Sunday, October 7, 2018

Slowest start in franchise history

  • It's official. The 2018-2019 campaign will go down as the worst start to the season in Kelowna Rockets franchise history. A 4-1 loss in Seattle last night dropped the teams record to 1-7-0-0 after 8 games. That mark is worse than the 2006-2007 start, when the team had a win and a shootout loss (1-6-0-1) in their opening eight games. That season the team missed the playoffs for the only time in franchise history. While this years squad is close to breaking out of an early season slide, several areas continue to plague the hockey club as they sit dead last in the Western Conference with only two points of an available 16. It could be worse though. Last season, the rival Kamloops Blazers lost 9 in a row to start the season before finally feeling the thrill of victory after experiencing the agony of defeat. That slow start was costly though, as the Blazers missed the playoffs in 2017-2018 despite playing better hockey and managing 30 victories. 
  • The real concern for the Rockets is the inability to score. With just 15 goals after 8 games, you just can't win when you are averaging a measly 1.9 goals per game. Sure, the team is also surrendering 3.63 goals per game against, but even being down two goals seems like a massive mountain to climb. 
  • If you throw out Leif Mattson's offensive production (6 goals in 8 games), the 20 and 19 year-old age group has just three goals in the opening eight games. Kyle Topping has two goals while Connor Bruggen-Cate has one. Overagers Ryan Bowen and Braydyn Chizen haven't found the back of the net yet and Erik Gardiner and Jack Cowell haven't scored among the 19 year-old's. Gardiner and Cowell have a single assist between them. 
  • When you aren't scoring, the power play takes a big hit. The team has three power play goals this season with Lassi Thomsom, Leif Mattson and Kyle Topping finding pay dirt. 
  • Looking like a bright spot early in the season, the penalty killing unit has taken a real hit the last three games. The team has surrendered a whopping 8 goals in its last 16 kills. The Vancouver Giants scored twice on five chances Wednesday, before Victoria fired home three goals with the extra man in a 4-3 loss Friday. In Saturday's loss in Seattle, the T-Birds scored three man advantage markers in only four chances. 
  • By comparison, the team was 4-2-1-1 after 8 games last season. In those opening 8 games, the team scored 35 goals, which is 20 more than this season. Those 20 goals would go a long way in improving the teams current record, considering four of the 7 losses this season have been by two goals or less.  
  • Positives? In Saturday's 4-1 loss to the T-Birds, the Rockets showed grit and determination. In a game that featured emotion and animosity, the visitors did not cower when the game got chippy. Several times the Rockets pushed back as much as the T-Birds did. In one altercation in the third period after forward Nolan Foote crashed the T-Birds net and made contract with goaltender Liam Hughes, several players got involved in a semi line brawl, which at the end of the day only turned into one real fight when Mark Liwiski tangled with T-Birds defenceman Jake Lee. Hey, it could have gotten worse when Hughes started roughing up Nolan Foote as tempers started to flare. Rockets goaltender Roman Basran skated the distance of the ice to engage with Hughes before the linesman stepped in before a donniebrook between the goalies would break out.     
  • The last goalie fight I witnessed was Jake Morrissey tangling with Nik Amundrud in 2014 when the Kelowna Rockets played host to the Saskatoon Blades.
  • The Rockets are playing better hockey than what we witnessed in the opening five games. I would say the work ethic has increased significantly and the desire to battle to loose pucks for secondary chances on net is also greater. Sadly, despite the increase in overall effort, it isn’t translating into wins right now. It seems to come with the territory.  
  • When it rains it pours. In the last three games, the team has surrendered a goal in the opening minutes. Against Vancouver (5-0 loss), the Giants scored 3:32 into the game. In a loss to the Victoria Royals (4-3 loss), the Royals scored 1:26 into the opening face-off. Last night in Seattle, the T-Birds struck just :46 seconds into the game. For a team that struggles scoring and likely has a thin layer of confidence, surrendering early goals is a back breaker. It would honestly be nice to see the team skate to a scoreless tie after the opening period, or heck open the scoring like they did against Prince George for their only win of the young season. 
  • Liam Kindree impressed me on the weekend. Returning to the lineup after missing the opening 6 games, the 18 year-old had a goal and an assist. In on two of the four goals the team scored, Kindree clearly has above average offensive instincts and his play making and ability to distribute the puck makes the power play significantly better. With the addition of 20 year-old Lane Zablocki, I can't see how the team can't be at least one goal better than they are right now.
  • The Rockets schedule has the team playing four straight games against US Division opponents, including dates with Seattle (Wednesday) and a home and home series with the Tri City Americans (Friday/Saturday).      
  • While the team is off to its slowest start ever, how impressive would it be to still make the playoffs regardless? That my friends would make it a memorable season, but for all the right reasons. 

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