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Friday thoughts: Don’t put that on the wall

November 10, 2012

That was hardly the prettiest win of all time, and if Maine had been an even remotely competent team, Lowell likely wouldn’t have emerged with two points. Fortunately, you only play who’s on the schedule, and who was on the schedule for this one, and is on Saturday as well, might be an historically bad team in this league.

That’s not to say that aspects of Lowell’s game were not encouraging. They were. There was a period — not coincidentally, it was around the time of the team’s two goals — where the River Hawks moved the puck and played defense in a manner very reminiscent of last year’s team. The fluidity, pace and dominance Lowell had in that window of, say, five minutes around the early middle of the second period led one to believe that perhaps the days of easily destroying teams as bad as Maine’s (and again, there aren’t many we’ve seen in our years of watching college hockey that meet that criteria) aren’t so far away as the previous four games of the season suggest. But one has to keep in mind that this impressive performance came for just five minutes of a 60-minute contest against an unimaginably awful team, and that there’s still much to work on.

Two points is two points and at this point we’ll take them any way we can get them, but a 2-1 win over that Maine team is far too close for comfort.

The issue with the game, we suspect, is that this is another example of Lowell playing down to the level of its opponent, and doing so very, very hard. It’s not that Lowell was bad, it’s that everything on the ice was. Very ugly hockey, as evidenced by the fact that neither team mustered a double-digit shot total in any period. The last time that happened, Lowell was playing Union in the NCAA quarterfinal, and that was against one of the very best defensive teams in college hockey last season.

Maine is not a good team in any aspect, as evidenced by this performance. No attack whatsoever, which really speaks to their 11-goals-in-10-games attack. The ability to let a not-playing-its-best Lowell team push them around (the team attempted 56 shots in the game, including 25 on net and two off the post, compared to Maine’s 25 shots on 45 tries). The defense at times scrambling to even get the puck out of their zone though Lowell mostly didn’t bother to press a forecheck that was fairly unimpressive all night. Martin Ouellette, who people say played well but we think might just be “well” relative to “giving up three on 19 as he did in his last outing,” coughing up rebounds like those with bronchitis expectorate phlegm.

It was on two such occasions that Lowell scored both its goals in this one, and again, this was during that impressive stretch in the second period, during which it attempted 10 shots — two of which were blocked, and the other hit the inside of the post — to Maine’s one. The first goal came from Riley Wetmore, on a strange scrum out in front of Ouellette. AJ White made the initial shot low from the right side, which was kicked out to the top of the slot, hit at least three bodies, and bounced to Wetmore on the left wing for a relatively easy tap-in goal. The second came on a crisp wrist shot from the point by Chad Ruhwedel, which was once again saved by Ouellette, with little regard for where the rebound ended up. It ended up on Josh Holmstrom’s stick, and was in the back of the net just as quickly.

You’ll note, again, that these goals came from rebounds, and really the only place you’re going to get a ton of rebound goals is at the front of the net. If you have some sort of vague recollection of what this might mean, allow us to fill in the blanks: It means Lowell actually went to the difficult areas of the ice, where it’s not always easy to play, and actually had the puck bounce their way once or twice. Neither of these two conditions have been particularly common for the River Hawks this season, and perhaps this is a sign of good things to come for this team.

Another good thing is of course that Doug Carr was back to his usual super-strong self. He didn’t have to make a lot of real strong saves in this one, but those he did have to make were relatively simple, save for one in the second period, when the team’s chances of winning the game were still looking a bit tenuous. A point shot from Nick Pryor pinballed around a little bit at the side of the net, with Devin Shore right on the doorstep (though covered by Shayne Thompson). The puck got past Carr, and was rolling toward the goal line, but Lowell’s No. 1 had the presence of mind to spin around, get a glove on it, and freeze it before any more damage could be done.

Still an awful lot to work on for the River Hawks, though, as we mentioned. The offense still isn’t there, and scoring two against most teams in college hockey isn’t going to cut it. In fact, the last time Lowell won scoring two goals or fewer was March 12, 2010 — coincidentally, also against Maine — in the Hockey East quarterfinals. That, too, was a 2-1 win. And clearly the penalty kill still needs work as well; the River Hawks actually gave up a power play goal to Maine, which entered 1 for 44 with the man advantage, but left 2 for 47. That goal came on a pretty nice point shot by Ben Hutton with about six seconds to go in the first period (on a dumb penalty by Chad Ruhwedel, who should know better than to punch guys after the whistle), but nonetheless, not being able to shut down that power play is pretty much the opposite of encouraging.

So yes, building blocks to better performances, but against teams as bad as Maine, building blocks might not suffice. Lowell needs total, not partial, efforts going forward , because you can’t just expect everyone to be as bad as these Black Bears.

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