Monday thoughts: The veritas hurts
You’re going to look at the 5-0 scoreline of tonight’s game and guess that the performance Lowell delivered upon Harvard was thorough and dominant, and that’s true in the grand scheme of things. You don’t hang five goals on a team and post your second consecutive shutout and not do well for yourself. But there were stretches, particularly throughout most of the second period and for the opening half of the third, in which Lowell had trouble with a shorthanded Crimson side.
We won’t try to dwell too much on that, of course. Lowell went out and did exactly what we wanted them to do at the start of the weekend: Play two teams of questionable quality tough, and beat them. You can’t ask for much more than that. In fact, we didn’t.
We should start by saying that Lowell’s first period was great. Very, very good and comprehensive hockey, the type we saw routinely last season and the type we’ve seen only in fits so far in this one. Despite the fact that the team gave Harvard two power plays in that 20 minutes (not everything was great, you see), Lowell still outshot the hosts 15-9 and carried a 2-0 lead into the dressing room behind very nice point shots from Dima Sinitsyn and Chad Ruhwedel. We’ve heard a lot of talk in recent weeks that Lowell’s defensemen needed to step up their offensive games, and we suppose that to some extent the sentiment was true, though we’re not sure we want to ascribe defensemen’s goals some sort of talismanic power over a team’s success. On the other hand, there was a whopping one goal from the blue line (that from Sinitsyn to start the avalanche in Amherst) in Lowell’s first 13 games of the season, so to see that number tripled in a single period tonight was a perfectly nice way to start the night.
And oh, the quality of those shots. Sinitsyn’s, at just 6:01 of the first period, was one of those gorgeous shots about which we’d heard tell, hard and fast and laser-accurate. He got a little help on the screen, of course, as Harvard’s Raphael Girard — who entered the game with something like a .936 save percentage, somehow — didn’t even react until the net was rippling behind him. But that’s why you front the goalie, one supposes.
There was pretty much more of the same on Ruhwedel’s goal, his first of the season and first point since the Maine series. That came immediately after the start of a Lowell power play, as Joe Pendenza won the puck roughly into his area, which he corralled at the blue line, worked himself some space from an onrushing forward and fired a firm shot past Girard at 15:19. A pretty nice goal, and, again, on the power play. Both have been all too rare this season, so for it to come relatively early into the game, slightly more than a quarter of the way through, that was all very encouraging.
What wasn’t encouraging was most of Lowell’s play in between, including the aforementioned two penalties. Unnecessary, both, and more to the point they came at times when Lowell wasn’t really in a position to be giving another team, even one playing with two of its best defensemen thanks to an alleged cheating scandal at Harvard, any kind of advantage. But nonetheless, the PK and Connor Hellebuyck weathered the storm, though it was at times dicier than it needed to have been.
As the box score suggests, the second period was largely uneventful. Shots were only 8-8 and it really felt like it. Ugly hockey, reminiscent of what we saw in the lowliest of Lowell performances, with the exception that the team successfully killed two more penalties and kept Harvard at an arm’s length even as it couldn’t get anything going itself. That carried over into the third period as well, as Lowell was the first team to get a shot on goal in the final 20, but it took them nearly four minutes to do it.
But then, just as some Lowell fans were beginning to note the team’s inability to close out a game, the most unlikely source for an impressive and inspiring goal stepped up. When the puck found its way to Jake Suter late in the period, we didn’t know that we were about to witness history. As with the Sinitsyn and Ruhwedel strikes, all it took was good hard shot from the point and Lowell had another goal in its coffers, the first of Suter’s distinguished-if-defined-by-defense collegiate career. The indirect pass by Ryan McGrath from down low was a very nice one as well, but the finish was all Suter, and what better time for a well-deserved and important tally from the sophomore shot-blocking sensation? However, the offensive dynamo wasn’t going to settle for just a goal, and instead added a secondary assist on Scott Wilson’s gorgeous salt-the-earth breakaway goal with 2:25 remaining, because why not.
Pendenza added a 5-on-3 power play goal with 43 seconds to go — also because why not? — but that goal in particular showed us something. In reality, a garbage time goal, albeit on a good wrister, during a two-man advantage probably doesn’t mean much. But symbolically, we choose to look at things a bit differently: That was the kind of goal Lowell routinely scored last year, when it was twisting the knife on its opponents and making them feel really bad for having wasted everyone’s time by showing up to actually compete with a team of that quality. And our hope is that Lowell gets that swagger back with this win and offensive explosion.
What’s interesting in all this is that Lowell, despite being a game under .500, is now at equilibrium. The River Hawks have scored 35 goals in 14 games, and allowed the same number: 2.5 a night both for and against. Neither numbers are where we’d like them to be, obviously, but they’re at least moving in the right direction, and more importantly, the penalty kill has all but stopped bleeding goals. In fact, it’s killed 19 of the last 20 opportunities its opponents enjoyed.
While Lowell still isn’t where we’d like it to be, we’re starting to think it’s coming out of its shell, and that could be very bad news indeed for the opponents on its soft schedule in the second half.