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Saturday thoughts: Your worst fears realized

November 10, 2012

There’s really not a lot to say about this game other than it was abysmal. To give you an idea of how bad it is to lose 4-3 to Maine (at home, mind you), let’s just look at the simple fact that four goals. Prior to this weekend, Maine had four goals in its previous six games. Four goals was 36.4 percent of the team’s total scoring through 10 games. Four goals is twice as many as the Black Bears scored in any game against a non-Army opponent  at any point this season.

This Lowell team, which everyone including us thought was going to be so very good this season, was on the receiving end of a home loss to these 1-9-0 Black Bears, without tri-captain dirtbag Joey Diamond. There are a lot of words thrashing around in our heads right now, including, “puzzling,” “bizarre,” and “maddening.”

And it’s not that we didn’t see the loss coming. You’ll recall that we said we would be not at all surprised to see Lowell come out flat-footed in at least one of these games, and that Maine, hungry and desperate for a win as they clearly were, was fully capable of getting one over on a River Hawks team that has never once this season given us reason to believe all those preseason predictions were in any way spot-on. But when we said that, you have to understand we meant like, “We wouldn’t be surprised if Lowell lost 2-1 or 1-0 because that’s how things are going for both teams.” We never in a thousand years thought that, were there to be a 4-3 final in this weekend series, Lowell would be on the losing end of it. That, in our estimation, reached into the unfathomable.

Yet, here we are. Lowell is now just 2-4-1 (1-3-1 in Hockey East despite three league home games) because it conceded four goals to Maine and the offense bled out after yet another night of having a good six-minute stretch in the second period. Worse, now it’s getting into bad habits.

Let’s just start at the beginning, we guess. Lots of back and forth in the early going, but Lowell eventually took control and ran the game for a bit, and that eventually resulted in the first goal at 10:09 of the first, which shockingly came on the power play (the fourth such strike of the year, though to be fair that’s also close to 31 percent of the team’s total output). A lot will likely be made of Joe Pendenza’s nice stickhandling on the play, as he navigated through a few sticks and bodies before banking a shot in off Derek Arnold’s leg, but the real beauty of this play came in the hard, crisp, laser-accurate pass from Chad Ruhwedel to spring him for the opportunity.

Not that this kind of play was ever really built to last. Not from this Lowell team, anyhow. Despite getting another power play less than a minute later, and despite generating a few chances on it, Zack Kamrass lazily batted at a clearing attempt and slowed it down just enough for Connor Leen to blow past him and beat him to the puck somewhere around the middle of the far faceoff circles. Doug Carr, who wasn’t especially sharp tonight, misplayed the angle badly, but it was still a very good shorthanded shot to level the game at 1-all with roughly half a second left in the PK. Then the Lowell penalties began to pile up, as they so often do.

First Christian Folin got two minutes for crosschecking, then, 13 seconds later, Ruhwedel tied up a man on the draw picked up an interference penalty. Mike Cornell, who’s just terrible, made things a little easier 60 seconds after that by taking an unnecessary tripping penalty. Though Maine wasn’t able to convert on the  4-on-3, it did strike in the brief period during which it was 4-on-4 thanks to an Adam Shemansky rebound goal. Through 20 minutes, Maine had twice as many goals as it had scored in the previous 80, and the River Hawks weren’t doing themselves any favors at all, having conceded two more special teams goals.

Things got worse early in the second, with Maine doubling its lead at 8:42 because Lowell couldn’t get the puck out of its own zone and turned it over. This was another rebound goal, this time from Devin Shore, and it’s kind of amazing given how good Lowell was at preventing them just a night before. But then, as seems to now be the team’s wont, the River Hawks found their legs for a brief stretch in the second and made Maine look like, well, a 1-9 team for a period of eight minutes or so. Soon after the Shore goal, Maine got pinned in its own end and tried to clear while Lowell was changing. Bad move. The clearing attempt, we’re not sure who by, was along the ice, right up the middle, and Riley Wetmore jumped all over it. He took the puck, broke in, and beat Martin Ouellette with a wrist shot reminiscent of last-year Riley Wetmore. It was very nice.

That goal seemed to inspire the River Hawks, who spent the rest of the period all over Maine, but couldn’t break through again until 30 seconds remained in the period. A nice stick in the neutral zone from AJ White disrupted a Maine breakout attempt and sent Joe Pendenza in relatively alone against Ouellette, and just like that, Lowell was level, and Maine was sweating bullets, but were saved by the bell.

Maine used the break to calm things down a bit, and looked far more composed when the game resumed. Lowell was still dictating the game, but not nearly as well as they had at the end of the second. Not that it ended up mattering. The only goal of the period went to Maine on a tip-in by Kyle Williams. And it was just as well.

(We don’t really care to get into the whole scrum at the end, which was an obvious moment of goonery from a team long heralded for its proficiency in this area. Scott Wilson — who by the way really needs to start shooting the puck as much as he did last season and maybe see what scoring again is like, because he, like Terrence Wallin, have been frustratingly absent from most games this season — crashed relatively near to the net, kinda sorta maybe, and got crosschecked straight in the face by Bryce O’Connor for this meagerest of efforts. The game was pretty much finished at this point, given that there were but 1.8 ticks left on the clock, but when you want to really try to hurt an opponent for no reason, you gotta call the Black Bears. Punk move, deserved DQ.)

All told, Lowell didn’t play well enough to beat a one-win team in either of its games this weekend, and for myriad reasons. If there was a lot to think about after the BC split, there’s even more now. The goals are starting to come, but the team has to consider at what cost.

The question, after all this, becomes a pretty simple one: If this Lowell team can’t beat this Maine team, who can it beat?

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