River Hawks spooked by Terriers over Halloween weekend

There were no treats for the River Hawks when they came knocking at the Terriers’ door this past Halloween weekend. All Massachusetts-Lowell received was a pair of losses at the hands of its Hockey East rival and the dubious honor of the lowest conference win percentage (.200).

Boston University, now ranked No. 3 in the nation, put the River Hawks on ice twice in as many days, notching a 5-1 road victory at the Tsongas Center on Oct. 29 and a 2-1 late-game heartbreaker at Agganis Arena on Oct. 30.

With only one win — a 5-4 overtime victory over Providence on Oct. 22 — in the first seven games of the season, Lowell (1-4-0 HE, 1-4-2) currently is holding true to its preseason eighth-place ranking in Hockey East. In fact, the only reason the River Hawks, who boast a league-high four losses, are not Hockey East bottom-feeders is because New Hampshire (0-0-2 HE) and Vermont (0-1-1 HE) each have played only two games in conference this season.

The Terriers exposed several of Lowell’s key weaknesses that all but end the River Hawks’ chances to repeat last year’s Cinderella season.

Lowell’s offense is suffering from a troubling lack of production. The River Hawks have mustered 16 goals so far this season, but have lit the lamp only once in each of their last three games. Injuries to captain Scott Campbell — Lowell’s leading point scorer in 2009 — and forward Patrick Cey last weekend further hobbled an offense decimated by the loss of six of its eight leading scorers to graduation.

“One of our seniors [Cey] went down in the first period,” River Hawks coach Blaise MacDonald said. “So that put us shorthanded a little bit.”

Not surprisingly, the River Hawks’ power play similarly has been unsuccessful. On the man advantage, Lowell is 4-for-23 in Hockey East and just 5-for-35 overall. The River Hawks were blanked in all seven power-play opportunities this weekend, coming up empty-handed against BU five times on Friday night and twice more on Saturday. In fact, Lowell surrendered two short-handed goals in Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Terriers.

“We had to make a lot of changes to our lineup because we lost our captain [Campbell] who plays on the power play,” MacDonald said. “Then we had another kid on the power play who was not in the lineup. So we had a lot of guys who were out of position.”

Occupying the Hockey East basement for team defense at a whopping 4.40 goals allowed per game and the bottom two spots for its goalies’ save percentages, the River Hawks’ most glaring shortcoming is defense. BU dismantled rookie netminder Marc Boulanger (.845), scoring five goals in two periods Friday night — including three goals in three minutes — before Boulanger was lifted for freshman Doug Carr (.884) in the final frame. Carr made a valiant effort during the Saturday rematch with the Terriers, but succumbed to the late-game heroics of BU’s Chris Connolly with less than thirty seconds to play.

“I thought we were very good positionally. I thought we had good sticks … and like anything, if you have good initial pressure at the point of attack … you’re able to execute pretty well,” MacDonald said. “I thought our goaltender freshman [Carr] played outstanding and that gave us a level of certainty moving forward.”

Unfortunately, Lowell’s next chance to rebound comes against Boston College, the defending national champions. Fortunately, for the River Hawks, Halloween is over because BC will be at Conte Forum Tuesda night — not with a bowl of candy, but with the No. 4-ranked team in the nation.

Thanks to Scott Weighart for his assistance.