Took my time to digest last night’s heartbreaking 3-2 loss. I could go all fire and brimstone about the loss but what good would that do? Hey, I’m not about moral victories, as they don’t show up in the standings but there is plenty of positives to take away from Friday. It’s been a trying two-week stretch for the Vees, as they have now lost four of their last five as we are just days away from the playoffs.
However, this time of year, the last days of the regular season is about preparing yourself for the post-season, fine-tuning your game and last night proved the Vees are not quite there just yet; but not far off either.
1) Getting Off on the Right Foot: The Vees had troubling starts in the last handful of games, or should I say they’ve been inconsistent with their starts in the last 10 games. In their last five games, the Vees have only scored first once and in fact they lost that game.
Starting with last night, the Vees were in the driver’s seat in the BCHL pennant race, as two wins this weekend would have meant their second pennant in as many seasons. Also for a handful of BCHL veterans on the Vees roster, this was their last game against the Vernon Vipers, one last chance to stick it to your longtime rivals. Well, the Vees didn’t get off to the start they wanted to, as they spotted the Vipers a two-goal lead inside the first eight minutes. Not good.
The two goals play more off my “second star” but simply put you can’t spot your opposition an early two-goal lead when you’re on the road. This has been a bit of an issue on the road recently for the Vees, that’s getting behind the eight ball early. The Vees have only taken a lead into the first intermission once in their last five outings; their only win from their last five games. In their last five first periods the Vees have been outscored 5-4 and have only scored more than one-goal once.
You’re not doing yourself any good getting down early night after night and trying to play catch up hockey. It is taxing constantly trying to come back from early deficits and can wear down a team quickly. Give the Vees credit as they did come back from a two-goal deficit but that just can’t keep happening.
When the Vees score first this season they’re a staggering 22-2-0-3, but just 13-12-0-2 when the opposition strikes first. Even more telling? The Vees are 25-0-0-1 when they have the lead after the first period but just 5-6-0-1 when they trail after the opening frame. This team, like most teams, is just so much better when they have the lead.
2) Between the Ears: What’s the Vees biggest nemesis? Themselves. Last night, you could argue all three Vipers goals came off mental mistakes; lapses in defensive coverage. It’s always tough when teams get into “funks” or “slumps” as players start to grip their sticks a litter tighter, start to hesitate or second-guess themselves on routine plays and get flustered too easily.
On the first Vipers goal the Vees coughed up the puck at their blue-line on a routine play. Well, it should have been routine but this is where the first mental lapse resulted. Instead of a simply play up the wall, the Vees tried the more difficult clearing attempt and it burned them. This is where that mental edge comes into play. In a normal mindset the defender makes the routine play he has done countless times before. But feeling the pressure and maybe second-guessing himself he tries the harder backhand clearing attempt and it resulted in goal against.
Same on the second Vipers goal, as Vernon was just dumping the puck into the corner as they were trying to complete the change. The Vees were just caught sleeping a bit in their own zone and Mitch McAllister found the soft spot in coverage. The Vees knew how to defend the situation, the players knew their assignments but again a mistake was made.
The encouraging sign is these goals against last night and more recently have been self-inflicted. These mistakes are correctable and the Vees know they can be better. It’s about regaining that mental edge, that swagger this team had for the majority of the season.
3) Inconsistent Effort: This point tied in with the topic above, as the Vees haven’t had a consistent effort over three periods in a handful of games recently. Last night is a perfect example of the Vees issues with a full sixty-minute effort.
Their first ten minutes of the first wasn’t what they wanted, but they turned it around in the final half of the period and cut into the deficit. So they score a late first period goal, get within striking distance but don’t build on that momentum in the second period. It was said on the post-game show that the second period wasn’t up to snuff by their own standards. The Vees were content at dumping the puck in, getting into the corners but not attacking the net.
There were a few opportunities to tie the game, as Louie Nanne, Mike Rebry and Brad McClure all had great chances to level the game at two’s. However, the Vees didn’t do enough to try to get the Vipers net over the course of the period and were kept off the score-sheet. The Vees have only scored three-second period goals in their last five games and have only lead four times after two periods in their last 10 games.
Over the last two weeks we have seen this team have good first periods and good third periods but a below standard second. Or it’s by some other combination were they simply didn’t have a consistent sixty-minute effort. It sounds so cliché but this time of year, with the stakes so high, you can’t take a period off and the Vees now know why.That hunger, that fire in the belly needs to be burning for all three periods, from opening face-off to the end of the game. No taking bad shifts or having bad stretches in periods. The Vees up until the last two-three weeks were so good at being consistent with their effort level; rarely having a drop off. I’m sounding like a broken record but it’s the same issues that continue to pop up in the last five games. This team can get out of this funk and they know they can play better. It’s just up to them to start the process of getting back to the brand of hockey they want to play.
Playoffs are days away.