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Friday thoughts: The last line of defense

December 3, 2011

Much was made prior to the game of UNH’s recent offensive travails. The Wildcats came into the game having scored 15 goals in its last two games and was the best attack in the league. It was assumed that Lowell would be under siege from start to finish.

And yet, it didn’t happen. Instead, UNH lost yet again on the road, this time 3-2.

Sure, the Wildcats were very good at getting and maintaining possession for stretches throughout the game’s first two period — a minute here, two there — but never really looked like the type of team that could turn a game on its ear with a sustained stretch of attacking hockey. The vaunted first line, which piled up 49 combined points in UNH’s first 14 games of the season, played the whole game almost entirely without incident. They combined for 10 shots on goal somehow but we’ll be damned if we can remember one of them causing too much trouble for Doug Carr.

But that, though, was the difference in the game.

Optically, the difference between making 33 saves on 35 or 31 on 34 shots doesn’t seem like it would be that big, but here it was the difference between a win and a loss and, more importantly in the types of performances turned in by the teams’ respective netminders. Shots in the game were an uncharacteristic (for Lowell anyway) 35-34 to the visitors and where Doug Carr was able to stand up and make his 32-save effort look easy, MattDi Girolamo’s game looked like a struggle every time the puck came his way.

In a battle between goaltenders Di Girolamo, widely considered one of the best in Hockey East last year, and Doug Carr, the Lowell sophomore continued to show why he is tops in the conference at his job, and his Wildcat counterpart is anything but. Lowell looked very Lowell-like defensively through the first two periods: It was getting a lot of shots on net to great effect (three goals on 24 shots) and allowed very few, almost none of consequence (just one goal on 16). This was the new brand of Lowell Hockey to perfection and the two-goal lead was looking mighty safe headed into the final period.

But then UNH decided to show why it had the best attack in the league.

The third period was in every way UNH’s last stand. Shots were 19-8 and Lowell was lucky it was that close. The River Hawks were pinned down in their own zone for extended periods of time, and that was what led to the UNH goal that brought it within two. Lowell’s fourth line got caught in its own zone for about a minute and a half, during which time UNH attempted four shots (two made it to Carr). Then they iced the puck and Lowell called its timeout to give the players a breather. And while Shayne Thompson won the draw behind him, Lowell never controlled and Mike Borisenok scored on a beautiful setup by Justin Agosta. And that’s when things really got nervy.

Lowell took back-to-back penalties at 12:02 and 14:18 (the former an awful decision by Joe Pendenza to drive too hard to the net and bowl over Di Girolamo, who for his part made like a cowboy in a spaghetti western save for the lack of a balcony to throw himself from screaming, the latter an iffy hitting from behind call on Thompson, who was quite poor all night) and UNH moved the puck with terrifying efficiency. During the two power plays, UNH put six shots on net and hit a post. Lowell’s clears were infrequent under the best of circumstances. UNH seems to have a unique ability to turn “it” on in the dying minutes of a game in which it has been outplayed — see also its 23-shot third period at BU two weeks ago — and, given Lowell’s inability to broaden its lead beyond two goals, made the dying minutes quite nervy indeed. And yet, Carr was equal to nearly every shot, as we knew he would. He, unlike surely every other Lowell player and fan, never seemed to have broken a sweat.

This stood in sharp contrast to the in-a-word-horrendous play turned in during the first two periods by Di Girolamo, who we understand was at some point considered a high-quality Hockey East netminder. Frankly, we don’t see it. All three goals he allowed last night were of the same ilk: shot from distance, fat rebound kicks to his side and is shoveled home by a player at the side of the net. In order, those players were Steve Buco, Terrence Wallin and David Vallorani. But these were textbook saves that Di Girolamo should have had and done something better with, though he also received little help from UNH’s defenders who were often at sixes and sevens in dealing with Lowell’s lightning-quick transition. It was a poor performance made worse by a lackluster defensive showing, and one that UNH will want to sort out quickly if it has any plans on being any better than a .500 team this season.

But at the same time, Lowell was lucky to see Di Girolamo play so badly. Had it not been for his depthless ineptitude at controlling rebounds, the River Hawks likely did not play well enough for long enough periods of time to actually win this hockey game. That it emerged with the victory is wonderful, yes, but the game was also troubling. Lowell took too many dumb penalties (though to be fair it also killed them all), didn’t look especially good on its own power play opportunities, and allowed UNH to dictate the game in the third period in a way we are not accustomed to seeing. Very worrying, especially because it didn’t appear so much that Lowell took its foot off the gas as it did wilt under UNH’s will to make the game close.

We will happily take the two points, obviously, but we’d like a better out-and-out performance tonight as well. Sweeping, and going three points up on UNH with two games in hand would be massive.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Monty permalink
    December 3, 2011 11:54 am

    Not a bad game overall, but yes, they didn’t play great. I’ll still take the two points. And as I told you last night, Merrimack was going to lose to PC!


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