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Saturday thoughts: No we couldn’t possibly

November 25, 2011

Many was the time last season where Lowell would have trouble early.

And through that trouble, it would defeat itself. Whether the score was tied or they gave up a goal, the team simply slumped its shoulders at the first sign of trouble, sighed resignedly and allowed a flood of negativity and opponents’ goals to wash over them.

For a team that positively bled goals last season, Lowell having now allowed just one in Doug Carr’s last three starts is a major, major step in the right direction (and tells us everything we need to know about the team goaltending situation). But there was more to it than that today. The team struggled a bit in the early going but seemed to know that it would find a way through.

That’s refreshing, to say the least.

Look, the 3-0 scoreline doesn’t look great by any stretch of the imagination, at least not given the disparity in these two teams’ general quality, but we thought Lowell acquitted itself pretty well in the big picture and certainly, we’ll take another consecutive shutout. And really, this was a pretty encouraging game for Lowell, all things considered.

The River Hawks really came out of the gate flat, likely a combination of hangover from a nice Thanksgiving dinner, the fact that this was a Friday afternoon game in front the a generously-listed crowd of 2,641, and Huntsville being completely terrible. The only thing they did well in the first five minutes or so was skate around without any real direction, take the occasional shot from the perimeter with seemingly little care for what happened at the other end, and generally making the natives restles.

And then Huntsville started taking penalties, and the game was completely turned on its ear. Before Lowell got its first power play, shots were 4-1 to the hosts and we’ll be damned if we could tell you a thing about any of those shots. And even after that power play began, and then was added to by a boarding minor to UAH, it seemed as though Lowell wasn’t especially interested in putting the puck toward the net with any kind of menace, but there was at least the sense of the team building toward something. Fortunately for the River Hawks, Graeme Strukoff took an astonishingly stupid hitting from behind penalty and that seemed to shake Lowell from its slumber. From then on, the game was all River Hawks. Josh Holmstrom opened the scoring on a nice passing play with Joe Pendenza and the returning Scott Wilson, and that turned out to be all Lowell needed.

But the goal seemed to stir something — call it Lowell’s knowledge of just how badly it should throttle a team that rode a bus from Alabama to Massachusetts and won’t exist in a month or two — and by the end of the period, though it was just 1-0, shots were 18-2 and that was far more reflective of the general level of play. It’s here that we must fawn all over the play of UAH goaltender Clarke Saunders, who turned in one hell of a performance today and, from what we understand, Merrimack on Wednesday as well. Yeah he gave up three goals this afternoon, but that was on 49 shots. He made 30-plus saves in relief the day before Thanksgiving as well. He was steady, and sure of himself, despite being under siege for about 53 of the game’s 60 minutes. What a player.

Anyway, Lowell clearly spent the first intermission considering the slow start, because it suffered no such problem in the second period. The ‘Hawks drew another penalty and, 54 seconds later at 5:09 of the period, it was 2-0 courtesy of  Derek Arnold one-timer from the left faceoff circle. It was a very nice shot, but the passing play on it was even better. It was exactly how coaches draw up plays on the whiteboard but probably see them executed in that way on about 95 percent of all attempts. Just gorgeous recognition and use of space by Arnold and setup men Matt Ferreira and Chad Ruhwedel. And it’s here that we must fawn all over the play of Ruhwedel. When did this kid start thinking he was Bobby Orr? When did it start working? The number of enterprising little runs through the attacking zone with the puck have been increasing along with his apparent confidence level since the BU game and now he’s just a force of which opponents should be terrified. He now has seven points in his last four games and seems to be getting better with each passing weekend. Woe be unto those who dare oppose him, particularly on the power play, because his are the hands that create the goals on the man advantage. In recent weeks, the team’s power play percentage has ballooned to 23.9 percent, an improvement of about 34 percent from where it was entering the BU game. Ruhwedel can take the lion’s share of the credit for that.

And in the final period, Lowell had a little more trouble with its opponents than it had in the previous 40 minutes but despite a more desperate Huntsville attack, Carr remained impenetrable as ever and Wilson added his fifth goal of the season (this, too, from Ruhwedel). That the team never let up despite holding down a clearly inferior opponent was a quality we’d have liked to see more of in the past and that it actually took the time to expand its lead and really stand on Huntsville’s throats is equally encouraging. And again, it cannot be said enough how deserving Doug Carr is of the No. 1 goaltender’s spot. He has brought some seriously strong play in the last few weeks, and now has two shutouts to his credit. Any time your goaltender records two straight shutouts and has a GAA of 1.57 at the end of November, he’s doing something right, even if one of those clean sheets was against the worst team in the country, and the other was against Huntsville.

All in all, there’s a lot to like about this team right now, and where it stands going forward. Given the tough in-league schedule to start the year (vs. BC, at BC, vs. BU, at Maine, at Maine, at UNH, vs. Amherst), Lowell being 7-4-0 at this point would have been inconceivable even a month ago. Playing UNH for two next weekend will be a major test, but one we expect the team can pass.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2011 9:59 pm

    I’m super nervous about the two UNH games this coming weekend… hoping for the best, though!

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  1. Around Hockey East: 11/28 | Husky Hockey

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