Saturday thoughts: There it is
Well, you had to think that, at some point, a game like this was going to have come down the pike.
Fans had become so accustomed to Lowell flattening opponents in all areas of the game at Tsongas Center that it seemed the dominant performances would never end. Since the beginning of December, the River Hawks had scored 18 goals in just five home games, and allowed only seven. So at some point, a bit of a letdown was inevitable.
We’re just glad it came against Vermont.
The truth of the matter is that Lowell played pretty poorly for the third period of the game, and in occasional bouts earlier on, but Vermont is so bad that, in the end, it made no difference. Lowell spent the entire first half of this plodding, penalty-filled, delay-riddled game leaning heavily on the Catamounts’ defense and, in a reversal of the previous night’s trends, were richly rewarded for doing so.
Just six minutes into the game, Lowell had a two-goal lead and the result was assured despite the teams having to play another 90 percent of the contest. Chad Ruhwedel opened the scoring with his third goal of the year, settling a clearing attempt, walking past two defenders and roofing it past Alex Vazzano to the upper 90 (then he skated over to the fan who brings the “Easy button” sign to every game and pressed the button repeatedly, much to our glee; would that there were pictures or video of it on the highlight reel). Then, 54 seconds later, Terrence Wallin bombed a shot in from the neutral zone that beat Vazzano clean and staked Lowell to a 2-0 lead. It was Lowell’s fifth shot of the game, and that would just about do it for Vazzano, who was often brilliant in making 38 saves the night before.
Vermont pulled within one on a Sebastian Stålberg goal on the power play at 12:39, but the River Hawks, resilient as ever, answered nearly immediately. Just 1:12 later, with a draw to the right of Rob Madore, Riley Wetmore won the puck clean and quick as you like, Scott Wilson rifled it to about the same spot Ruhwedel did. At this point in the season, we’ve really run out of superlatives to hang on this freshman who, if he hasn’t pretty much locked up the league’s Rookie of the Year award, there ought to be a criminal investigation into the matter. He spent the entire night hitting everything in a green sweater and once again finished with a three-point night, giving him five on the weekend and 12 in his last nine. And those immediately behind him in the race for that award are likely hearing Wallin’s footsteps, since he’s on a four-game streak in which he’s netted six points.
Before the intermission, though, the first of Lowell’s numerous gaffes of the night came on a giveaway by Billy Eiserman, allowing Kyle Reynolds to score the period’s third unassisted goal with just 40 seconds to go in the period. Fortunately for the River Hawks, Vermont took a penalty at 20 minutes even and gave Lowell a power play to start the second, which was cashed in almost right away.
After another goal from Wilson was disallowed because Josh Holmstrom made contact with Madore in the crease, Derek Arnold decided “Enough of that.” At 1:13 of the period, Arnold swatted a bouncing puck just over the goal line and after another review (a common theme in this game: there was one earlier in the second to determine which team was last to touch a puck that went over the glass, and one more to see if a Vermont goal counted), Lowell’s lead was restored to two goals.
Then at 10:48, it was stretched to three, when a shot from (who else?) Wilson bounced off one or both of Colin Wright’s legs and trickled through Madore to give Lowell a 5-2 lead. This was more or less what we had expected coming into the game: Through 30:48, Lowell was dominating the game in a very real way and the score could have been considerably worse. The River Hawks were outshooting their opponents 22-13 through 40 minutes despite Vermont drawing three penalties nearly in succession to end the second period. In those three power plays, one of which was cut short by the intermission, the visitors managed a combined zero shots.
But the tendency toward taking penalties, often needlessly and certainly in the most frustrating way possible, plagued Lowell throughout the remainder of the game and made the game closer than it ever needed to have been. In all, the River Hawks spent 6:36 of the final period shorthanded and were, as a consequence, outshot 11-7 in it. But still, Vermont could not break through until the game ticked down to its conclusion and Kevin Sneddon opted, in his desperation, to pull Madore on a two-man advantage to make it 6-on-3. That, finally, worked, as did the gambit of pulling Madore again to create a 6-on-4. Both goals came with an extra attacker in the space of 50 seconds and made it a one-goal game, but the fact that Lowell was in that position at all was because it very much took its foot off the gas, assuming the game was well in hand.
Let’s also note here that neither goal was good, and both were ones Doug Carr should have stopped (the second moreso than the first, though). As with the result itself, this was something you kind of had to expect would happen at some point: How could someone be so dominant in every home game for an entire season? Giving up four goals on 24 shots saw Carr’s GAA downright balloon to a 1.88 and his save percentage plunge to just .932. For shame.
Josh Holmstrom added an empty-net goal (guess what: it was assisted by Wilson) to ice the game, but there were some concerning moments that Lowell is going to have to work on with Merrimack and Maine coming to town next weekend.
Overall, though, you can’t be unhappy with scoring six goals and sweeping another weekend series. Lowell still hasn’t lost at home since Oct. 28 and this is, we hope, simply a case of the team getting “champ fat” against an opponent that was clearly inferior in every way. We’ll settle for the occasional 6-4 win, as long as it’s a win.