Friday thoughts: Is this it?
Having 10 or more wins to your credit at this point in the season is, we guess, supposed to buy you a lot of goodwill.
That’s why we were angry about, but willing to stomach, that disappointing loss to Northeastern just before break. And that’s why we were able to live, but find ourselves a bit disappointed, with the 4-3 overtime win against UConn.
But now we’re starting to worry. Losses here and there aren’t bad in and of themselves, especially when they’re on the road. But it was the circumstances surrounding this loss that are puzzling, troubling and more than anything else disheartening. A team like Lowell simply cannot go around losing game to teams like Vermont, no matter what the venue, if it has any pretensions at all of being competitive once the postseason rolls around.
But what was most maddening about this game was not that the River Hawks lost it, but rather how.
Through the first 20 minutes, this was a game that looked for all the world like it was going to be a rout, which, on paper, is probably what it should have been. Vermont opened the game with a shot about 30 seconds in and didn’t get another one for 11 minutes or so. Neither were of particular quality. And during that time, Lowell put seven shots on Rob Madore, including one that got past him. Vermont fought back into the game a bit but Lowell was very clearly in control, taking regular forays into the Catamounts defensive zone with almost no resistance and keeping it there for long stretches. It was shaping up to be a long night for the hosts and that tenor only got worse when Shayne Thompson got a clean look out front early in the second and doubled Lowell’s lead.
And then, immediately following the goal, Lowell put on another short stretch of pressure, which was cut short when Derek Arnold took a penalty. That’s just about when things began to unravel.
Dan Furlong followed Arnold into the box about a minute later and Lowell was fortunate to escape the extended five-on-three advantage still up by a pair, as Vermont hit the post on a wide-open net and for the first time in the game showed some sort of menace in attack. And from then on, it looked for all the world as though Lowell, the 10th-ranked team in the country, one which the stats said are a fair bit better even than that, was trying to hang on for dear life. Before Lowell ceded the Catamounts those power plays, which began at 9:50 of the second, it had seven shots in the period and 19 overall, on pace for a very strong showing of 38 or so. Vermont, comparatively, had mustered just 11. And to give you an idea of how poor Lowell was in the back half of the game, we’ll just reveal now that shots finished 33-26. That’s right, in the remaining 30:10 of regulation and 2:12 of overtime, Lowell was outshot by a team with three league points, 22-7.
The game was, for all intents and purposes, lost at that critical juncture, even if the two-man advantage didn’t actually draw blood. Shots in the second period were 10-9 to Vermont and Lowell was taking on water at an alarming rate. Then, in a span of 23 seconds early in the third period, Lowell officially frittered away its lead and the game, allowing two soft goals and never again looking they had any desire to be in the building.
Vermont’s overtime game-winner, which admittedly was tipped in and not really Doug Carr’s fault (you can’t say that for Vermont’s second, which beat him five-hole from between the circles and he had no excuse not to stop), seemed like the deserved final result, even if it’s one we abhor.
This was a disastrous opening salvo for the second half of the year, one that should leave the team embarrassed and angry. They played scared for the entire back half of the game. Scared of Vermont. Which, again, is a truly terrible team. A truly terrible use of of one of Lowell’s games in hand and one that has us sincerely worried about what these last few performances mean. Aside from the RPI game, in which the team was incisive and lethal in converting its chances, the River Hawks have been repeatedly frustrated by inferior opponents. Going 2-2 — which, had the UConn game been played under normal NCAA rules instead of with an extended overtime, would be 1-2-1 — in a four-game stretch against Northeastern (two league wins at the time), RPI, UConn and Vermont (one league win) would have been unimaginable a month and a half ago. It’s unconscionable now, even if all four were on the road.
Whatever’s wrong with this team, and specifically its killer instinct, needs to be sorted out, and needs to be sorted out quickly. The team’s “compete level” has been sorely lacking for long stretches of most of these games and playing .500 hockey against a stretch of the schedule that should have been this easy has burned a lot of the positivity we were feeling just a few weeks ago.
We’ve compiled a list of everything the River Hawks did in that game which are and were completely unacceptable:
- Got outshot by Vermont (33-22).
- Didn’t draw enough penalties (just two power plays, both in the first period).
- Took too many penalties.
- Didn’t convert a number of high-quality scoring chances early in the game.
- Didn’t prepare well enough.
- Displayed no killer instinct.
- Gave up three unanswered goals.
- Played soft defense.
- Received very little production from the top line.
- Didn’t get good enough goaltending from a guy who’s been phenomenal this season.
- Played half the game like they were scared of Vermont.
- Lost to Vermont.
- Lost to Vermont.
- Lost to Vermont.
- Seriously, lost to Vermont.
None of these items are even remotely acceptable. Most of them are mortifying. Get it together, and do it now, or it is going to be one hell of a long second half.