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Saturday thoughts: Stay on the bus

February 23, 2013

All you really need to know about this game is that Joe Pendenza put up as many shots as BU mustered in the first and third periods combined. We really can’t sum it up any better than that.

In the truest sense of the word, Boston University showed up for this game. In that they took the bus from Boston to Lowell and put on all their equipment and even went out and skated around with sticks. But we haven’t seen a team mail in a 60-minute non-effort like that in quite some time. And we say that as some of the few thousand truly unfortunate people worldwide who saw BU’s game last night.

But where there was at least something behind the eyes of the Terriers in that home shutout, tonight they just seemed to have a thousand-mile stare, going through the rote motions of taking the occasional shot, trying to win faceoffs, and making saves, but you could just see their heart wasn’t in it.

Frankly, the score should have been a whole lot worse than the 3-1 final with which Lowell actually walked away, and they it wasn’t was a testament to the continued difficulties in scoring on the power play — of which BU giftwrapped 14:37 of time with the man advantage just for them on the occasion of their first sweep of the Terriers since 2001 — rather than BU doing literally anything at all to keep things reasonably close.

Well actually, that’s not wholly true. Lowell did put poor Sean Maguire under a North Hollywood Shootout-type assault and he did make a handful of pretty good saves, but also got lucky in that Lowell hit a pipe, and one shot that beat him five-hole somehow ended up going wide of the net. But look, shots in the game wound up being 39-16. Yes, just 16 shots. In the entire game. By BU. The aforementioned number of combined shots for the Terriers in the first and third periods, which matched Pendenza’s total alone, was seven (four and three, respectively, if you can believe it).

Logic would dictate that since BU was trailing for the vast majority of the game after Scott Wilson opened the scoring with another bomb off the post into the top corner just 5:47 into the game, that score effects alone would allow BU to get out of single-digit shot totals in any one period, but that simply wasn’t the case. Moreover, a healthy portion of BU’s shots on goal were from the neutral zone — we counted about five or — which means that eight shots, give or take, actually came from inside Lowell’s blue line. We saw some comments that the shorthanded goal Lowell conceded midway through the third was the result of Connor Hellebuyck having fallen asleep, and we honestly can’t blame him; he could have ripped through a Dostoevsky novel back there tonight. On the other hand, apart from the goal, BU’s best scoring chance came on just such a neutral-zone shot, because it got lost in Hellebuyck’s equipment and he spent a good three seconds looking around for it before finally covering. That said, that chance, if you want to call it that, was also BU’s first shot of the game, about eight minutes into the first period, after Lowell had already gone up 1-0. It really was that kind of night.

And speaking of Wilson’s opener, we now no longer understand why he ever tries wrist shots at any point. His goals last night and tonight were both the result of dialed-in slappers that Matt O’Connor and Sean Maguire, respectively, just waved at cartoonishly, like all those passengers on the Titanic bidding their loved ones adieu for the last time, just days before they sank freezing to their watery graves. Maguire’s cursory glove lift came off as being particularly poorly acted, but the shot got by him so fast that the only way he could save face was to do it, so full marks for the grudging shrug. His teammates totally hung him out to dry by leaving the puck unattended in the neutral zone to begin with, but man, that Wilson shot was something else.

And even after that egregious play, the second ill-timed line change that led to a Wilson slapshot goal in as many nights, BU still played with what must, to Scarlet and White partisans, have been a disconcerting lack of urgency. They gave Lowell a two-man advantage a short time later, did nothing whatsoever on a power play of their own (excepting a Matt Nieto shot attempt that went wide, we suppose), and were generally lucky to escape the opening 20 down just one.

After the interval, Lowell continued to push their guests around on the ice and were outshooting them 7-2 in the middle frame when Matt Lane, of whom we had literally never heard prior to this weekend, committed a tripping penalty. The resultant power play was, like its predecessors and successors on the night, rather uneventful, except for the part where Lowell somehow worked a 4-on-1 break about a minute in, of which Chad Ruhwedel was the ultimate beneficiary and stretched Lowell’s lead to two just three seconds shy of the halfway point of the game. It was shortly after this point, we’d estimate, that BU began to come apart at the seams in earnest, as there were a number of penalties taken not in the course of play — such as a trip, hook, or even slash — but rather out of frustration, such as Sean Escobedo tackling a Lowell player to the ice and throwing a punch at him. We’d seen this kind of garbage from a frustrated and getting-run-out-of-the-building Terrier side before this season, and certainly it appeared as though that would continue, but for the second time this weekend, Lowell entered the second intermission up 2-0 and none the worse for wear, and it appeared the sailing would be smooth going forward.

That wasn’t necessarily the case, though, as Lowell’s power play struggles continued and that led to an Evan Rodrigues goal that brought the Terriers within one at 8:25. There, at least, was something that seemed to spark BU, because even if they weren’t actually getting the puck and doing anything with it, they were at least keeping Lowell from doing anything with it, and we suppose that’s a kind of success (though probably not the one you’re looking for down a goal on the road against a team that already beat you twice this season). Even Wade Megan taking a hooking penalty just six seconds after the shortie, giving Lowell yet another 5-on-3, didn’t really do much to engender confidence that the River Hawks would make BU pay at any point.

We were content to let the clock run out to a 2-1 win, as it appeared BU’s attempts to empty whatever clips it had remaining were leading to nothing but flags reading “BANG!” popping out of the barrel. However, while we were content, Joe Pendenza obviously was not. When Christian Folin lofted a puck lazily through the neutral zone and Pendenza skated onto it, it didn’t look like he had much to work with. It was an odd-man rush but he wasn’t coming in from an angle normally conducive to scoring, and the defenseman was very nicely taking away his passing options. But he drove hard to the net, backed Maguire off a smidge, and beat him five-hole with all the ease and panache we’ve come to expect. His celebration before Lowell’s noisy student section was a kind of “Are you not entertained?” shrug, as though there was never any doubt he’d bury the puck and the game and the weekend and the season series and BU’s chances at being in any way relevant in this league for the remainder of the year.

We said before all this started that we’d like to see Lowell take four points from the weekend, but we never thought it would be this easy. The Terriers put together just 41 shots in two games, and rarely looked like they were any sort of threat to actually impinge on Lowell’s chances of waltzing away with exactly what we wanted. Everyone on the River Hawks played well, as near as we can reckon, and the total commitment to team defense has to fill Lowell’s remaining opponents with disquiet at the very least.

This team might be playing the best hockey of anyone in the conference right now, and we can’t imagine anyone particularly wants to play them. That’s a nice feeling to have this deep into February.

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