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Friday thoughts: Something more

October 27, 2012

Anyone who watched this game and didn’t come away under the impression that Lowell ran it from the opening minute to the final horn must not have actually watched it.

The simple fact is that Lowell dominated Boston College, outshooting the Eagles 38-20 and committing no penalties to BC’s four. And yet, here they sit with a 1-0 loss to ponder for two days. The difference in the game, then, was simple. While Lowell’s top line generated shot after shot after shot (a whopping 14 altogether), and BC’s top line did not (just four), one was able to find the back of the net, and the other continues to plug away pointless.

Let’s not hold any delusions about where the scoring for Boston College is coming from this year: Johnny Gaudreau, Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney, who combined for the game’s only goal, have seven of BC’s 10 goals through four games. Lowell has five total. And when you’re playing a tightly contested game against the No. 1 team in the country and reigning national champion at home this early in the season, blinking is going to kill you.

Lowell blinked. BC didn’t. Parker Milner played the best game we’ve ever seen him deliver in making 38 saves, and it’s getting awful tiring to watch Lowell make other goaltenders look like they’re world-beaters. In this very same building just 14 days prior, they did it to Brady Hoffman, who likewise made 38 saves, but apparently looked awful in his followup performance, a 5-goals-on-31-shots road performance against Merrimack.  The fact of the matter is that Lowell now has five goals scored on 154 shots this season, and one of those was into an empty net. So call it four goals on 153 shots against actual goalies, for a shooting percentage of 2.6. Now, we know that this shot percentage is unsustainably low, and no team can ever shoot that poorly over the course of more than a few games at best. Hell, that awful three-win Merrimack team from 2006-07, which scored only 37 goals in 34 games, had close to double Lowell’s current shooting percentage (4.8 percent). If Lowell shot that well, it would have about seven goals against actual netminders, not four, and the team’s record would likely look a lot better.

What we hope, therefore, is that Norm Bazin sticks to what works. He put Lowell’s actual top line together from start to finish for the first time this year and it paid off. Derek Arnold put up seven shots by himself. Scott Wilson registered four. Riley Wetmore had three. They were dynamic, threatening and often dominant, and even if none of those shots found the back of the net (they’re up to a combined 45 shots without a goal this season), at some point, they mathematically have to. Lowell’s continued lack of goalscoring shouldn’t dissuade Bazin from keeping this line together. They were the absolute very best on the ice tonight, as evidenced by the fact that they alone had six fewer shots than BC’s entire team.

Nonetheless, the continued lack of game-breaking shifts is a bit worrisome. Those three — and the second of Josh Holmstrom, Joe Pendenza and Ryan McGrath — were fantastic all night, but when you needed one line to do something to turn the game on its ear, the longer it went on, the more the belief that it was going to be Gaudreau and Co. who did it. Just as you can’t expect Vermont not to score at least once, you’re lucky if BC doesn’t put up more than that. Not to say that Doug Carr wasn’t excellent as always (his stats ballooned to .93/.963 after the loss), but Lowell seems to have this belief, much like the Red Sox of the early 2000s whenever Pedro Martinez started, that his simple presence on the lineup card is enough to give them a W most nights. And when you’ve allowed three goals in three starts on 74 shots, that’s not an unreasonable assumption. It’s just that someone, at some point, has to do something to help the kid out.

We should note, however, that the defense was stellar in front of Carr, as you might expect in yet another one-goal game for Lowell’s opponents. We were particularly impressed with Dmitry Sinitsyn, who often looked befuddled in Colorado last weekend, but who made only one egregious mistake last night, and more than made up for it with a number of very strong, attention-getting plays of different varieties. His passes were crisp, his understanding of the space in which could to work allowed him to get out of a few fixes, and his decision-making was on point. This, we imagine, is what Dallas saw in him when it took him as a seventh-round pick despite the fact that he hadn’t played competitive hockey in a year, and if it’s an indication of where the kid’s ceiling is — playing like that against inarguably the best team in the nation, in Lowell’s most important game of the early season — then we’re getting very excited.

Perhaps the answer lies in the power play, or rather, what doesn’t happen on it. Lowell had four power plays last night to BC’s zero, and that’s a great thing. It also put up five shots on the man advantage, which isn’t as high a total as you’d probably like to see, but it’s at least a respectable one. But the issue was this: Every single one of those shots came on the first chance the River Hawks got, and they went 0-fer — and looked awful doing it — on the remaining three. That first chance, which came just 1:06 into the game, resulted in a flurry of high-quality shots on goal, and a few more than skittered wide, and BC looked very much scared that it was about to find itself in a very early hole against a team that was clearly set to dominate. The team that had the most special teams shots after that initial 3:06 expired was BC, which put three shorthanded shots together in one second-period penalty kill.

Another issue: Lowell got slaughtered at the faceoff dot. Absolutely killed to the tune of taking just 29 of 72, or 40.3 percent. The individual low-lights are particularly grisly. Only Joe Pendenza, Ryan McGrath, and Adam Chapie (7-of-12, 2-of-3 and 1-of-1, respectively) won more  than they lost. You’ll notice that two of them aren’t centers. Riley Wetmore, usually the team’s best faceoff man by far, won 13 of 28. Stephen Buco won just three of the 15 he took, which was only slightly more acceptable than Colin Wright’s getting two of 11.

It’s very taxing indeed to sit here and write about all the things that Lowell is doing that are not allowing it to win, because these are things that were not problems last year. This ship needs to get righted, and it needs to happen soon. It’s so close, though, that we don’t have many answers as to what to correct. Let’s say this and be done with it: You can’t put 38 or 39 shots on goal every single game and not eventually start filling the net (unless you’re late-2000s Providence). But you also can’t expect your goaltender to win you every game. The goals will come for these River Hawks because they more or less have to. It’s just a question of when that happens.

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