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Saturday thoughts: I went down to the crossroads

February 26, 2012

And with that tie, Lowell’s fourth non-win in its last five games, things become very iffy indeed.

The River Hawks needed just two points from two games this weekend in order to secure a home ice spot for the Hockey East playoffs, in order to keep pace with Boston College and Boston University, in order to keep Maine and Merrimack at bay. And in those two games, Lowell led Merrimack for 0.0 seconds. We counted. There was, in fact, never a point where the River Hawks even looked as though they might take the lead.

Though this game was certainly preferable to Friday’s for a slew of reasons, not just because it fought back for a 2-2 tie, we still believe this team needs to snap out of this funk, and fast.

For one thing, Tsongas Center used to make the River Hawks invincible, and now they’ve gotten one point from their last three games there. The problem was, at least, not with the defense tonight, as it was at Volpe on Friday or at Tsongas the week prior, because most of the team (with one very notable exception) made few mistakes. The problem remained, as it did against Maine and against Merrimack the night before, that the attack couldn’t hold the puck, and couldn’t, as a consequence, generate consecutive chances more than a handful of times in the game.

We will say however that an area of particular concern remains the penalty kill. Woof. Merrimack scored both of its goals last night on the power play (as did Lowell, incidentally) and this has now grown into a huge cause for concern. In the last five games, Lowell has allowed eight power play goals on just 19 opportunities, and not once in that time has it prevented an opponent from cashing in at least one goal on the man advantage. Merrimack went 2 for 6 last night after going 1 for 3 the night before — this despite going six straight games without a power play goal coming into the weekend. Lowell still takes the second-fewest penalties in Hockey East, but when your opponent has scored on 42.1 percent of them for about the last fifth of your league schedule, it’s a major problem that needs addressing sooner, not later.

And that problem just might prove exacerbated by what could be an injury to Jake Suter. Midway through the second period, as he has done all season with dogged determination, he blocked yet another shot, this time off what looked to be his forearm, and went down in a considerable amount of pain. He went off under his own power, having waved off teammates and the trainer, but never returned to the game. If there’s an extended absence for what has become Lowell’s best defensive defenseman, this team will be in dire straits.

But with all that said, Lowell did actually play pretty well last night and were simply unfortunate to have once again run into Joe Cannata, who remains very, very good and turned aside most of what few chances the River Hawks were able to cobble together throughout the 65 minutes in this game. Not that a terribly large number stood out, but Cannata almost always rose to the occasion.

The two exceptions to that, of course, were the Lowell goals, one of which he had no chance on, and the other he’d probably like back. The first Lowell goal was simply a good, hard pass from Matt Ferreira which found a shockingly open David Vallorani at the back door for a one-timer goal. How open was Vallorani? He was at the side of the crease for the pass and the nearest defender was at the hash marks inside the opposite faceoff circle. We understand he hadn’t scored in nearly a month, and that it was on the power play, but how do you leave any Division 1 hockey player that open, let alone one with 25 points this season and 110 in his career?

The second goal was one Cannata would like to take another crack at. With time winding down, and Lowell trailing 2-1 after a particularly dumb Mike Budd crosschecking penalty led to another power play goal against, the River Hawks were gifted a penalty thanks to an equally dumb trip by Dan Kolomatis. On that man advantage, Scott Wilson wiggled loose of coverage behind the net and found Josh Holmstrom lurking at the top of the crease with a nifty backhand pass. Cannata’s angle was a little off because he was cheating to the post, and while he got a piece of the shot, the puck still trickled across the line.

The goal allowed Lowell to rescue a point in what had been a dire offensive performance, and to put itself in a pretty good position going forward thanks to a considerable amount of help it once again received from Amherst. Now, the ‘Hawks need just two points from next weekend to assure themselves a third-place finish, and one to get a home ice spot, though if we’re still worrying about that point on Saturday, there’s going to be a lot of trouble.

That Lowell was able to come back late is very encouraging, but that it couldn’t pull a mere two points from a weekend with Merrimack given the gravity of these games brings them to quite the Rubicon. When will the sword be drawn?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rich permalink
    February 27, 2012 5:27 am

    Looking at just that game, it was one of the more entertaining hockey games I had seen in a while. I think Lowell and Merrimack are 2 evenly matched teams. Lowell is generally better offensively, but Merrimack offsets that by being a little stronger defensively. That being said, all it is going to take is 2 points to possibly face providence for the next 4-5 games. New Hampshire isn’t a bad consolation prize either.

    About the penalties and the officiating that night, I thought those refs were abysmal. The first penalty on Wilson was really a dumb play on his part, and possibly cost us a point by giving a great defensive team a lead. But after that I thought they were extremely inconsistent with their calls. I thought that was highlighted most in the third period, where the first 13 minutes of that period we were treated with exciting, uptempo hockey, with both teams giving it their all.

    Then came that call on Budd, which I thought because of how the period had been called, was a terrible call, made by a ref on the opposite end of the ice. By the book it was a crosscheck, but I thought the whistles should have been put away on that penalty. I thought so much that I stood up and was yelling and screaming at the ref for his abysmal call (of course I never yell at the refs….). But my friend made up for his terrible call by an even worse call for tripping on Kolomatis, which I think was a makeup call in the truest form.

    All in all i was disappointing that the officiating really changed how the last 7 minutes of regulation were played. I think that game would have been great to let the two teams fight it out, to see who can get the last goal past a goalie (if they could have).

    I will end this long rant by saying that in the last 30 minutes of the game, I think Lowell got back to Lowell hockey. If they play like they did those 30 minutes, they are going to get goals against other teams. All I know is after that game is that I would love to see those two teams fight for the hockey east crown. Not only because of my Merrimack valley bias, but because i think it would be great for the league.

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