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Friday thoughts: That’s alright, that’s okay

January 11, 2013

Remember how we said the result of this game would depend very much on which Lowell team showed up? Well, two separate Lowell teams actually did.

The first period saw the River Hawks that dominate everyone they play. They outshot the Catamounts by 11 and scored twice (though they conceded the opening goal on a bad play by Dmitry Sinitsyn), and that, coupled with a third period in which Vermont couldn’t get out of its own way, was enough to propel the team to a 4-2 result, and its sixth consecutive win.

During that period, Lowell actually piled up a whopping 17 shots, though as the Vermont announcers were ever-so-quick to point out, many of them came from the perimeter, though of that total, more than half were also designed to get faceoffs in the attacking zone, and were successful in doing so. But what that simple shooting stat also tells you, while concealing the fact that no, the majority weren’t in any way threatening to Brody Hoffman, is that Lowell dominated possession. And it did. It had the puck far more often than Vermont even in its own defensive zone, and though the Catamounts did score, that was an aberration, both in the period and the game itself.

Scott Wilson had both Lowell goals and both came because, unlike the first game against Vermont this season, guys were actually getting to the front of the net with some amount of regularity. Not enough for our liking, sure, but enough to stake the ‘Hawks to a first period lead it never relinquished. That’s not to say, however, that it didn’t feel as though it would do so.

That’s because Lowell’s performance in the first period was inversely proportional to that in the second. It was maybe the worst single period of the season, and certainly the worst in which it somehow didn’t concede a goal. The River Hawks managed just two shots in the entire period, one of which came from Josh Holmstrom on a great Wilson pass with about five seconds to go and was actually one of the better scoring chances the team posted all night. But apart from that, the entire second period was Vermont’s and Vermont’s only. They outshot Lowell 10-2 despite Lowell having a brief 5-on-3 power play, and drew a pair of penalties of their own midway through the frame. It got so bad, in fact, that all of the Catamounts’ territorial dominance for Norm Bazin to use his timeout just so his charges could catch their breath.

This was very much a period of Bad Lowell, the team we feared would show up this weekend and gift Vermont the game. But as with Bentley and Clarkson before it, Vermont was all too happy to oblige Lowell by not finding a way to solve Connor Hellebuyck despite running about a third of the game in a rather comprehensive fashion. What gracious hosts, sure, but hats off to Hellbuyck as well, who made a number of difficult saves throughout the game to continue to cement what should, in our mind, be his position as No. 1 starter.

As for the third period, well, it was just bizarre. Once again Vermont held a pretty decisive advantage for the first seven or eight minutes of the period, but failed to break through, and indeed granted Lowell two more power plays thanks to an obvious overly-enthusiastic run at things in the hitting department. On the second of those power plays, Holmstrom, who had a pretty solid night for the ‘Hawks, tipped home a Ryan McGrath shot from the top of the circles and doubled Lowell’s lead. The team seemed to breathe a bit easier after that, but Vermont turned up the heat once again, pinning Lowell in its own zone for a lengthy stretch and eventually drawing a slashing penalty out of Jake Suter.

Then, with Hoffman pulled for the extra attacker in the run-up to the stoppage, the puck found its way to Nick Luukko at the bottom of the left circle, and he snuck a pretty nice shot past Hellebuyck. (That, by the way, is the first time Hellebuyck conceded more than one goal in any appearance since October 19.)

So now the lead was back to one, less than four and a half minutes later, and the Catamounts were going on the power play. That seemed like pretty bad news for Lowell, run of 25 or so straight penalty kills notwithstanding. But Vermont really only seemed to spin its tires in the first couple shifts of that man advantage, and then it made a rather critical mistake. A defenseman pinched down along the left halfboards to try to do, well, something, to a loose puck that had shaken loose of a scrum along the wall. Adam Chapie saw this and chipped it past that defenseman, creating a two-on-one with Christian Folin (who finished the night with three assists and is now on 1-5-6 in his last five games, in addition to continuing to play lockdown defense). After a brief back-and-forth in the neutral zone, Chapie never thought about passing again, and beat Hoffman to once again double Lowell’s lead and put the game on ice. That Ryan McGrath earned a penalty shot later in that same Vermont… ahem… power play underscores just how “over” the game was, even if he didn’t score on it.

After that, the game devolved into a penaltyfest because the frustrated hosts were mad that they couldn’t beat a team with only six total shots in the last 38 minutes or so. Yvan Pattyn tried to run someone into the boards (and weirdly got called for holding), and he and Riley Wetmore went off for hitting after the whistle to create another Lowell power play. The Vermont players were audibly calling the penalty “brutal” from the bench, but the only thing brutal about any performance in the game was its ineptitude in failing to put away a road-weary team that was playing some ghastly hockey. Then 41 seconds later, Connor Brickley took his second penalty of the night on a high stick, and another 22 seconds after that, Nick Bruneteau saw fit to crosscheck someone else. Sore-loser stuff from a bad program with just three league wins in 14 tries, and Kevin Sneddon should be embarrassed. But we’re sure he’s not, because if having nine total league wins in the last two seasons wasn’t enough to shame him into retirement, his players engaging in dirty extracurriculars because they just lost their second game in a row at home to a team below them in the standings sure isn’t going to do it.

The thing you have to keep in mind about this game, and many involving Lowell these days, really, is that it’s now winning everything in sight irrespective of how well it plays. While the team still isn’t necessarily playing to the level of which it is clearly capable on a nightly basis, it’s at least winning anyway, and really, that’s all you can ask for. Six in a row is good no matter how you slice it. So is once again giving up two goals or fewer. So is once again scoring four. The River Hawks now look like a good team still in the process of awakening, and dispatching the poorer teams in the league while doing so is something about which we have no complaints at all. Back at it again tomorrow night, and hopefully things go just a little bit smoother.

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