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Weekend preview: The true measure of a team

February 14, 2013

The Lowell River Hawks (14-9-2, 8-8-2 Hockey East) vs. the Amherst Minutemen (10-13-2, 7-10-1 Hockey East)

7 p.m. Friday at Mullins Center, Amherst, Mass.
7 p.m. Saturday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.

Lowell is sixth in Hockey East with 18 points from 18 games, and Amherst is seventh with 15 points from 18 games.

Last three games
Lowell  — 3-4 (ot) at Maine, 0-1 at Merrimack, 5-4 (ot) vs. Northeastern.
Amherst — 2-4 at Merrimack, 5-1 vs. BU, 2-3 at Vermont.

Prior meetings
Lowell leads Merrimack 35-24-6, all-time.

Season series
Lowell clobbered Amherst 8-2 at Mullins Center in mid-November behind a Riley Wetmore hat trick.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Joe Pendenza — 25 GP, 9-13-22 (18 GP, 6-11-17 HE)
Scott Wilson — 25, 7-14-21 (18, 5-12-17)
Josh Holmstrom — 25, 6-10-16 (18, 5-5-10)
Ryan McGrath — 24, 6-9-15 (18, 3-6-9)
Derek Arnold — 25, 5-10-15 (18, 5-5-10)

Amherst:
Branden Gracel — 25 GP, 13-13-26 (18 GP, 9-8-17 HE)
Michael Pereira — 25, 8-11-19 (18, 7-8-15)
Conor Sheary — 25, 6-12-18 (18, 4-10-14)
Conor Allen — 25, 5-10-15 (18, 4-6-10)
Rocco Carzo — 25, 8-6-14 (18, 6-4-10)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Doug Carr (8-8-2) — 19 GP, 1,052:29, 2.79 GAA/.897 sv% (15 GP, 863:12, 3.06 GAA/.889 sv% HE)
Connor Hellebuyck (6-1-0) — 8, 429:28, 1.54/.944 (4, 199:14, 1.20/.955)

Amherst:
Kevin Boyle (8-8-2) — 15 GP, 1,086:34, 2.54 GAA/.904 sv% (11 GP, 663:58, 2.08 GAA/.925 sv% HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (25 games) — 74 goals for (2.96/gm), 62 goals against (2.48/gm). Power play 21/122 (17.2, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 79/94 (84.0%, 4 SHGF)
Hockey East (18 games) — 51 goals for (2.83/gm), 50 goals against (2.78/gm). Power play 16/97 (16.5%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 52/63 (82.5%, 3 SHGF)

Massachusetts:
Overall (25 games) — 71 goals for (2.84/gm), 74 goals against (2.96/gm). Power play 24/130 (18.5%, 6 SHGA), penalty kill 92/109 (84.4%, 6 SHGF)
Hockey East (18 games) — 50 goals for (2.78/gm), 51 goals against (2.83/gm). Power play 13/83 (15.7%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 66/75 (88.0%, 4 SHGF)

Outlook
The best way to put this is that Lowell has to — absolutely positively has to — take all four points this weekend.

All indications are that Amherst is about as good at hockey this year as Lowell is over the course of the whole season, and that’s something that really makes us want to get in a nice hot bath with a toaster. Look at the stats. Lowell scores 0.05 more goals per game in Hockey East. Allows 0.05 fewer. That tenth of a goal a game difference really doesn’t amount to a whole lot of extra wins over the course of the season, except to say that obviously Lowell has three additional points in the same number of games.

The thing that sets these two teams apart is that Amherst often beats teams it has no business beating, while Lowell for the most part devours on the league’s minnows and gets swallowed whole by its sharks. How else to explain the Minutemen’s wins against UNH, BU and BC this season? How else to explain its losses to Vermont and Northeastern? Baffling results seem to be the name of Amherst’s particular games, and when it rains for them, it pours, both in the positive and negative. In its Hockey East losses, Amherst has given up four goals or more five times, and scored more than two just twice. In its seven wins, it scored four goals or more four times, and allowed more than one just three times.

Not that we think it’s any kind of revelation that “giving up a lot and scoring very few, and vice versa, is conducive to losing and winning, respectively,” but it seems that when things go badly for Amherst, they go disastrously, and when they go well, things couldn’t be better. That’s more or less the case with Lowell too, we suppose, but for the River Hawks, it seems only one thing goes haywire — just the defense, only the offense, merely special teams — rather than everything at once.

For further evidence of this one need look no deeper than the only meeting between the two teams this season. Lowell didn’t just beat Amherst, it embarrassed the Minutemen on their home ice with a six-goal drubbing that was the worst experienced by them at Mullins Center since BC pumped them 7-1 (on NESN no less) on Feb. 5, 2010. That was the very definition of a game win which just about everything went right for the visitors, and everything badly for the hosts, excepting special teams, as Lowell went just 1 of 9 on the PK compared to Amherst’s 2-for-9 power play. In that game, Lowell put 23 shots on net, and eight went in. That includes three and then four out of 10 in the first two periods, respectively, and one of just three in the third. To be fair, Amherst started its third-string goalie, who got the hook after just 16:26, then continued to pound their demoralized second-stringer for five on 15.

We can’t imagine that with Kevin Boyle in net this weekend, Lowell will have anywhere near that easy a time, but then this is the Amherst defense about which we’re speaking, and one would never want to guess to enthusiastically about the state of their, well, anything.

What we would point out here, in closing, is that playing the teams in the middle of the standings is what makes all the difference here. Among the teams from fourth to eighth place (therefore excluding BC, Merrimack, UNH, Maine, and Northeastern), Amherst is just 3-6-0, while Lowell 6-0-1. These are teams that anyone with pretensions to doing much of note in the league should beat, because they’re all scrambling over each other for position in a race that’s needlessly close. Amherst may be six points out of a home ice spot (and therefore extraordinarily unlikely to get one, given that they have series with Lowell, UNH and Merrimack among others to close out the year), but Lowell’s just three back, and both teams have a game in hand on everyone ahead of them but BU. There’s going to be a lot of cannibalizing each others’ points among those four or five teams who are in the hunt.

That gets back to that whole thing about getting four points. These are the River Hawks’ last super-winnable games of the season, so super-winning them is of the utmost importance.

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