Weekend preview: They don’t call it January for nothing
The Lowell River Hawks (9-7-1, 4-6-1 Hockey East) vs. the Vermont Catamounts (6-9-4, 3-6-4 Hockey East)
7:05 p.m. Friday at Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Vt.
7:05 p.m. Saturday at Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Vt.
Lowell is tied for eighth in Hockey East with seven points from 10 games, Vermont is sixth in Hockey East with 10 points from 13 games.
Last three games
Lowell — 6-2 at Clarkson, 2-1 at Clarkson, 3-2 vs. Bentley.
Vermont — 1-4 vs. Vermont, 6-3 vs. Princeton, 2-1 vs. Union.
Lowell leads Vermont 15-14-6, all-time.
Lowell and Vermont played to a disappointing and boring 1-1 draw on opening day at Tsongas Center.
Scott Wilson — 17 GP, 4-9-13 (10 GP, 2-7-9 HE)
Joe Pendenza — 17, 6-6-12 (10, 3-4-7)
Josh Holmstrom — 17, 4-8-12 (10, 3-3-6)
Derek Arnold — 17, 2-8-10 (10, 2-3-5)
Riley Wetmore — 17, 7-2-9 (10, 5-1-6)
Chris McCarthy — 19 GP, 6-11-17 (13 GP, 5-7-12 HE)
Jacob Fallon — 19, 6-7-13 (13, 3-5-8)
Kyle Reynolds — 17, 2-6-8 (11, 0-3-3)
Matt White — 18, 3-4-7 (12, 2-2-4)
Brett Bruneteau — 16, 3-3-6 (10, 1-2-3)
Doug Carr (5-6-1) — 13 GP, 711:21, 2.61 GAA/.905 sv% (9 GP, 522:04, 2.99 GAA/.893 sv% HE)
Connor Hellebuyck (4-1-0) — 6, 310:14, 1.55/.943 (2, 80:00, 0.75/.971)
Brody Hoffman (6-9-4) — 19 GP, 1,119:25, 2.79 GAA/.908 sv% (13 GP, 716:15, 2.76 GAA/.911 sv% HE)
Overall (17 games) — 46 goals for (2.71/gm), 40 goals against (2.35/gm). Power play 9/69 (13.0, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 53/63 (84.1%, 2 SHGF)
Hockey East (10 games) — 23 goals for (2.30/gm), 28 goals against (2.80/gm). Power play 4/44 (9.1%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 33/41 (80.5%, 1 SHGF)
Overall (19 games) — 42 goals for (2.21/gm), 56 goals against (2.95/gm). Power play 12/80 (15.0%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 67/82 (81.7%, 0 SHGF)
Hockey East (13 games) — 25 goals for (1.92/gm), 38 goals against (2.92/gm). Power play 8/53 (15.1%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 47/58 (81.0%, o SHGF)
We are, perhaps much like the team itself, rather divided on how things go this weekend. On the one hand, there is the Lowell that has acquitted itself extraordinarily well against the garbage teams over which it has trampled in the past five games.
There’s the 2-0 win over Northeastern: not so decisive on the scoreboard, not always pretty on the ice, but never a doubt Lowell was both going to win that game and keep the Huskies from getting a puck past Connor Hellebuyck. There’s the 5-0 road savaging of Harvard: As decisive a win as the River Hawks are likely to earn all year, comprehensive in every way, filled with attractive hockey and the kind of work the team regularly turned out last season. Then there’s Saturday’s 6-2 dissection of Clarkson: Again comprehensive, the River Hawks were the best team on the ice in every zone, though there was some room for improvement as evidenced by the concession of a shorthanded goal and the lack of dominance on the power play, among a few other areas.
But on the other hand, there is the team that has scratched out wins against vastly inferior opponents because it didn’t look like it particularly cared whether it won or not.
There’s the 3-2 win over Bentley: Lowell trailed most of the game and had lots of difficulties against a Falcons team that brought a bit of physicality, something with which Lowell struggled last year as well (see the losses to Union and UConn, and Providence in the playoffs) but in the end was just good enough to squeak out a win it may not have fully deserved. There’s the 2-1 win over Clarkson on Friday: Again, giving up an early and not particularly good goal, and again relying on a late equalizer and game-winner that should have come a lot earlier than that given how the first two periods played out.
So the question one inevitably has to ask about this weirdly important weekend series against Vermont is, “Which team even shows up?” A quick look at the standings tells you Vermont is three points better than Lowell (though that’s in three more games) and a quick look at the schedule tells you it played Lowell pretty tight in the season opener in which Lowell should not have given up points but for the team’s maddening inability to get to the net and actually challenge Brody Hoffman on the numerous rebounds he allowed.
For all the talk online this week about how tough a test this will be for Lowell, we can’t imagine how a team that’s three games below .500, about in the area of the other sub-.500 squads Lowell’s faced in recent weeks (Clarkson was four games below, Bentley two, Northeastern three) constitutes a tough test for the first team.
Statistics show Vermont is three games below .500 despite having a strength of schedule that’s just 23rd in the nation (and for the record, Lowell’s is 14th, but was something like sixth before it played Clarkson twice). Its Hockey East opponents, unlike Lowell’s, aren’t exactly BC and UNH for five of the team’s 10. Vermont has played one with UNH and one with BU, and the rest were against relative minnows like Merrimack and Providence thrice, Maine twice, and Amherst and Northeastern once. Having 10 points from 13 games doesn’t really do much to impress us when you’ve played just two games against teams that are top-3 in the league. Lowell’s played five, and already has more wins in fewer games against league opponents. We can’t imagine the kind of deranged mind that counts three wins in 13 league games as being credible evidence that this is a team primed for breakout if only it can get its hands on supposedly-soft opponents like Lowell. You already played fifth-place Merrimack three times, and last-place Maine twice. How much softer do you want it?
The good Lowell team that showed up for three of the last five games has a pretty much 100 percent chance of decking Vermont no matter where the game is played. The not-so-good Lowell team that showed up for the other two and has a tendency to make things all too worrisome probably, based on recent results, still has a 60-40 chance of winning.
Look at the stats above. Vermont is plainly not good at either scoring goals or preventing other teams from doing it to them. Lowell, especially in this last stretch, has been pretty good at both of those things (3.6 goals for, 1.0 against per game over the last five).
Obviously it’s important to keep in mind that the one thing at which Lowell has been pretty damn good since it got into the not-hard portion of its schedule is that it just doesn’t allow a lot of goals, and its save percentage has been pretty much sky-high. Again, just one goal a night on average, never more than three allowed. Hellebuyck stopped 79 of 80 (.988), Carr stopped 41 of 45 (.911). Together, that’s 120 of 125 (.960). And you’re trying to tell us that a Vermont team shooting just 8 percent this season and which puts up fewer than two goals a game against league opponents — weighted heavily by a four-goal performance against a Jon Gillies-less Providence — is going to score enough goals to earn anything more than a point or two, the latter being a disastrous and disappointing worst-case scenario?
We don’t see it.