Saturday thoughts: Damn, Mox, thought you knew
There’s very little you can actually say about an exhibition game that you didn’t know going into it. The freshmen got a lot of time to run out and show what they can and, more importantly, cannot yet do well. There was a goaltending change about halfway through the game. Lowell scored a bunch of goals. There were too many penalties.
All pretty much par-for-the-course type stuff from a River Hawks/random CIS team exhibition game. Lowell won 5-2, and there are a few things to take away here. The first is that Toronto was lucky to keep it within a field goal, and that was largely because Lowell often had difficulties getting out of its own way. We understand this is an exhibition game we’re talking about here, and one in which the team scored five goals, but there was a lot of which to remain desirous, which we’ll cover first.
Obviously, you can’t give any team of even passably good hockey players eight whacks with the man advantage. This is how Toronto scored both of its goals, and both came on very similar plays. The Varsity Blues worked the puck on the left side of the ice, drew penalty killers to them, and then fed it across the ice to a guy camped at the bottom of the right circle, who had a wide open net at which to shoot.
Starter Connor Hellebuyck and reliever Doug Carr (don’t get used to hearing that) both conceded goals on the power plays on which they were more or less helpless, but were otherwise perfectly effective. Perhaps you’d say Hellebuyck allowed a few too many rebounds that, were Toronto of any quality at all, they’d have possibly made him pay for. But given that he spent the first eight minutes or so of the game without so much as facing a shot attempt, near as we could tell, it must have been difficult to put down the copy of “War and Peace” he’d been browsing through to actually go and move in the general direction of a shot. Freshman jitters and all that couldn’t have helped very much, but he was perfectly serviceable in making 12 saves on 13 shots. Carr, too, was just fine and maybe had a little more to deal with in terms of shot quality but not actual work, making just seven of eight saves. That’s not a save percentage you necessarily want to see from Carr, but again, he faced eight shots in more than 29 minutes of work, so it’s hard to blame him for fallings asleep at the switch.
Their counterpart, though, was not so lucky. Lowell positively assaulted the Toronto net and made goaltender Garrett Sheehan earn his team meal. When the dust settled, he allowed five goals, yes, but on 52 shots, a good number of them particularly high in quality. The hapless Blues defense simply had no answer for Lowell’s rushes, be they one-, two-, three-, or four-man. The attack simply cut through them like blades and Sheehan was lucky to have corralled more than a few of the shots he faced, which bounced around crazily in front of him as he and his defensemen worked to keep it away from Lowell sticks. Lowell had the same number of shots on its nine power plays as Toronto did at even strength, to give you an idea of how things went.
In the end, a few of the goals Sheehan gave up were rebounds, but not out of scrums. That, actually, might be a point of concern for Lowell going forward; if you can’t beat these goobers in the hard areas to score goals, you probably aren’t going to do it in the teeth of Hockey East’s best teams.
But that’s a minor quibble. Five goals, three of which were on the power play, and the same number were in the final minutes of periods. It should be said first and foremost that Joe Pendenza looks primed for a monster year. He scored Lowell’s second and third, both on the power play and the latter held up as the game-winner. What was nice was that both goals were very different, and not necessarily like we have seen from him in the past.
Let’s start with the second, a nice rebound goal. Again, the Lowell power play was amazing when it actually maintained possession in the zone — which it did a bit too infrequently — freshman Ryan McGrath, who looked great in providing two assists today, worked the puck in the left circle and shook far enough away from a defender to get off a shot, which Josh Holmstrom tipped downwards. The puck bounced out to the low slot, where Pendenza swooped in and put it home, and put Lowell up 2-1. The second was even better, as he found a loose puck, in more or less the same spot, in the dying seconds of the middle period. With about 1.6 ticks left, he just rifled it top shelf with stunning casualness, like he was scoring that type of Scott Wilson-esque goal his entire career. He wasn’t, obviously, but it would be very nice if he started.
Speaking of Wilson, he was the best player in the building, as you might expect. He finished with a goal and an assist — the goal being just the kind of shot that he more or less trademarked last year, and which Pendenza likely used with his permission — but the stormclouds he rolled over Toronto’s zone every time the puck was on his stick were dark, low, and always rumbling. The assist was just gorgeous, as he broke in alone on two guys, worked to the outside, recovered the puck just about at the goal line, turned, and found linemate Terrence Wallin (yeah, no Arnold-Wetmore-Wilson line. Aww, indeed.) with a perfect tape-to-tape pass. Wallin’s shot didn’t find paydirt, but the big rebound Sheehan kicked out to freshman Michael Colantone sure did. That was Lowell’s first goal, and if it’s a preview of the kind of thing we can expect from Wilson this year, he definitely has the ability to put up 50 points. This afternoon was just a stunning display.
So now let’s talk about the newcomers, many of whom had good days today. Dmitry Sinitsyn often looked good, dancing through Blues as if they weren’t even there on at least a few rushes, but also looked like a guy who hasn’t played competitive hockey in more than a year, let alone against grown-ups. He has some work to do, but we liked what we saw. Colantone, too, showed flashes of why he scored 33 in juniors last year, but will need to do more to keep up with Wallin and Wilson, if that’s to be his line.
McGrath’s performance, by the way, can be summed up easily: Whoa. We don’t know where a 5-foot-7 kid with those kinds of hands gets off working that hard, and effectively, in the corners, but we love it. His first-period shoving match with a guy who had a good six inches on him shows us he has the competition in him to be a real danger in just about any situation.
Joe Houk, meanwhile, exhibited a number of skills, perhaps the most obvious of which was his ability to take penalties. He finished the night with three of them, none particularly bright. With that having been said, he also showed off why Norm Bazin brought him along from Division 3, especially with this kind of lazy backhand cross-ice flip that landed perfectly on the tape of his intended target, who brought it into the zone for a scoring chance. Yeah, we’ll take a guy like that on our team any day. Especially if he adds an assist, which he did on Pendenza’s second. Greg Amlong also didn’t look to bad, scoring the game’s final goal with 41 seconds left on a beauty of a hard point shot.
In the end, though, it’s tough to tell exactly what to make of any of this. Lowell leaned heavily on the guys it listed on the line charts in the first half of the game, but held them back from doing more damage once Carr came in. At that point, victory was all but assured with the game at 3-1 and Lowell carrying play, and thus entered the six extra skaters it dressed: forwards Derek McCoy, Adam Chapie, AJ White and Shayne Thompson, and defensemen Amlong and Malcolm Lyles (though Lyles played at least one shift at forward).
Let’s leave it at this, then: If the Lowell team that put about 27 shots in the first 30 minutes of the game on the Toronto net is the one that shows up less than a week from now against Vermont, it’s going to be a long, long night for the Catamounts. If the team that took too many dumb penalties throughout the game is in evidence, then a season-opening W is, shall we say, less certain.
Lots to think about and build upon this week, but a decent enough start.