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Friday thoughts: What did we expect?

December 1, 2012

The state of Lowell hockey was very tenuous coming into this weekend. The team had two wins in its last two games, including scoring 11 goals in them and allowing just three, and that’s all well and good.

There was, perhaps, reason for some amount of optimism heading into this two-game set. The team very clearly felt the 3-0 loss to this same UNH squad two weeks ago was the point at which the losing had to stop (we’d have said it was the loss to Maine, but okay) and had generally played far better in the two intervening games. But if you thought there wasn’t a very real possibility that Lowell would go to the Whittemore Center on Friday night and get its teeth kicked in, you were always deluding yourself.

This isn’t to say Lowell was necessarily bad in this game, and in fact they could have very easily been up a goal at the end of the first period even after conceding that abysmal shorthanded goal, but the fact is that the lack of finish that so plagued the team in pretty much all but the Amherst game came back with a serious vengeance. And when you can’t finish against a team that has but one loss this season, and is 5-0 at home with a goal differential of plus-12, well, things simply aren’t going to go well for you.

Things didn’t go nearly as well in the second period, obviously. Three more goals against, turning a possibly-surmountable one-goal lead into one that was very much not, given the high quality of UNH’s defense and the general paucity of scoring ability among the River Hawks. And boy were some of those goals absolute stinkers. The most egregious of them was obviously Grayson Downing’s second, in which he found himself all alone out front. No one even thought about covering him. The pass from Austin Block to set up the goal was gorgeous and not something you might expect to see as a defender, and not that Downing is anything like the Wildcats’ best player, but losing anyone in front of the net is a recipe for disaster. All Doug Carr, who wasn’t especially strong in this one in giving up four goals on 25 shots, could do was wave at it.

It didn’t help that UNH continued its dominant run on the penalty kill. Lowell was gifted five power plays, but, even leaving aside the ugly shorty (the second UNH scored against Lowell in as many games this season), the man advantage was anything but an advantage. Another 0-for-5 night, with only four shots on goal to show for it, is just another byproduct of the team not really being able to put anything together when the other team is in the penalty box, and for the season it’s now running at just 11.1 percent. Obviously playing the second-best PK in the nation, which has allowed just two power play goals all season — and scored four shorties — doesn’t help matters, but this kind of floundering is just frustrating and frankly embarrassing to watch.

We’re not sure what any of this means for the team any more. Again, this kind of ugly loss was always a possibility, and therefore we can’t in good conscience actually be mad about it. But on the other hand, how much losing can we logically tolerate before we just throw our hands up and disavow the whole season as another disappointing lost cause in a long string of Lowell seasons in which they actually played well enough to build expectations, then patently failed to live up to them in any discernable way. Would you have believed us if we’d told you Riley Wetmore only had five points in his first 11 games? That Doug Carr’s save percentage was a paltry .905 and his GAA was north of 2.50? That the team would bleed goals? That it would score the seventh-fewest per game in the league? Of course you wouldn’t have.

We’re out of explanations, rationalizations, and any other way to wrap our heads around this season. Five points from eight league games is crazy. Four wins out of 11 even crazier. You can pretty much go ahead and write off an NCAA bid; this was the nail in that particular coffin. Hell, home ice is also looking like a pipe dream, or would be if the bottom seven teams in the entire league weren’t so bewilderingly bad. We wouldn’t have guessed it would come to this before December even started. But that’s how it is.

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