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Friday thoughts: That’s what happens

January 21, 2012

A dog dropped the ceremonial first puck at last night’s game and that, in the end, was fitting.

For their part and seemingly in answer, the Huskies, a team about whose greatness despite its position in the standings we’d been hearing all week from a bunch of delusional pompom-waving dullards, spent the following 60 minutes repeatedly dropping the ball despite being given ample opportunity to make a positive impression of any kind on us or indeed the game in which they were competing.

And really, it’s no surprise. This is, after all, a Northeastern team that currently sits ninth in the league and is only regarded as anything more than “embarrassingly bad” because it somehow won an admirable series of out-of-conference road games. But here in Hockey East, teams know their little tricks and traps considerably better, and the River Hawks, so monstrous as they are on home ice, was not to be victimized by a team this bad in Lowell. Four goals for and none against later, we really only gained affirmation of what any right-thinking person saw coming down the pike miles ago.

It would be a little disingenuous of us to advance our normal position in any game that Lowell wins by three goals or more and/or secures a shutout (that the River Hawks ran the show from start to finish) because it simply isn’t true. What is true is that the River Hawks cashed in on the majority of their stronger chances tonight, leaving a trail of hit posts and whiffed-on shot attempts in their wake, and played more dogged hockey particularly when in pursuit of the puck they didn’t have.

Problematically, that was fairly often.

Lowell scored a little less than six minutes into the game, on a beautiful behind-the-back no-look pass from Joe Pendenza to super-rookie Scott Wilson — more on him in a minute — and never looked back but that wasn’t for lack Northeastern’s futile attempts at trying. The Huskies actually possessed the puck quite often in this game but were softer on it than the fur on several of the cuddlier canines in attendance. That is to say, the Huskies carried the puck often but were easily dissuaded from doing anything at all with it by the slightest bit of contact. They also made tragically dumb decisions when given the space to do so, which happened routinely enough for our liking.

In the end, Lowell had the better chances in the first period and left with a 1-0 margin in its favor, but one couldn’t help but think Northeastern, which played a strong game in these teams’ prior meeting and was looking to snap a two-game league losing streak (much like the River Hawks, in both cases, actually), had something up its sleeve.

But it didn’t. Instead, the Huskies rolled over and let Lowell dictate the period that proved to be the ultimate difference in the game. They gave up the insurance marker just 1:27 into the middle period as Derek Arnold abused Dan Cornell along the left wing, beat him inside and went around the far pad of Chris Rawlings, which shouldn’t happen to a guy who’s 6-foot-5. But then, Rawlings was dreadful all night, allowing four goals on 32 shots.

Shots in the period were 10 apiece between the teams but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Northeastern had five in one power play very early on, but more disconcertingly allowed a shorthanded goal to Dan Furlong within that same time frame as Lowell stretched its lead to three. And here we must praise Furlong, whose shot on a two-on-one with Matt Ferreira was absolutely wired over Rawlings’ shoulder to the near post. For a kid who had four career points going into the game to come out with three in the second period alone was great two watch (he added a pair of assists, obviously) and tells of the quality of game he brought to the rink last night. If he can have more contests like this in the future, we’re going to be very happy indeed.

And also of note was that this game marked Ferreira’s return to the lineup after missing the game at Vermont with injury. We suppose we had begun to take for granted just how much of a contribution he brings to the rink every night, because given the way he played (two assists, plus-3, strong on the puck all night) and his production against the Huskies, we doubt the River Hawks blow that lead in Burlington. But having him back is going to be massive for this team going forward.

Wilson scored the game’s last goal with all the lethality he displayed on its first, this time becoming the benefactor of a chip-ahead from Furlong and scoring effortlessly on the breakaway with just 17 seconds left in the period.

The final period saw the Huskies begin to piece their attack together but here Doug Carr, who made 28 saves and picked up his third shutout of the year, was equal to all tasks and, along with a Josh Holmstrom breakaway that drew a penalty, staunched the only real Northeastern threat of the game, an extended 5-on-3.

Northeastern fans for some reason chose to view this game as a referendum on these teams’ personnel. “Is Rawlings better than Carr?” “Is Bitetto better than Ruhwedel?” “Is Karlsson better than Wilson?” By any metric you choose to apply to this game in particular, and especially if you choose to extrapolate out what this means for whether the Huskies are better than the record states, we think you’ll find that the answer is a resounding “no.”

Were there things for the River Hawks to work on here? Of course. They didn’t possess the puck enough, as we said, and took too many penalties, as we implied. Their finishing was lethal and their shotblocking was admirable. This was the opposite of the game at Vermont in terms of the team’s desire to compete. But we all could have guessed at that. Tsongas Center is a fortress Lowell will defend to its last.

The real questions come, and will hopefully be answered, tonight. On the road. In a building where Lowell has already lost. Last night gave us reason think they possess the ability to close this season series out in style.

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