Thursday, January 21, 2021

These six games are not a true test of our team

Yes, it was ugly again tonight, even uglier than those two games in Calgary. The Mighty Nucks gave up scoring chances – even breakaways – like they were surgical masks. Just when we thought we were back on track with last night’s 6-5 SO thriller over the Habs, the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge spanked us 7-3 tonight. I’m listening to Dan Russell incarnate a/k/a Rob Fai Nation Radio on TSN 1040 right now, and the pitchforks and tiki torches are out in full force, howling for blood. The head they want on a hockey stick, of course, is that of GM Jim Benning. First we get shut out (yes, it’s two words when used as a verb) by Jacob Markstrom, whom (again correct – hey, I’m a journalism professor) he declined to re-sign as a UFA, then we surrender five goals in two games to Tyler Toffoli, whom he also declined to re-sign as a UFA. These decisions were defensible and even logical given our cap situation, not to mention our prospect depth at those positions, the Seattle expansion draft, and our window, which now seems several years from even opening. It is also to be expected that spurned players exact revenge the first time they face their former team. Happens all the time.

The bottom line is that we chose to go with youth, and most fans were on board with that. Until a few losses pile up, of course. There will be a few bumps along the road when you are forced to play three rookie d-men against a team loaded with snipers. Plus we played our young goalie tonight. Was he worse than our Cup-winning vet last night? Or did it have something to do with the 42 shots he faced, compared to only 17 by his teammates? Brogan Rafferty coughed up the puck for a goal on his first shift of the game. Petey Himself delivered up a pizza for a shorthanded breakaway on the second goal against. Toffoli scored a second shortie to make it 3-1 with the first of four unanwered goals in the second period. Tanner Pearson had two giveaways, as did newcomer Nate Schmidt, who was -3 on the night. At least Quinn Hughes was back to some degree of normalcy at -1, compared with -4 last night. 

Can anybody think of a reason for this uncharacteristic underpeformance? Perhaps a reason that is beyond the responsibility of Jim Benning? Aside from youth and inexperience, not to mention the annual blueline injuries (why do you think we kept four d-men on the taxi squad?), some see complacency from last year’s postseason, especially from our young stars Petey and Huggy. I think it has more to do with a shortened training camp and the lack of a pre-season. One thing coach Travis Green insists on is a high level of conditioning, and it is obvious from the first two back-to-backs that our boys are not there yet, and we are not a good enough team yet to compete at less than full fitness. Maybe in a month they will have played themselves back into shape. 

Hopefully we will have recovered enough in 43 hours to bounce back on Saturday, then it’s three straight at home against the even younger Ottawa Senators. From 2-4, we could easily be 6-4, or at least .500. For that to happen, Jack Rathbone will have to be better than what our other young d-men have shown so far. The best of the trio has been the least heralded – Jalen Chatfield. At least he plays a simple game in order to minimize misteaks. (My standing joke.) Wouldn’t it be nice if he could play about 10 years in the third pairing. Then we would only need one of OJ or Boner to work out as a Top-4 defender.  

We’ll know much more by next Thursday, which is the next back-to-back game. In the meantime, I think everyone should take this advice from Aaron Rodgers. Except for Fai and his talk show compatriots, of course, who finally have something to talk about.

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