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Saturday thoughts: That’s more and also less like it

October 30, 2011

Hey, 6-3. That’s about what any sane person would have expected out of the weekend, right? Sounds just about right. And it looked exactly like what the problem was on Friday.

Lowell goes to BC, gives up four goals in the first period, pulls their goalie, scores enough that their total would have made it interesting except oh wait the backup goalie also gave up two goals. So there goes that.

The games on these two nights were actually very similar. The thing that caused the vast difference in scoreline the second time around was that BC’s clinical finishing and ability to expose and exploit weaknesses is Lowell’s defense was in evidence, where Friday it was not.

Oh yeah, Lowell still outshot them by a considerable margin — 40-24, and 79-44 on the weekend — but again we must stress that therein lies the differences between these teams. The Eagles had 44 shots and scored on 10 of them (one into an empty net, but we digress), Lowell had 79 and scored on five. And so the answer to Lowell’s current Ultimate Question (i.e. “How do we convert all these shots into goals?”) becomes sticktoitiveness around the net and the ability to get to spots where the rebounds Parker Milner coughed up all weekend can be converted into better and better chances until eventually one of them goes in. For every loose puck around the crease Lowell was able to produce, a River Hawk attacker was able to get to about one out of every three or four, and that simply isn’t good enough when the team-wide mandate is “drive the net.”

Again, no one should have expected anything better from Lowell than two losses. BC is a team that’s clearly in-form and looks poised to stay that way all season. Lowell is a team that is clearly still struggling to adapt to a new system and form an identity. Too many times were the Eagles allowed to make plays look easy yesterday. On the first and third goals, Destry Straight and Steven Whitney, respectively, found themselves in wide open spaces to make uncontested shots. BC Eagles do not miss on uncontested shots. On the second goal, Johnny Gaudreau did what highly-skilled players who see the game well do: he used his patience and what little room he had to force Tim Corcoran to screen Brian Robbins, then fired a shot through the defender’s legs and into the net. Chris Kreider’s goal, BC’s fourth of the first period, was another defensive breakdown against a guy who cannot under any circumstance be allowed to shake free of coverage even for half a second.

However, sandwiched by two Eagles goals on both sides was Scott Wilson’s first at the college level, the direct result of Lowell’s go-to-the-net philosophy being put into action. It was a simple blast from the point by Dan Furlong that produced the rebound Wilson pounced on, and Lowell’s going to need goals exactly like that far more often from players up and down the lineup.

But still, 4-1 through 20 is an ugly number, especially given that the four came on BC’s first 13 shots. That could theoretically serve as an indictment of Brian Robbins, very easily in fact, but it doesn’t. He had no help whatsoever on any of the goals he allowed before being pulled in favor of Marc Boulanger. The change seemed to settle down Lowell’s defense considerably, as BC mustered just 10 shots over the remaining 40 minutes, but Boulanger did little to help his case for more ice time. The first goal, a second for Kreider, beat him five-hole on a play where he shouldn’t have had his five-hole even remotely exposed. Clearly he was anticipating another pass on the 3-on-2 rush, but that shouldn’t be his concern on a play like that. The second goal was more egregious than the first, as he once again allowed a soft five-hole goal just 12 seconds into a Lowell power play to put the game hopelessly out of reach.

Now, what this obviously says to us is that Lowell’s goaltending and defense remain serious issues, but the former is one that is very easily addressed. Doug Carr should be the starter on this team. It’s not that Robbins hasn’t played well enough or anything like that, but the team just seems to play better in front of him — one of those nebulous intangibles that we hate to bring up but are forced to occasionally acknowledge. Tough-to-stop goals or not, Lowell can’t be playing a goalie with a save percentage of .852 through three games, one of which was against UConn, going forward. Boulanger, with his ghastly performance last night (and of course the entirety of last season), has hopefully played himself out of a job.

But just because the game was, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried, Lowell apparently didn’t get the memo that it should stop trying, which is good. They added a pair of goals, one of which was on the power play, early in the third period to pull within a field goal of BC, but the Eagles clamped down and would have no more of this pesky “trying to hang around” from the River Hawks.

As with Friday, there were things to like about this game, things to absolutely loathe, and a bunch of stuff in between. Just about what we (and probably you) saw coming. The weekend projected, in Technicolor on an IMAX 3D screen, exactly how far Lowell has to go as a team and indeed as a program in both this season and the many to follow if it has pretentions of ever competing regularly in Hockey East, as Norm Bazin et al said it would when he signed his contract.

But at least there’s something to build on.

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