"Yeah, that’s not good."--me, after Dwayne Roloson gave up goal #3 in Winnepeg Monday night.
It’s an understatement to say that this team is struggling, especially on the road. We’re giving up way too many early goals and going scoreless ourselves until way too late in the game. We have gotten too used to coming back from an early deficit. The effort’s not there; the accuracy’s not there; the positioning’s not there.
Part of it is that the forecheck is pretty sucky. Part of it is failure to give defensive support for the goalies (although I give Eric Brewer a pass on that one). Part of it is the inability simply to get shots on the net. We're getting beat to the puck in every zone. Puck support was zero on Monday; there was nowhere for the passes to go and no one to pick up the rebounds. There appears to be a decided lack of strength and we can't seem to stay on our feet when trying to get position. Then there's the abysmal power play and the inconsistent goaltending.
So what’s really wrong with the Bolts? Here are three thing I’ve noticed, in no particular order.
First, injuries. We really miss Ryan Malone. Big, strong, smart, and fierce--when he's healthy, Malone is a stabilizing influence. We missed Victor Hedman when he was out, for all that we bitch and moan about the roller-coaster that is his play. When he’s good, he’s great, and for the week that he was out, the Bolts truly struggled to replace both his minutes and his ability to see the ice. We even miss Mattias Ohlund a little, who is at least a veteran presence. We can only hope that he comes back able to contribute.
Second, communication. It seems like the boys aren’t communicating on the ice like they need to be. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is about to do, so passes get broken up, turnovers are common, and defensive positioning is bad. I’ve talked before about how important Roli and Garon’s communication is in breaking up opponent’s forechecking, and that’s got to be extended to the rest of the game.
Third, effort. What’s up with only playing half the game, guys? What’s up with not skating? Go get the damn puck! Don’t just sit there waiting for a mistake you can pounce on. Get up in their space. Get your stick out in the lanes. Blocking shots is great, but there’s a whole host of other things you need to be doing as well.
Naturally, there are other things I could have mentioned. Lack of strength. Lack of accuracy in passing and shooting. Inconsistency in the net. Those things are all there, too. But betting on improving skills in the middle of a season is risky. Trading for strength and size means giving up an asset we might miss just as much and needs to be done with caution and an eye to the future. And neither one of these goaltenders has been consistent in their entire careers. It’s a little late to hope for that now. (Rookie callups aren’t really helpful either, unless you get a game changer. There’s no system in place that the newbies can plug into. Until that happens, non-injury callups only compound the issues as you try to break in a young player.)
The answer portion of our program, then, is pretty brief. Get healthy, get on the same page, and get up in the morning.