Saturday, April 22, 2017

Don't let the score fool you
  • Discipline. Check! Dictating the play. Check! Not allowing the T-Birds top end players to run wild in the offensive zone. Check! A proficient power play. Check! Honestly, not much not to like in the Kelowna Rockets, 5-4, game one loss last night to the Seattle Thunderbirds. It isn't hard to look for positives despite surrendering 5 goals in game one of the Western Conference final. If you only look at the score, it would suggest the Rockets were rotten in their own zone. Fact is they really weren't. They only surrendered 25 shots on goal, with only 15 of them coming in the opening 40 minutes. The Rockets carried a good portion of the play as the T-Birds defencemen had a rough time getting the puck into the hands of its forwards. The game winning goal was scored when Rockets forward Dillon Dube's clearing attempt in his own zone went over the glass for a delay of game penalty. On the ensuing power play, T-Birds d-man Ethan Bear wired a shot over the blocker of goaltender Michael Herringer with 11.2 seconds remaining in the game. 
  • Whether you want to call them mental letdowns or not, the Rockets surrendered goals at terrible times in the game. Alexander True tied the score at two when he found the back of the net with three seconds left in the second period.  On that goal, Michael Herringer must gobble up the original shot and then its a dead play. The shot comes with little velocity, yet the puck hits Herringer's stick harmlessly, bounces back out, where True deposits the rebound. The T-Birds then score their third goal just :52 seconds into the third period. Three minutes later they get another one from a long range point shot that Herringer kicks aside with his right bad, but again can't contain the rebound, which T-Birds Sami Moilanen deposits into the net and its a 4-2 game. Give the Rockets credit for not quitting though. Back-to-back power play goals from Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf tied the score before Dube's minor penalty with two minutes left in the game proved costly. 
  • So what am I suggesting here? Quit beating around the bush Bartel! No one man is to blame for a loss. Devante Stephens must be more determined in not allowing Seattle's Turner Ottenbreit to get his stick on a puck to score the T-Birds third goal. Ottenbreit had 7 goals during the regular season. What is he doing going hard to the net and deflecting a puck past Herringer? That's why playoffs are special. Players do uncharacteristic things in an effort to win. Dube's minor penalty looked like it could have be avoidable as the marquee forward appeared to have enough time to send the puck to centre ice without a significant amount of pressure. But hey, those are mistakes over the course of the game. They happen. I thought Michael Herringer could have been better considering the very light workload in game one. Visually, he didn't seem 'locked in'. Goaltending is such an easy area to pick apart because you are so exposed. That said, it needs to be better with the type of effort his teammates gave in front of him. The Rockets game one effort and execution was clearly good enough to pick up a road victory. Live, learn and move on. You must in playoff hockey.
  • Another terrific effort by the Rockets top four defencemen. James Hilsendager, Lucas Johansen, Gordie Ballhorn and Devante Stephens logged huge minutes and played very well. Sure, they are a combined -5, but I will take their effort any day of the week. Assistant Coach Kris Mallette did a great job of keeping those four as fresh as they could be and the forwards deserve credit for helping in the defensive zone. Playing without Cal Foote, who served game three of a three game suspension against Portland, those four didn't take one minor penalty and were extremely careful in not taking stick fouls. That is asking a lot to be playing with only four defencemen (Rookie d-man Conrad Belcourt had a rare shift) against an elite forward group like the T-Birds employ. Foote will be a welcome addition in game two, specifically on a power play that misses his booming shot and his offensive awareness. 
  • If you can limit Ryan Gropp, Mathew Barzal and Keegan Kolesar to a combined four points, you are going to win more games than not. This game was 'gettable' for the road team, who kept those three marquee players in line. You can't totally eliminate those three from the offensive equation. They are too darn good. But if you can limit them, which the Rockets did last night, you have a fighting chance.
  • Enough about Herringer. I had a first hand look at 17 year-old Seattle rookie goaltender Carl Stankowski. Clearly he is one of the best goalies in his age group and the save he made on Devante Stephens on a partial breakaway chance, while shorthanded, in the dying seconds of the game was huge. While Stankowski is beatable, for me, it always come down to timely saves. Who makes the timely save and who doesn't. It often is the difference between a win and a loss.
  • For the majority of the game, Dillon Dube found himself playing against Mathew Barzal's unit. I thought Dube, Carsen Twarynski and Tomas Soustal did a terrific job against them. The Dube line, often times, carried the play and forced the Barzal trio to play defense.   
  • Reid Gardiner has a point in 8 straight playoff games. The 21 year-old leads the WHL in playoff goals with 13. Gardiner had 1+2=3 in a losing cause.
  • Nick Merkley earned an assist, giving him 60 career playoff points, which is three shy of franchise leader Tyson Baillie.
  • The five goals the Rockets surrendered in game one was the most they allowed in the 2017 post season. 
  • The T-Birds took 11 trips to the penalty box in a four game sweep of Everett. They took 7 trips to the penalty box in game one.  

1 comment:

Martin Aalto said...

Good analysis as usual - I expect the Rockets to even the series tonight. Seattle was very lucky to win... And you were kind not to mention the moronic Seattle fans. According to the vast majority of them, the TBirds are unable to commit a penalty. Eansor shoved the referee without penalty and how often do you seen kneeing minors? If the hockey gods even things out ,Rockets win.