Sunday, February 4, 2018

Team concept trumps individual skill

Shoot the Breeze Photography

  • What is the takeaway from back-to-back losses to the Everett Silvertips on the weekend? While the Kelowna Rockets have elite individual skill, the Tips play a far superior team game. It was evident in a 3-2 loss Friday and was punctuated Saturday in a 8-2 trouncing. The Tips have something the Rockets don't have right now - a sustained work ethic throughout the entire line-up. I'm not saying that the Tips don't have skill. Far from it. But what makes them superior is all 18 skaters battle to retrieve loose pucks, defend beyond belief and do the little things that don't only bring regular season success, but long term success in the playoffs. Some will suggest that formula didn't work last season as they were eliminated by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the opening round. Let's remember though, the T-Birds have a eerily similar work ethic to that of the Tips and had a player like Mathew Barzal. Enough said. 
  • Assistant Coach Travis Crickard brought the issue of work ethic/playing as a team as opposed to individual skill on our post game show last night. It was something I thought was happening, but honestly was hoping it wasn't true. In several games this season, superior talent in the form of Kole Lind, Dillon Dube, Cal Foote and Carsen Twarynski have single handily earned wins. Individual skill has prevailed, but mainly against inferior competition. What we saw this weekend against Everett was a very low 'team concept' approach to the game. The end result was back-to-back losses. 
  • I'd go as far as to suggest the Tips play the most complete 'team game' of anyone on the 22 team circuit. They are not a one trick pony as many believe despite having the CHL's best goaltender. It goes far beyond Carter Hart. The team defends extremely well and kept the Rockets to the outside in the offensive zone. Nobody has done that to the Rockets in back-to-back games like the Tips did. Nobody. How many secondary chances did the Tips give up on the weekend? Five maybe? Whether it was a forward or defenceman, they were first to loose pucks, initiated contact and won 90% of the battles to get it back on their stick. They looked stronger, but it wasn't brute strength that prevailed. It is greater determination to play hard for one another, making them superior to a Rockets team that has earned recent wins on late rallies and clutch play from top end players. 
  • Can it be fixed? Sure it can. It needs too, or like Crickard said in his post game comments, the season will end like it has the last two seasons with exits from a team that may have superior individual skill, but are punted from the playoffs by an opponent who plays a significantly better team game. The good news is the Rockets have a month to get it right before meeting the Tips again on March 2nd.
  • Making matters worse, second year forward Nolan Foote was injured in the first period of Saturday's game and will be sidelined for a significant amount of time. Playing in his 100th career game Saturday night, the 17 year-old provides the team with a threat on the power play with his laser beam release and adds significant depth on a team that has little in the way or scoring bunch in its bottom six forwards. With Erik Gardiner and Liam Kindree still out with injuries, the top six will be relied on heavily to generate offense.
  • I thought Cal Foote was terrific. In a 8-2 blowout, I was surprised that whoever picked the three stars in Everrett elected to give him the honour. Not because he didn't deserve it, but in the home arena in a 6 goal differential, typically that doesn't happen. I thought Cal Foote was the best player wearing a Rockets uniform Saturday night at both ends of the ice. Foote recorded his first two goal game of his career and was equally as good at the other end of the ice. Logging additional ice time with veteran James Hilsendager out with an upper body injury sustained Tuesday on a blindside hit by Tigers forward Ryan Chyzowski, the team captain continues to show he is world class.
  • Kole Lind had his 20 game point streak snapped Saturday night. It was a great run for the 19 year-old, who has failed to hit the score-sheet only five times this season. My vote for team MVP,  I thought Lind's streak would continue late in the game when the Rockets were awarded a power play. Lind, at the left face-off circle, sent a picture perfect pass to Dillon Dube, who whiffed on a one-timer at the right face-off circle on what appeared to be a sure goal had it been executed to perfection. In the three games against the Tips, neither Lind or Dube have scored a goal. By contrast, leading scorer Patrick Bajkov had 4+3=7 in the two games on the weekend and was a difference maker at both ends of the ice. 
  • The back-to-back losses are the first for the team since losing three in a row on a prairie road trip which saw the team fall in Brandon, lose in Moose Jaw before suffering a 5-1 loss in Swift Current.
  • The Rockets power play went 0 for 5 on the weekend against a Tips team that owns the best penalty killing unit in the WHL. Everett's power play went 5 for 10. 
  • I thought it was a pretty solid weekend for 16 year-old rookie d-man Cayde Augustine. A listened player who made his debut Friday because of the injury to James Hilsendager, the 6'2, 220 pound blue-liner faced a top tier team and fared quite well. Wearing Luke Schenn's old #5, the Airdrie, Alberta resident ended the weekend with a +/- rating of 0. 
  • The Rockets entered the weekend with a one point lead on the Tips for first place in the Western Conference. The team exits the weekend now three points back. Now in a two way tie for first in the BC Division with the Victoria Royals, the Rockets play 15 of their final 20 regular season games against teams in the BC Division. It all starts Wednesday at home against hard charging Vancouver. 

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