Friday thoughts: Two steps back

November 20, 2010

At times, it’s difficult for us to convey all the problems this team had in a particular game. With this one, it is very, very easy.

Apart from a few outstanding moments, the River Hawks had no interest whatsoever in playing hockey last night. If this team has better places to be, then that’s fine, but we wish they wouldn’t tease everyone like that by blowing a pair of leads and generally getting bullied in every part of the ice.

The most frustrating part of the night, of course, is that Merrimack’s two-goals-in-less-than-three-minutes comeback came with its best player in the box. Stephane Da Costa was serving a 10-minute misconduct for shooting the puck after the whistle (a penalty that could be called about five times a game all across Hockey East, but is only used once a year or so for some reason), and still Lowell, playing with a lead it held since late in the second period, let the Warriors dictate everything, as they had all night.

It’s gotten to the point where we don’t expect Lowell to ever score first. It’s happened just twice all year, but we’re arsed if we can remember when that was (the second BU game for sure, but what was the other one? RIT?), and often the first goals they’ve conceded have been mortifying.

Case in point: last night’s Dan Furlong giveaway at center ice to spring Jesse Todd and Karl Stollery for a 2-on-1 was simply mortifying, and Chad Ruhwedel’s inability to determine whether he wanted to take away the pass or the shot allowed Todd to rifle it past Doug Carr. We don’t need to tell you, of course, that this goal came from down the right wing, where Carr seems particularly unable to stop anything resembling a half-decent shot.

In fact, all the goals Lowell allowed last night were just the result of dizzyingly poor defending. Shawn Bates’ breakaway goal was the result of a chip-ahead to the middle of the blue line, where neither Maury Edwards nor Ryan Blair (both of whom are seniors, by the way) thought to look for an attacking player sitting camped for just that sort of pass. Look, it’s completely embarrassing that a team in Hockey East plays that way, but Merrimack ALWAYS camps a guy at the attacking blue line like it’s a junior mite game. This isn’t new. They’ve been doing it for years. You’d think, at some point, someone would’ve said, “Hey Moe, keep an eye on the back guy because he’s going to try to cheat a breakaway.” But they didn’t, and Lowell gave up two or three breaks on plays exactly like that, and were fortunate not to have more go past Carr (though one did hit the post).

Todd’s second, Merrimack’s game-tying goal, was a bit more understandable, as — once again — the puck came simply flying off the endboards after a shot went wide and came right to a guy camped at the side of the net. Stop us if you’ve heard that one before. That’s, what?, the third or fourth such goal Lowell’s allowed in that fashion, all at that end of the rink, this season. It’s tough to have seemingly every team get that bounce, but at some point, if it happens often enough, it stops being luck and becomes something you have to defend against. Here’s an idea: make sure the guy camping on the backdoor gets covered. Just a thought on that one.

And after the third came with less than three minutes to go, the fourth was an inevitability. Although, again, that’s a man uncovered on the backdoor, and that’s something this team needs to sort out immediately.

We felt terrible for Doug Carr, who was simply faced with a crush of shots from Merrimack because Lowell had no interest whatsoever in playing well at even-strength, though we guess that this shouldn’t come as a surprise any more. It may shock you to hear this, but Lowell’s goal differential on special teams (power play and shorthanded) is actually plus-1. Nine goals for on the power play and two shorthanded to seven power play goals allowed and three shorthanded.

But that means something truly horrifying is happening: Lowell’s only scored 14 goals at even strength this year, in 11 games. Their opponents have scored 30. We don’t need to tell you that this is completely and totally unacceptable, but we’re going to do it anyways. It’s completely and totally unacceptable. To get pushed around that badly when you don’t have a manpower disadvantage is borderline unthinkable. We have to imagine that this is one of the worst ratios, if extrapolated over a whole season, in the history of Hockey East.

And the worst part is, it isn’t like Lowell didn’t have it chances on special teams last night either. All three goals came that way, in fact, with Pendenza’s opener a wonderful shorthanded stripping of Stephane Da Costa in the neutral zone and a break the other way. That Lowell added two power play goals against what had been the best PK in the country is also very encouraging, and both goals were awful pretty. Riley Wetmore just drove the net hard and fast, and Shayne Thompson’s release on the first goal of his collegiate career was frighteningly quick (the shot was of above average speed, but the suddenness with which he unloaded it was impressive).

Even still, Lowell frittered away a full two-minute 5-on-3, which was followed by another two minutes of power play time, and only once or twice made it look like Merrimack was in any particular danger of getting scored upon. You can call that more good penalty killing by the Warriors, or you can call it offensively ineffective play when a man up, but we’ll just call it a disappointing combination of both.

Finally, here’s how you knew Lowell was never going to win this one: it was never gaining or holding possession. We’re a bit lucky college hockey teams don’t make turnover ratios available to the public, because Lowell would’ve been about a minus-100 last night, and it got killed at the dot as well. If you don’t get the puck, you can’t hold the puck, and if you can’t hold the puck, you can’t win games. It’s really that simple.

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