Color Me Kisker: 3 Keys to Road Games
The Thunder have jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the second seeded Ontario Reign and must continue to play the way they have in order to win this series. A 2-0 lead is certainly something to be excited about but there is plenty of time for the Ontario Reign to get back into this series, and remember, they do have home ice advantage.
The Thunder will do their best to take that home ice advantage away from the Reign by beating them at Citizens Business Bank Arena tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m.
So why have the Thunder been able to take the first two games? Simply put it’s because of the work that they are putting in. Through the good and the bad this regular season, one thing has been consistent, the team has worked hard on and off the ice.
With the additions from the Sound Tigers and the late waiver pickup of Scott Langdon, it has brought more experience, more leadership, and more guys that work hard into the locker room.
There isn’t a guy in that locker room that doesn’t want to win, but when you have 23 guys who really, really want to win, it helps boost morale and it helps knowing that the guy sitting to your left, and your right, are ready to play, makes it easier for you to go out and play your hardest and your smartest.
Throughout the season we talked with Coach Kromm about keeping road games simple. Whether that means dump and chase, simple short passes on the breakout, or just not trying to do too much with the puck, it’s an important ideal to remember when playing in hostile territory, however, it’s playoffs, and right now may be the time that you throw some wrinkles into your road games and try to steal a game in Ontario to control the series.
With all that said here are my three keys to victory for Tuesday and Wednesday’s game in Ontario
3. Do NOT Underestimate the Opposition
As Coach said during our Yellow Pages Coaches Interview on Saturday…there is a reason the Ontario Reign finished second this season.
They are a great hockey club with a good mixture of skill, talent, and depth that would make teams fear playing them. For whatever reason though, our clubs have matched up pretty well this year and we’ve had some success against that team, but you still must respect what they can do.
You can guarantee that the Reign will be shifting into a higher gear in their own building with the fans behind them as Coach Jason Christie and Captain Derek Couture have to get their team ready to play during Game 3 because staring down a 3-0 deficit is very difficult for a team, even one as good as Ontario, to overcome.
They’ll need more from their star players and especially more from their young players. In the first two games the Ontario Reign players have only registered 4 goals and 7 assists on 46 shots on Brian Foster. Compare that to the Thunder who have 8 goals and 16 assists on 71 shots on Ontario goaltenders J.P. Anderson and Jussi Olkinuora.
One big factor for me has been silencing a very good power forward in Maxim Kitsyn. I think Kitsyn is a player who took a bit of time to get used to the play in the ECHL having been sent down from the Manchester Monarchs. Once he got going though he really was able to use his size to his advantage and picked up 30 points in 33 games with the Reign.
Another player who has been held to just an assist is Matt White who led the Reign during the regular season with 57 points. I think the Thunder blueline has done a great job limiting the forwards opportunities and wouldn’t you know, when you look at the Reign goalscorers in this series the facts don’t lie.
Gasper Kopitar is the lone forward being credited with a goal for the Reign as Matt Register, Kyle Bigos, and Jake Newton are the other goalscorers for the Reign and all three of those players play defense.
This is a Reign team that has a lot of talent on the back end and has a lot of guys that like to step up and contribute offensively, but a series cannot be won without your forwards contributing to the goals. Five of the Reign’s 11 points have come from an offensive player with Kopitar leading forwards with 2 points.
That has to change in order for them to come back in the series and it will be a serious key in the upcoming matchups.
2. Depth Must Continue to Score
The Bridgeport line of Jeremy Langlois, Joey Martin, and Andrew Clark (who all played together in Bridgeport) has been absolutely spectacular. The trio has combined for 15 points including six of the Thunder’s 8 goals.
While that is great to see, the Thunder must get scoring from their other lines, which should be ok as the Thunder really have two “Number 1” lines. The line of Corey Trivino, Alan Quine, and Ryan Hayes has been spectacular despite only Hayes finding the back of the cage. Trivino in game one was all about speed as he looked to be the fastest guy out there.
Quine has showcased an amazing patience with the puck, and for a guy who’s only listed as 5’11”, he sure does know how to use his body to keep the puck on his stick.
What a job though by Hayes who has earned a star in both games due to his physical and tenacious play, who ranks second on the playoff roster in penalty minutes with 6 (Marc Cantin is first with 7).
While line three of Garet Hunt, Riley Wetmore, and Nick Tremblay/Matt Bergland is counted more on setting the tone and playing physical and defensive hockey, they have had plenty of chances and their tenacity as showcased by the Wetmore goal to open up Game 2’s scoring was all about speed and never giving up.
Sure line one may be scoring, and line two has had their chances but line three may be the most important line to the Thunder’s playoff run because they are playing against the top lines, they are setting the tones physically, and if you are on one of the other lines, you can’t help but think that you have to match their intensity.
The Captain has done an amazing job in the first two games of knocking a few guys off their games but it is been so vital to see Wetmore emerge as one of the top defensive forwards (if he wasn’t one of them already) and the unrelenting play from Bergland has resulted in at least two goals in this series. Tremblay has also looked fast, played a great two-way game, and easily could’ve gotten on the board a couple times if it weren’t for a few well-placed Ontario sticks and good saves by the netminders.
It’s great seeing Langlois at the top of the ECHL Playoff Scoring Leaderboard, and it’s great to see Martin tied 3rd and Clark tied 6th, but we want to see scoring up and down the lineup.
1. Stay Physical and Get them off their Game
This is by far the most important thing for me. I’ve noticed many Ontario players, especially Tyler Gron, showcase the tell-tale signs of complete and utter frustration. How #13 went an entire weekend without being penalized for the things he did was beyond me (well, ok, in the defense, a three-official crew is tough to spot everything because Gron was doing his “best work” from behind the play when the official wasn’t looking).
Gron’s the type of player you can look at and easily tell that the Thunder were rattling him. He would slam the bench door, take extra slashes at guys (including a far bigger Andrey Pedan), and play a bit bigger than he probably should have. I remember at the end of Game 2, Gron doing a bit of talking to Mr. Cantin who appeared to be smiling at Gron’s attempt to get into his head.
Where I come from, if I’m a player who isn’t known as a “tough hombre” I don’t go out of my way to get on the bad side of a guy who completely handled Everett Sheen in a fight during the second period.
That is a sign of a frustrated player who the Thunder have successfully knocked off his game.
And it isn’t just Gron, you can see the tough Cody Sol exhibit these displays either as Hayes and Sol battled a number of times in the first two games with Hayes looking the tougher of the two.
Playoff hockey is a fun, physical brand of hockey. We’ve seen great Langdon hits, great Hunt hits, and for sure the best hit I’ve ever seen in person coming from Ryan Constant dumping Sheen into his own bench head first.
That has to continue in Game 3. The Thunder must continue to be the toughest team on the ice, and continue to just bang away in hopes of knocking the Reign off their game. Eventually, those frustrated players will take penalties and will make dumb decisions because they are seeing red.
Guys like Dale Hunter and Darcy Tucker made NHL careers out of locating those players and continuing to frustrate them to the point they draw penalties or do something they’ll regret.
The Thunder are winning the physical battles, they are winning the battle of the minds, and they are winning on the series scoreboard. Now is not the time to get cocky, but to continue to come with the same effort, keep these three keys in mind, and play good road games in Ontario this week.
I think you fans wouldn’t mind waiting a little longer for another home game right?