Friday thoughts: Trouble in mind
The unbeaten streak is over and anyone watching more than five minutes of this game — really, any five-minute portion of it — knows exactly why: This was an inept offensive performance after the team poured goals into the net at a ridiculous pace for about a month.
The quick and easy facts are these: Lowell was outshot 27-25, but had a significant edge in power play chances and indeed 5-on-3s, and attempted a pathetic 50 shots on goal nonetheless. In chatting about the game, it was agreed between us that there was never really any considerable threat that Lowell would actually put it past Sam Marotta, who didn’t have a lot to do in picking up a shutout tonight.
An ugly way to end the 11-game unbeaten run, to be sure.
The obvious caveat to this is that the worrisome defense that regularly featured last weekend, as well as the commensurate poor goaltending, were nowhere in evidence. And you could probably say that’s to be expected a little bit. Obviously the Lowell that bled goals against Northeastern last weekend isn’t the Lowell to which we’ve all become accustomed, and this was a nice bounce-back in that regard, but it seems the weeks upon weeks of shooting something like 14 percent (compared to the season average of 9.6 or so, and even that higher number comes with the downward pressure of the 2-on-50 performance by Jon Gillies two weeks ago) finally caught up with the River Hawks. Let’s lead into a breakdown of just how dismal the offense was tonight by acknowledging that it entered the game having scored 31 goals in its previous seven games, and that’s 4.43 a night.
But yes, Lowell was inept in the attacking zone tonight. All that stuff about not getting to the net reared its ugly head once again throughout the contest, and was made worse by the fact that in addition to not getting to the net, the team was also just not maintaining possession anywhere in the Merrimack half of the ice. Not to say Lowell was in any way hemmed into its own zone for more than a few seconds here and there, but it just did absolutely nothing in attack to ever convince us that Marotta needed to do much more than stay awake.
Perhaps most frustrating about all of it, and it’s not easy to pick out a frontrunner here, was that Lowell managed just four shots on goal in the third period, two of which came during the power plays Merrimack insisted on giving Lowell in the dying minutes just to make the game interesting. Only one of those, though, came on the 35-second two-man advantage that pushed the game to the brink. In our opinion the team was a little too pass-happy up and down the roster, and while it didn’t exactly dish off on Grade-A opportunities, it also did nothing to actually get the puck to the net and create chaos in front of Marotta even as the Merrimack defense routinely overskated flat pucks in its own zone. The saddest fact of the game boils down to this: Merrimack went up 1-0, at 7:40 of the third period, but with about five minutes left, Lowell had just one shot on goal.
You can say that’s Merrimack clamping down in the defensive zone, and that was certainly the case (they picked up nine of their total 17 blocks in the third period alone), but Lowell didn’t make much in the way of attempts even as the hosts shelled up. Shot attempts, including those on goal, blocked, wide, and off the post, went 19-13 to Merrimack in the third, despite the fact that Lowell had three power plays, including the aforementioned 34-second two-man advantage, to Merrimack’s one.
It should be noted again that Lowell’s not-good-at-all 50 attempts on net stands in stark contrast to a game just 15 days ago, in which it put 50 on goal against Providence (that was free-wheeling, up and down, dangerous hockey; this was the total opposite). But with that said, let’s also consider that Merrimack was held to just 49 attempts. The best of this came in the second period, the only 20-minute stretch during which Lowell was demonstrably better than the winners. Merrimack only got six shots on goal, had two more blocked, and put six wide. The problem is that you can’t outplay your opponents for one period on the road and expect to win. They tried it against Northeastern last week and were terribly lucky to escape with the point, and despite Merrimack’s attempts to let Lowell rekindle that old late magic, things just can’t break your way like that forever.
Carr was perfectly solid tonight, which, even when he was spectacular last season, was just about all he ever looked. Square to everything, always right where he needed to be, confident, poised. His decision to come out and challenge Mike Collins, and completely abandon his crease, late in the first period showed how much better he must have been feeling about his game this time around. The only shot that beat him was unstoppable: through traffic, off the far post and in. Grade-A game from the netminder, and it’s a shame the offense couldn’t help him out. Boy is that a familiar refrain to anyone who watched this team in October.
One last thing we’ll note by the way is that this game adds to the evidence that Norm Bazin-coached Lowell teams simply can’t play all that well against Merrimack. We’re up to four games of sample size (still small, obviously), but that 1-2-1 record doesn’t look so hot. What’s interesting, one supposes, is that Lowell has taken three of four points at Tsongas Center, and none at all at Volpe, and looked legitimately awful in both games there. Please hold off on reminding us that Lowell has another game in North Andover later this year.
Hockey, they say, is a game of bounces. Lowell got approximately one tonight (when a length-of-the-ice clear with the net empty hit the inside of the post and stayed out), and that’s about in line with what it got every night for most of the early part of the season. We said it a few times in the last few weeks, but during that miraculous 11-game unbeaten streak, Lowell got just about all of them. This game was always coming down the tracks.