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Weekend preview: For all the marbles

March 7, 2013

The Lowell River Hawks (21-9-2, 15-8-2 Hockey East) vs. the Providence Friars (14-11-7, 12-7-6 Hockey East)

7 p.m. Friday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
7 p.m. Saturday at Schneider Arena, Providence, R.I.

Lowell is first in Hockey East with 32 points from 25 games, and Providence is tied for third in Hockey East with 30 points from 25 games.

Last three games
Lowell  — 3-1 at Merrimack, 4-0 vs. Merrimack, 4-2 at BC.
Providence — 5-1 at BC, 2-3 vs. BC, 3-2 at Northeastern.

Prior meetings
Lowell trails Providence 42-49-11, all-time.

Season series
Lowell pummeled Providence in their only meeting of the season, but only emerged with a 2-1 win because Jon Gillies had 48 saves on 50 shots. He won’t be so lucky this time around.

Top scorers
Joe Pendenza — 32 GP, 12-21-33 (25 GP, 9-19-28 HE)
Scott Wilson — 32, 11-16-27 (25, 9-14-23)
Riley Wetmore — 32, 14-9-23 (25, 12-8-20)
Derek Arnold — 32, 10-13-23 (25, 10-8-18)
Josh Holmstrom — 32, 10-11-21 (25, 9-6-15)

Derek Army — 32 GP, 13-10-23 (25 GP, 12-7-19 HE)
Ross Mauermann — 32, 11-11-22 (25, 8-7-15)
Tim Schaller — 28, 6-13-19 (25, 5-13-18)
Mark Jankowski — 28, 6-9-15 (23, 4-7-11)
Shane Luke — 32, 5-10-15 (21, 4-7-11)

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 (13-1-0) — 15, 848:22, 1.41/.947 (11, 618:08, 1.26/.952)

Jon Gillies (14-9-6) — 29 GP, 1,749:40, 2.09 GAA/.931 sv% (24 GP, 1,462:13, 2.22 GAA/.928 sv% HE)

Team stats
Overall (32 games) — 100 goals for (3.12/gm), 71 goals against (2.22/gm). Power play 27/158 (17.1, 5 SHGA), penalty kill 103/121 (85.1%, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (25 games) — 77 goals for (3.08/gm), 59 goals against (2.36/gm). Power play 22/133 (16.5%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 83/99 (83.8%, 4 SHGF)

Overall (32 games) — 93 goals for (2.91/gm), 76 goals against (2.38/gm). Power play 19/126 (15.1%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 119/146 (81.5%, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (25 games) — 71 goals for (2.84/gm), 59 goals against (2.36/gm). Power play 14/100 (14.0%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 93/113 (82.3%, 5 SHGF)

It’s not often that we say this, but we think the game these two teams played earlier in the season is pretty much indicative of what both teams are on the whole.

For Providence’s part, they’re a deeply mediocre team that can put a decent enough number of shots on goal but doesn’t have the offense to actually score a lot of goals overall. While the Friars have two players with goal totals in the double digits to Lowell’s five, after that it drops completely off a cliff. Only Stefan Demopoulos has more than seven goals on the season, and he has eight. While that’s in just 18 games, and is therefore a pretty nice total, let’s take a look at the teams against which he has scored those eight goals. Two against Sacred Heart, the worst team in the country this year. Two against Amherst, the worst team in the state of Massachusetts ever. Two against Northeastern, which reminds us we were wrong about Amherst’s quality at least this year (but not overall!). One each against Vermont — who cares? — and UNH. Yeah, he’s beating up the minnows. But so too is leading scorer Derek Army (four against Northeastern, two against Amherst, etc.). Only Ross Mauermann, who has scored twice against BU, once against Lowell, once against Miami, and so forth, is actually in any way respectable in this regard. The Friars are perhaps not quite as lopsided offensively as the Warriors were last week, but if Lowell can hold Mike Collins to never rising above his library voice, these kids are going to be walking around like Ser Ilyn Payne all weekend.

Everything Providence does hinges entirely on Jon Gillies, who would be the best goaltender in Hockey East were it not for Connor Hellebuyck’s existence. His stats are wonderful and he’s been a workhorse for the Friars from start to finish, save for the three games he missed thanks to his winning a gold medal as a backup at the World Junior Championships. How important is Gillies to his team’s success — where “success” is a relative term — this season? Those three games he missed went like this for Providence: 4-4 home draw with Vermont, 4-3 overtime loss at Minnesota State, 4-0 shutout loss at Minnesota State. Backup Russ Stein, whose only other work came at the tail end of an 8-2 blowout against Sacred Heart in which he gave up both of those two goals on just 12 shots, has a season stat line of four games and 207:26 played, a 4.05 goals-against average, and .875 save percentage.

What we’re trying to say is that the only way Providence makes a good accounting of itself against Lowell, which it did not in being outshot 50-32 in a 2-1 road loss back in mid-January, is if Gillies once again stands on his head. That last meeting between these teams could easily have been 4-, 5-, or even 6-1 and it wouldn’t have surprised us given the chasmic difference in quality between these teams.

Meanwhile, Lowell has continued to out as the premier team in the league despite its early troubles, and if anything, has only continued to improve from being the team that walloped Gillies with half a century’s worth of shots. Providence may have won three of its last four, but forgive us if we’re not impressed with bowling over a half-crippled and limping-to-the-finish Northeastern, then splitting against a BC team in the same boat. The Friars are 5-2-4 since last these two teams met, which is nice, but nothing compared to Lowell’s 9-2-1 in the same stretch. There seems to be very little in the way of evidence that Providence is going to be able to crack the renewed River Hawk defense, and certainly it appears that Connor Hellebuyck has gone into full-on unstoppable mode. Which is to say nothing of the fact that Joe Pendenza, Scott Wilson and Riley Wetmore can’t stop putting up points if they try.

We were joking around about Sam Marotta and Jordan Heywood’s chances against Lowell prior to Friday night’s game, and the conversation went something like this:

“What if they stop Joe Pendenza?”
“Well they won’t, but then there’s Riley Wetmore.”
“What if they stop Riley Wetmore?”
“Well they won’t, but then there’s Scott Wilson.”
“What if they stop Scott Wilson?”
“Well they won’t, but then there’s Derek Arnold.”
“What if they stop Derek Arnold?”
“Well they won’t, but then there’s Josh Holmstrom.”
“What if they stop Josh Holmstrom?”
“Well they won’t, but then there’s Chad Ruhwedel.”
“What if they stop Chad Ruhwedel?”
“Well they won’t, but then there’s Christian Folin.”
“What if they stop Christian Folin?”
“Well they won’t, but then there’s Ryan McGrath.”
“Okay, but what if they stop all those guys, and the rest of them too?”
“They still have to score on Connor Hellebuyck.”
“Oh, that sucks for them.”

Put Providence in the same boat. Four points await.

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