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Weekend preview: The true measure of a man

January 31, 2013

The Lowell River Hawks (14-7-2, 8-6-2 Hockey East) vs. the Merrimack Warriors (10-10-5, 8-6-2 Hockey East) and Maine Black Bears (7-14-4, 3-9-4 Hockey East)

7 p.m. Friday at Volpe Center, North Andover, Mass.
7 p.m. Sunday at Alfond Arena, Orono, Me.

Lowell is tied for fifth in Hockey East with 18 points from 16 games, Merrimack is tied for fifth in Hockey East with 18 points from 16 games, and Maine is last in Hockey East with 10 points from 16 games.

Last three games
Lowell  — 5-4 (ot) vs. Northeastern, 4-4 (ot) at Northeastern, 4-3 at BU.
Merrimack — 2-6 at UNH, 3-2 vs. UNH, 3-2 at Maine.
Maine — 3-1 at BC, 4-1 at BC, 2-3 vs. Merrimack

Prior meetings
Lowell leads Merrimack 69-35-9 and trails Maine 31-75-3, all-time.

Season series
Lowell has yet to play Merrimack but split a weekend series with Maine at Tsongas Center back in early November.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Joe Pendenza — 23 GP, 9-12-21 (16 GP, 6-10-16 HE)
Scott Wilson — 23, 7-14-21 (16, 5-12-17)
Josh Holmstrom — 23, 6-10-16 (16, 5-5-10)
Derek Arnold — 23, 5-10-15 (16, 5-5-10)
Chad Ruhwedel — 23, 6-8-14 (16, 4-5-9)

Merrimack:
Mike Collins — 25 GP, 13-17-30 (16 GP, 8-17-25 HE)
Connor Toomey — 25, 3-10-13 (16, 3-8-11)
Jordan Heywood — 25, 5-7-12 (16, 5-3-8)
Brian Christie — 24, 4-8-12 (16, 3-5-8)
Brendan Ellis — 23, 3-9-12 (16, 3-7-10)

Maine:
Connor Leen — 24 GP, 7-5-12 (15 GP, 5-1-6 HE)
Devin Shore — 25, 2-9-11 (16, 1-6-7)
Joey Diamond — 22, 6-4-10 (15, 4-2-6)
Kyle Beattie — 19, 4-5-9 (12, 2-2-4)
Mike Cornell — 25, 2-6-8 (16, 1-3-4)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Doug Carr (8-6-2) — 17 GP, 931:07, 2.84 GAA/.895 sv% (13 GP, 741:50, 3.15 GAA/.885 sv% HE)
Connor Hellebuyck (6-1-0) — 8, 429:28, 1.54/.944 (4, 199:14, 1.20/.955)

Merrimack:
Sam Marotta (7-5-3) — 15 GP, 915:18, 2.29 GAA/.914 sv% (11 GP, 666:37, 2.43 GAA/.916 sv% HE)
Rasmus Tirronen (3-5-2) — 10, 604:42, 2.58/.905 (5, 303:59, 2.37/.921)

Maine:
Martin Ouellette (5-7-4) — 17 GP, 950:54, 2.08 GAA/.924 sv% (14 GP, 820:21, 2.12 GAA/.922 sv% HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (23 games) — 71 goals for (3.05/gm), 57 goals against (2.48/gm). Power play 19/111 (17.1, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 72/85 (84.7%, 4 SHGF)
Hockey East (16 games) — 48 goals for (3.00/gm), 45 goals against (2.81/gm). Power play 14/86 (16.3%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 52/63 (82.5%, 3 SHGF)

Merrimack:
Overall (25 games) — 67 goals for (2.68/gm), 64 goals against (2.56/gm). Power play 19/119 (16.0%, 5 SHGA), penalty kill 92/111 (82.9%, 1 SHGF)
Hockey East (16 games) — 47 goals for (2.94/gm), 40 goals against (2.50/gm). Power play 15/78 (19.2%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 60/71 (84.5%, 0 SHGF)

Maine:
Overall (25 games) — 42 goals for (1.68/gm), 65 goals against (2.60/gm). Power play 10/120 (8.3%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 99/118 (83.9%, 3 SHGF)
Hockey East (16 games) — 25 goals for (1.56/gm), 39 goals against (2.44/gm). Power play 6/77 (7.8%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 68/82 (82.9%, 2 SHGF)

Outlook
This will be a very interesting weekend for a lot of reasons. The first and most obvious is that Friday’s game at Merrimack, which will air on NESN, is between the two teams currently tied for fifth in the league with a game in hand on fourth-place Providence, and both have identical records. A win for either would, if combined with anything less than a Friars win at Maine, catapult them into the final home ice spot.

And what’s intriguing about Merrimack is that despite being on the same level as Lowell in the league, they’re a far more mediocre team overall. They allow more goals, they score fewer. Granted, they’ve been far better at keeping the puck out of the net than the River Hawks when playing league opponents this season, but that also comes with the very important caveat that Doug Carr was uniformly terrible last weekend and that certainly skews Lowell’s numbers upward.

Even looking at the Warriors’ schedule, it’s just very strange. They’ve had a relatively easy go of things in the league so far (it has eight of its final 11 league games against teams currently in first through fifth place, and plays all of them at least once), but still are only two games above .500, despite playing Northeastern, Maine and Vermont three times each already. You can obviously say the same for Lowell, which BC once more, and BU and Providence twice more each, plus all three with Merrimack, but where the River Hawks are resurgent after a fallow start, Merrimack has always been steadily in the middle. We’re not sure which we’d prefer, and being in the hunt for home ice is obviously where both teams would like to be (though if we’re being honest about Lowell, it would likely want to have been securely in the hunt well before this).

Further, remember all that stuff from last week about how Northeastern’s offense runs mostly through Kevin Roy (which didn’t turn out to be categorically true on Friday and Saturday)? Ditto for Merrimack. Mike Collins has 13-17-30 in 25 games (1.2 per game) this year, including an incredible 8-17-25 (1.56 per) in 16 against Hockey East opponents. No one else has more than 13. No one else has more than five goals. The disparity between Collins’ production and the rest of his teammates’ is not dissimilar to the wealth gap, and the junior had 11 points in his previous seven games prior to being held off the scoresheet by UNH on Saturday; he has three three-point games in his last five outings. If Lowell wants success this weekend, it has to effectively bottle up Collins, which won’t always be easy given that the Warriors have last change.

But that’s how it goes with road games, and Lowell better get used to it. The Maine game on Sunday is likewise away from Tsongas Center, and despite the Black Bears’ lowly position in the polls, we’re not thinking that this will be some kind of pushover game. Even beyond their inexplicable road sweep of Boston College last weekend, Maine has been playing much better hockey after an horrific start, going 5-3-2 in their last 10. However, of those, six were against Hockey East teams, and they went 2-2-2 in those. They also still don’t have a league win at Alfond this season. Again, they host up-and-down Providence on Friday and hopefully they can pick up the W there so as to sate themselves that winning in their own building is indeed possible these days. Not that we’d envy playing a Maine team on a three-game win streak in Orono, but if it’s a choice between a hungry or happy Black Bear squad, we’d take the latter every time.

We needn’t revisit what happened the last time these two teams met (ugly, boring games, of which Lowell somehow dropped one) but suffice it to say that we want Lowell to keep the memory of losing 4-3 at home to a team that was plainly terrible at the time close to the surface, because the prospect of losing the season series to a team that has just three wins in 16 league games simply cannot be considered acceptable.

Two wins, it seems, is a reasonable ask for this weekend. Merrimack can be beaten. Maine can be beaten. Especially if the defending tightens up a little bit from the horror show put on display last week. Four points in the standings could, in theory, catapult Lowell all the way up to second in the league, assuming it gets every bounce (Maine would have to beat Providence, BU would have to lose to Amherst, and UNH would have to bow to both Northeastern and Merrimack. Any one of those results seems unlikely,  but we’re just reporting the facts). But even without all those bounces, those four points would be just massive going forward. They’re necessary.

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