Sunday, October 2, 2016

Early struggles indeed

Shoot the Breeze Photography
    • The Kelowna Rockets didn't lose three games in a row all of last season. The Prince George Cougars never won 6 straight games to start the season. Oh, what a difference a year makes. The Rockets open the third week of the regular season in the basement (1-4-0-0) of the BC Division with the Vancouver Giants will the Cougars are riding high in the saddle atop the entire WHL standings. This must be a dream? This isn't really happening is it? Safe to say it is uncharted waters for both of these franchises after hooking up for a pair of games in Prince George on the weekend. The Cougars beat the Rockets twice at CN Centre, earning a 4-1 win Friday night on the strength of three power play goals and then a night later earned a 3-0 victory thanks to goaltender Nick McBridge. It marked the first time since the 1998-99 season that the Cougars won three straight games against the Rockets in a seasonal series, with Prince George recording a 2-1 win Wednesday night at Prospera Place. Both two teams were playing without two key forwards. The Rockets were without Nick Merkley and Dillon Dube while the Cougars played without the services of Jansen Harkins and Jesse Gabrielle. It will be all hands on deck when they meet again in November.
    • Goal scoring has been a problem in the early stages of the season for the Kelowna Rockets. In three games against the Cougars they managed only two goals. We need to give the Cougars some credit for playing solid defense, but the Rockets managed only 16 shots on net in a 4-1 loss Friday night. That will likely be a season low when the regular season comes to an end in mid March. In those three games, only Jake Kryski and Tomas Soustal have found the back of the net. Soustal's goal came shorthanded while Kryski's came on a sharp angle shot Friday night that Cougars goaltender Ty Edmonds should have stopped.
    • While a lack of goal scoring is a concern, so is discipline. The Rockets have taken a league high 100 penalty minutes in five games. That is 20 minutes in pims per game. In the last three games, the Rockets have allowed the Cougars to go on the power play 21 times. Without good goaltending, the scores may have been more lopsided than 2-1, 4-1 and 3-0. Michael Herringer was terrific in two of the three starts with a 40 save performance Friday night. Back up Brodan Salmond, outside of the Cougars second goal Saturday night, also had a strong effort between the pipes in his first start of the season.
    • The Rockets have been shorthanded a league high 36 times this season. The coaching staff admitting that playing shorthanded that many times has taken a toll on a team that is short on numbers, having been forced to play 16 year-old d-man Konrad Belcourt at forward. 
    • Should we be alarmed with a 1-4-0-0 record to start the season? The team was 3-2-0-0 after five games a year ago. While better, it still wasn't exactly an encouraging start for a team that would eventually win 48 times.
    • The Cougars are 6-0-0-0 to start the season, which is the best start in franchise history. Should we be surprised? Maybe a little, but the Cougars were a solid 20-12 after 32 games last season before the wheels fell off the wagon. 
    • Do you remember when people were scoffing when the Cougars traded for Russian Yan Khomenko? The ex-Everett Silvertip now has 2+3=5 in 6 games and is creating significant scoring chances when he is out on the ice. Pretty good pick up if you ask me.
    • Nick Merkley will return to the line up Wednesday when the team plays game three of a five game road trip. Merkley will suit up against the Lethbridge Hurricanes after being reassigned Sunday by the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. Can Merkley help the Rockets ailing offense? Without question. The 19 year-old has 196 points in 182 career games.

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