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Loose pucks: Listen to the band, they’re playing just for me

March 5, 2013

Three things we that are tops in our books:
1) If you’re not first…

We said at the beginning of the season that Lowell would be in contention for the top spot in the league, and certainly we meant it at the time. But with each loss in October and November against mostly good teams and some pretty bad ones too (Maine, for instance) we couldn’t see a way back. It took quite the historic run for Lowell to soar back to the top of the mountain, but 17-2-1 is a pretty good way to go about things. We mentioned last week that we particularly liked the team getting over the two losses to Merrimack and Maine, and if anything that seemed to make the River Hawks in some way invincible, like conventional weapons are useless against them. Good feeling to have.

2) Connor Hellebuyck.

Goes without saying, obviously, but the fact that his save percentage is in the same neighborhood as his winning percentage is just insane. He’s also now finally played enough games to qualify as being the best goaltender in Hockey East statistically, and just in time to save Lowell’s season. There’s been a lot of talk that the team’s incredible turnaround was the result of everyone deciding it was time to “buy in” to the defensive systems Norm Bazin had been pushing with little success through 12 games. But we also don’t it’s a coincidence that the turnaround coincided with Hellebuyck’s first starts since the game at Denver. Even in that game, the announcers were falling all over themselves to praise him as Lowell played a messy game in front of him, and only some bad penalties and subsequent power play goals inflated his stats. The kid has been nothing less than solid in every game this season, and that’s got to help a team out considerably. In fact, Lowell’s record since he took over (and discounting when he was injured) bears that out perfectly well.

3) The newcomers on defense.

For most of the season, Lowell’s defense looked something like this: Chad Ruhwedel, Jake Suter, Zack Kamrass, and three of Christian Folin, Joe Houk, Dan Furlong, Greg Amlong, Dima Sinitsyn. Folin solidified his role relatively early, and has played in all but three games (and really began to look great), but it took longer for Houk and Amlong to get regular lineup spots. Now that they have, things are going very well for them, and obviously the River Hawk team defense as a whole. Houk also has eight points in his last 10 games, while Amlong has played in six straight and scored his first career goal on Sunday. We also thought he was one of the best defensemen on the ice in the BU series. So take all that into consideration, and it’s pretty easy to see why the consistency every week has brought the Lowell D to heights that are nearly unimaginable.

Two things that can take a hike:
1) Some no-name Merrimack puke.

Those unfortunate enough to have had to sit through Lowell’s broadcast on the CBS Sports Network on Sunday likely heard some serious disrespect being levied against Lowell and specifically star goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. The terminally stupid Merrimack forward Shawn Bates, who has a whopping seven goals this season, had the gall to criticize the hasn’t-lost-since-October netminder. This mouthbreather never-will-be nobody said of Connor Hellebuyck, who had to that point not allowed a single goal to Merrimack in five periods that weekend, “We feel like if we get shots on this kid, they’re gonna go in. He’s fighting the puck already, so… .” FIGHTING THE PUCK? Connor Hellebuyck? Did we watch the same five periods this dummy saw? The only way Hellebuyck fought the puck was like Mike Tyson fought his opponents circa 1986. We know Bates only goes to Merrimack and therefore has the barest understanding of Western society, but come on now. You’re presumably a scholarship hockey player. For this egregious affront to all things wonderful about Lowell hockey, we’re afraid we have no choice but to move Shawn Bates to being On Notice, replacing the “Mass Attack,” which has itself been moved to Never Existed status for obvious reasons.

2) Nerves.

Not that Lowell’s given us any reason whatsoever to believe that they won’t run over Providence this weekend like a cartoon steamroller flattening Wile E. Coyote, but every day that’s not Friday is like a knife in our hearts.

Stat of the Week
So Lowell got a pair of votes for the No. 1 team in the nation this week, and should probably be sitting in a top-4 position at the very least given their standing in the Pairwise and, more specifically, the way they’ve played since that second consecutive home loss to UNH. You want numbers? We’ve got numbers.

Lowell went 17-2-1 in the last 20 games, the best stretch in the school’s Div.1 history, for an .875 winning percentage. That’s just about 81 percent of the team’s wins on the season in just 62.5 percent of its games played. Before that it was 4-7-1, for a win percentage of .375.

It has scored 72 goals in those 20 games (3.6 a night), comprising 72 percent of the team’s total goals (100) through 32.

It has allowed 36 in that same time (1.8 per game, exactly half what it scored), making up just 50.7 percent of all goals allowed this year (71).

The power play is running at 20 percent, scoring 22 goals on 110 opportunities. That’s compared with just seven on 48 opportunities in the first 12 games of the year (14.6 percent).

The penalty kill is humming along at 89.2 percent (66 of 74) since the run began, in comparison with a grisly 78.7 (37 of 47) in the early part of the season.

Interestingly, shots for and against have improved only marginally between these two runs. When Lowell has been successful, it’s putting 31.6 shots per game on net (632 in 20), compared with 31.58 per when it was losing (379 in 12). And at the same time, it is allowing 26.7 per game now (534) compared with the previous 28.08 (337). That’s a shot differential swing of just 1.4 per game (from plus-3.5 to plus-4.9).

What that tells us, then, is that Lowell’s shooting percentage has improved dramatically. Its 72 goals on 632 shots is good for a shooting percentage of 11.4 or so, compared with the earlier 38 on 379 (10.0). And sure, that’s an extra 1.4 percent, which isn’t a lot to look at, but it’s also the difference between a .900 save percentage and a .914 save percentage, which is obviously saying something.

Meanwhile, Lowell’s opponents have seen their shooting percentages plummet. They scored 35 goals on 337 shots in just 12 games in the first half of the year (10.4 percent), but only netted 36 on 534 in the second half (6.7 percent).

For the record, league-average shooting and save percentages are 8.8 percent (807 goals on 9,197 shots) and .912 (770 conceded on 8,706 shots), respectively.

Is it Friday yet?
No seriously.

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