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Sunday thoughts: Is this what you wanted?

October 28, 2012

Following Friday night’s shutout loss to Boston College, Norm Bazin essentially said that when your offense goes away on you, as it has for much of Lowell’s season, there’s not much you can do about it. The more you think about offense, the more it continues to elude you. Gripping your stick tighter and all that. In fact, he called it a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” And then on Sunday, a funny thing happened. He bought into the exact kind of thinking that leads to losses, though he got the goals he sought.

The lines he rolled this afternoon were, in a word, baffling. And they routinely changed as the game went on. What we cannot understand is how you can see a team so dominate the best program in the country in most every way on a Friday, and then two days later change the line combinations that earned so much success in terms of possession and dictation of play, if not in the win column.

This 6-3 loss to BC was the game in which the Lowell offense looked the least effective it has probably all season, and yet it was also the one in which it pumped three goals past Parker Milner on just 28 shots, a far cry from the 38 or more seen in every other game this season. The goals came, but at what cost?

One thing that was immediately apparent to the observer was that a combination of Lowell’s inability to hold the puck, and BC’s lethality led to far too many high-quality scoring chances for BC, and very few for Lowell. The River Hawks scored three times, including twice on the power play, but actually had less menace in attack throughout the game. Getting tuned up for six goals was obviously not ideal, but the reason for the team doing so was pretty clear: Lowell wasn’t ready for this game.

Apart from the befuddling line mixes (Derek Arnold with Shayne Thompson and Colin Wright seemed to make the least sense, but there was a good amount of competition in this regard), Lowell seemed all too eager to commit bad penalties at the absolute worst times for no reason. Witness Joe Houk’s roughing penalty in the first period, which led to Kevin Hayes’ late goal to stretch BC’s lead to two. Or Mike Colantone’s three second-period penalties, which led to the goals that made it 3-0, created the 4-on-4 opportunity on which Johnny Gaudreau re-extended the Eagles’ lead to after Lowell had impressively cut it to just one, and then the one that put the game out of reach at 5-2. Colantone might have scored Lowell’s first, but we’d have preferred he also not gifted the best team in the country three goals with bad penalties.

And yeah, speaking of gifting BC goals, the penalty kill did a pretty solid job of that tonight. Lowell once again drew more penalties than the Eagles (9-5) but were far less effective when it came to converting. BC had three power play goals on its five opportunities as well as the aforementioned 4-on-4 goal. So four of the six goals Lowell allowed today were on special teams. At the other end of the ice, the Eagles didn’t help themselves out in allowing a pair of second-period power play goals to a team that couldn’t have looked less impressive with a man advantage just a few days ago (again, it’s a function of just giving them more opportunities, and BC gave them 13 this weekend). However, it did at least acquit itself well enough in the third, when it killed off a lengthy 5-on-3 that admittedly saw the River Hawks hit two posts.

Not that there weren’t positives for Lowell. Obviously it was nice to see three goals come, and to see them scored by three first-timers this season. Derek Arnold and Scott Wilson, conspicuous by their absence on the ledgers so far this season, both played well enough and indeed netted their first goals in pretty much the fashion they did routinely last season, and hopefully that is a sign that things are sputtering to life for the attack that has eluded the River Hawks so far in this young season. Doug Carr got rung up for six and that’s not a good look on him, but one must also consider that four of those were on either BC power plays or that 4-on-4 situation, during which the Eagles mustered a combined six shots. That means, though, that when the game was played at 5-on-5, Carr stopped 21 of 23. Not the kind of numbers we’d grown used to here, but still much better than the overall numbers suggest he played.

So it seems as though if it’s not one thing, it’s another for these River Hawks. The good news is that the team is off next weekend, giving it two weeks to figure things out, and on the other side, a brutally bad opponent in Maine to see if what they tinkered with ended up working. It didn’t work today, of course, and it didn’t work Friday. And that’s a season series already toast as a consequence. But Lowell under Bazin is now clearly not known for its fast starts, and the chance to regroup could be just what it needs.

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