LOWELL, Mass. – The River Hawks didn’t score in the first period, but they set the tone for Saturday’s 4-0 victory by outshooting Massachusetts 12-2 in the opening frame. Lowell (6-4-0, 4-3-0 HE) finally got on the board midway through the second when David Vallorani walked in from the point on a power play and beat UMass (4-5-3, 2-5-3 HE) goalie Steve Mastalerz glove-side. Tim Corcoran, Chad Ruhwedel and Riley Wetmore tacked on goals of their own and Doug Carr stopped all 16 shots he faced to record his first career shutout. Lowell now has more wins than it did all of last season.
What I saw
-The Minutemen couldn’t do anything on offense. They entered the weekend with the second-best offense in the league, but it was nowhere to be found Saturday night. In addition to having just 16 shots for the game, they tallied just four grade-A chances and had very few extended possessions in the Lowell zone. T.J. Syner, Michael Pereira and Conor Sheary — who are all among the top 10 scorers in Hockey East — combined for just six shots on net.
-Just like the Lowell defense bounced back from a 5-0 loss to New Hampshire on Friday, so too did the offense. The River Hawks registered double-digit shots in all three periods and finished with 34 on the night. The line of Vallorani, Wetmore and Derek Arnold led the way, as they combined for 14 shots and four points. Lowell actually looked a little snakebitten for the first half of the game as it struggled to capitalize on quality chances, but once the first one went in, the floodgates opened.
What I thought
-The Minutemen still have a goaltending problem. It was easy to ignore this during their recent four-game unbeaten streak because they only allowed two goals per game in that stretch. But the fact remains that none of UMass’ three young netminders have performed at the level of even an average D-I goalie. Kevin Boyle has the best record of the group at 3-2-2, but he has a save percentage of just .883. Jeff Teglia has the best save percentage (.903), but he has yet to record a win this season. The Minutemen desperately need at least one goalie to step up and inspire some confidence between the pipes.
-Chad Ruhwedel is emerging as one of the best young defensemen in the conference. The sophomore collected a goal and an assist Saturday night and now leads all Hockey East blue-liners with 1.00 points per game on two goals and seven assists. He has been especially effective as a power-play quarterback, as five of his assists have come on the man advantage. But Ruhwedel isn’t just an offensive defenseman. He has also played well in his own zone the last two times I’ve seen him, with his ability to make sound breakout passes and avoid turnovers sticking out.
What they said
“We’re getting away from our game of everyone just doing their own job and making little plays, hitting singles to knock in some runs. If you’re up there swinging for the fences every time, you’re gonna get in trouble. We’re swinging for the fences, but not with much conviction.” -UMass coach Don Cahoon
That’s an apt analogy from Cahoon. Not only did the Minutemen not do the little things right, but they didn’t seem to put much effort into doing the big things either. Passes consistently went behind teammates or into their skates, and shots consistently went wide of the net or right into defenders. The Minutemen aren’t a terrible team — after all, they did beat Boston College two weeks ago — but they sure played like one Saturday.
What they didn’t say
Lowell coach Norm Bazin declined to name Carr his clear-cut No. 1 goalie. Not declaring that to the media isn’t a huge deal, but continuing to go with a platoon on the ice could be. Carr has been splitting time with freshman Brian Robbins, but there just isn’t any reason for that to continue. Carr is 5-1-0 with a .923 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average, while Robbins has a 1-3-0/.860/4.25 line.
It’s worth noting that the River Hawks have given Carr a lot more goal support (4.33 goals per game versus 2.25 with Robbins in net), but still, the discrepancy between those two stat lines is hard to ignore. You can’t help but think it would be in Lowell’s best interest to play Carr in more than 60 percent of its games moving forward.