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Loose pucks: Grumblings

December 4, 2012

Three things that we love forever:
1) The bright side of this awful record.

The continuing rhetoric out of Lowell and indeed the city’s paper of record (for better or worse) is that, hey, Lowell’s had a tough schedule. We talked about it a bit in the recap of Saturday’s game. The team is 4-7-1 but 0-6-0 against teams ranked in the top 3 in the nation. So okay, you can look at that and say, “Well, clearly Lowell isn’t in the class of a BC, UNH or Denver,” and that’s not exactly a slight, since very few teams, if there even are any outside that group, actually are. That also means that — embarrassing loss to Maine and draw against Vermont included — the team is 4-1-1 in six games against teams that aren’t super-elite, and in fact pretty well handed it to No. 19 Colorado College in its own building. It’s not great to have just four wins with two games remaining before break, but it’s (probably) not as bad as all that looks either.

2) Scott Wilson AND Terrence Wallin.

Last week we sung the praises of one Scott Wilson, a former Hockey East Rookie of the Year, you’ll recall. He had six points in his previous two games at that time, and we considered it a very real correction to the mean. Well the correcting just keeps on coming, as he registered another three points against UNH (no easy competition). Maybe you’d like to see more goals from him, sure, but nine points in his last four games gives him 10 in 12 on the season, and that’s pretty good, all things considered. Best on the team anyway. But commensurate with that is the performance of Terrence Wallin, who like Wilson — and perhaps to an even greater extent — was largely absent from proceedings in the team’s early games. But now Wallin is on three points in his last three games, and that too is worth noting. The run includes a very nice goal against Princeton and, well, we suppose we’ll have to take whatever we can get at this point. In Wallin’s case, when Wilson went on his little four-point tear, it looks like getting benched against Amherst really woke him up. If these two can get cooking, that would be a big help.

3) An easier schedule.

This kind of ties into No. 1 here, but Lowell has just one game left against BC and all three left against BU, the only other team in Hockey East worth worrying about. The rest are against some genuinely bad schools in what is basically a genuinely bad year for Hockey East. There’s pretty much nowhere for Lowell to go but up, and if it can keep squashing the minnows as it has in the six games not-against megapowers, then this team can, at least theoretically, make some noise in the final two-thirds or so of the season.

Two things that we are destined to betray:
1) Right back where we started.

After the mildly encouraging results against two not-great teams, we all knew a UNH weekend could go off the rails for Lowell very quickly and easily, and indeed it did both. With the River Hawks trailing 4-0 on the road about halfway through the game on Friday, we basically figured it was time to run up the white flag for the weekend, and that proved an approximately accurate assessment. And so, instead of being one or two games closer to .500, it’s that much farther away. Not a pretty weekend to watch Lowell hockey. That negative-9 goal differential in three games against really stings, and brings into stark contrast how good this team isn’t when compared with the giants of the league, which are what we all figured it would be walking among.

2) Running out of time.

Look, it’s really simple here. Lowell played nine league games in this first part of the season, fully a third of its total schedule. It took just five points from them. That’s not good enough by any measure. Moreover, and we should note, more problematic, is that all but three of those games have been at home. Lowell has just one home win in six league games so far, and that, too, is abysmal. We know from a past foray into the math of things that the average fourth-place team in a 10-team Hockey East has about 29 points in its account at the end of the season. Meaning that, with 21 league games remaining, if Lowell wants home ice, it will need to take 24 points from 18 games, only six(!!!) of which are at home. Which is to say, it needs to win about 75 percent of the available points from here on out despite having 12 road games. Do you think it can do that?

Stat of the Week
As referenced many, many times above, Lowell is in serious trouble if it wants to make home ice, and to make matters worse, history is in no way on its side.

Starting with when the league went to nine teams in 1994-95 (we figure that’s a better representative sample than when it was using just seven and eight), what we’ve referred to in the past as the “Elimination Era” since that was the point at which a league team started missing the playoffs every year, Lowell has started the season with five points or fewer from its first nine league games a whopping four times in 17 seasons, not counting this one.

1999-2000: Started with three points in its first nine league games (4-1 win vs. Northeastern on Oct. 24 and a 2-2 tie at Amherst Nov. 5). It didn’t get its sixth points until the 10th game, when it beat Merrimack at home, 3-2 in overtime, on Jan. 9. Lowell finished the season with a 9-22-3 record, and was ninth of nine in the league with 13 points from 24 games.

2000-01: Started with four points in its first nine league games (4-2 win vs. BU on Nov. 10, then had ties of 2-2 and 0-0 in a home-and-home with UNH on Dec. 1 and 2, with the scoreless draw coming at the Whitt). It didn’t get its sixth point until the 10th game, when it beat Northeastern on the road, 2-1, on Jan. 4. Lowell finished the season with a 19-16-3 record, and was fifth of nine in the league with 23 points from 24 games.

2002-03: Started with two points in its first nine league games (6-5 win vs. Merrimack on Jan. 7). It didn’t get its sixth point until its 16th game, when it drew Merrimack on the road, 1-1, on Feb. 4. Lowell finished the season with an 11-20-5 record, and tied for eighth of nine (with last-place Northeastern) with 12 points from 24 games.

2010-11: Started with four points in its first nine league games (a 5-4 overtime win vs. Providence on Oct. 22 and a 3-1 win vs. Vermont on Nov. 5). It didn’t get its sixth points until its 12th game, when it beat BU on the road, 4-2, on Feb. 18. Lowell finished the season 5-25-4, and was 10th of 10 with 10 points from 27 games.

So as you can see, having this few points to the nine-game mark in the season is a harbinger of a troubled road ahead. The only time Lowell started this badly and didn’t finish at least tied for last in the league, if not in sole possession of it, was in 2000-01, when it went bonkers in the second half of the year.

After going 5-7-2 in its first 14 games (sound familar!?) and taking just four league points from nine contests, it went 14-7-1 the rest of the way. It salvaged 19 points from its final 13 Hockey East games (1.46 per, a .731 winning percentage).

We’re very much hoping that season is the blueprint for this one. Instead of those other three. We don’t want to see Lowell finish last.

Some quick housekeeping then we’ll let you go: This week the weekend preview will cover both Saturday’s and Monday’s games, since we can’t be bothered to do two of them. After that, you’ll get Saturday Thoughts, Monday Thoughts, a Weekend in Review, possibly a Loose Pucks, and then at some point late next week, the annual Lowell at the Break/Grades post. We’re guessing that last one won’t be the most pleasant read.

If we’re not mistaken, this is also the longest Loose Pucks post ever.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2012 10:15 pm

    While your number 1 point is quite true that we have the majority of our losses against the best teams in the country, it doesn’t bode well for the end of the year if we cant play against the best. However, as you said, perhaps the team can get momentum against the bottom half of the conference in the 2nd half and rally some speed going into the HE tourney, even if they don’t get a home ice slot.

    They have shown promise at times in some of the games, just need to put forth that effort for the full 60 night in and night out.

  2. Rich permalink
    December 5, 2012 12:27 pm

    The fact for the remainder of the first half and the second half is this: if they dont find a way to win at least 2-3 games against BU, BC, and Harvard, this team is in trouble. I have no doubt we will be in the hockey east tourney, considering how bad the competition is, but any dreams of getting past that would require winning the tourney. The first step for this team is to dominate Harvard, to show us and everyone else that the struggles have more to do with the competition rather than us. Another bad showing against them will only make me more nervous.

  3. Pete permalink
    December 5, 2012 4:53 pm

    Connor Hellebuyck should be in net for the Northeastern game.

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