Sunday, March 4, 2018

Getting wins is like pulling teeth

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Much like spoiling a tremendous pitching performance in baseball, the Kelowna Rockets couldn't provide enough run support last night in a terrific goaltending display by James Porter Junior. The 17 year-old provided the team with an above average effort in a 4-2 loss to the visiting Spokane Chiefs. Had Porter been average, the score would have been much greater than only a two goal loss. Despite limiting the Chiefs to only 16 shots through 40 minutes, it was quality over quantity with Porter making several significant saves. Goaltending, which has been an issue during what feels like a month of below average hockey, was not the problem in this contest. Porter's glove save (WHL plays of week material) on Chiefs forward Ethan McIndoe on a nice passing play in the third period was proof in the pudding of how dialed in Porter was in the teams fourth consecutive loss. Unfortunately for the Rockets, the game was  lost with 1:14 left in regulation time when Spokane 20 year-old Hudson Elyniuk scored his second goal of the game on a rebound at the lip of the crease. 
  • The Spokane Chiefs may be below the Kelowna Rockets in the standing, but they are no weak sister. Trust me on that. They play at an extremely high tempo and looked visually faster than the home team. They look faster, as a group, then when I saw them in January. Was it that or the considerably better work ethic? Lunch bucket forward Riley Woods tracking back in the third period stood out for me as an indicator of how the so-called lesser lights on Dan Lambert's roster are buying in right now. But it isn't just Woods. The Chiefs leading scorer, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, was as interested in defending and working hard as he was in attempting to generate offense. Do the Rockets top end players play with that same type of jam? Sadly, right now, my answer is no. 
  • I always look at the score-sheet at games end against what I would consider elite teams. Which of the Rockets top end players show up against tough competition? It is significantly easier to generate offense against teams with loose defensive schemes, but what is the battle level against those that are adept at keeping the puck out? Look at the last two games against Everett and Spokane. Both teams are top 5 in goals against. They both defend well. Who scored for the Rockets in those games? Kole Lind had goals in both. Hmm. Ok, so what does that tell us? Lind not only leads the team in road goals, but the 19 year-old  can be relied on to power through tight checking and deliver. Carsen Twarynski also had goals in back to back games, finding the net Saturday for his 40th of the season. Twarynski is the first Rockets forward since Tyson Baillie (43) in 2015-2016 to reach the 40 goal plateau.
  • I would call the Rockets a fragile group right now. The good news?  Help is on the way in the form of injured players Nolan Foote and Kyle Topping. While not considered savours by any means, those two would give the team more options in an effort to produce secondary scoring. Right now, and frankly it's been the case all season, the third and fourth lines just don't bring enough scoring touch to take pressure off of the top 6 forwards. Jack Cowell has gone 20 games without a goal while rookies Ted Brennan, Marek Skrvne and Will Kushniryk have 5 goals combined this season. The Rockets are affected mightily if even two significant forwards are hurt. It puts additional pressure on Twarynski, Lind, Dube, Mattson and Bruggen-Cate to manufacture offense among the forward core.  
  • I really liked how the crowd booed Chiefs d-man Ty Smith every time he touched the puck last night. Hey, it's the home ice advantage and the Rockets faithful were not happy with him after Kole Lind attempted to engage with Smith in a fight. Lind took the only penalty as Smith didn't want to dance with the Rockets leading scorer. Smith would eventually score a third period goal as a way of non-verbally saying, 'Take that Rockets fans' for giving him a rough time every time he touched the puck. The next time Okanagan hockey fans see Smith, he will be wearing a suit, walking across the stage as a first round pick at the 2018 NHL draft in Dallas.   
  • Rookie Colum McGauley stepped up in a big way Saturday night with a really nice tilt with Chiefs designated tough guy Riley McKay. McKay, who leads the WHL in fighting majors with 15, had his hands full with McGauley, who can handle himself very, very well with his gloves off.       
  • The loss was the teams fourth in a row. Despite what you may have read, it is not the longest losing streak of the season. The team lost 5 straight games in late October.   
  • Now with only a 4 point lead on the Victoria Royals for first place in the BC Division, the Rockets have 6 games left to get their act together. While the confidence level is low after either surrendering leads or having the game taken away from them with late third period goals (Wednesday in Prince George and last night vs. Spokane) the team has to power through when they meet the Vancouver Giants Wednesday night at Prospera Place.

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