March 29, 2012 2:33 PM
In many of the Checkers’ recent losses, the cause can be traced back to one main issue – not scoring enough goals.
When they find the back of the net at least three times, the Checkers are a dominant 27-4-2. However, they’ve accomplished that feat just twice during their last 11 games – a span that has seen them emerge with just two victories.
For the most part, effort hasn’t been the problem. They’re getting enough chances to score, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve out-shot their opponents, sometimes handily, in eight of those 11 games. In a recent two-game trip to Hershey, that had more shots in each game and controlled the pace of play at times despite losing both, including one in a shootout. In both games, three goals would have done the trick.
“We played well for 60 minutes both games,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It’s just a combination of having that killer instinct and bearing down when you get those chances.”
While perhaps never this drastic, goal scoring has been an issue throughout the season – one the team didn’t necessarily anticipate. Despite returning many of top offensive weapons from a team that finished last season ranked second in the AHL with an average of 3.31 goals per game, they’ve spent most of this campaign in the league’s bottom half, including their current ranking of 18th (2.74 goals per game). The entire differential comes down to even-strength goals, with this season’s squad posting nearly identical power play numbers as one year earlier.
According to Daniels, that turnaround can’t be pinned on any one factor.
“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “We’re missing some guys that scored for us last year, have had some of our top forwards spend a lot of time up top and some of the guys we have now haven’t been scoring as much.”
In terms of roster turnover, new players have combined to score 32 goals thus far, while departed players from last season’s team had 57 through 66 games. Key losses include Jacob Micflikier (23 goals through game 66), Oskar Osala (13) and Bryan Rodney (eight). In addition, only a small group of returning players have more goals now than at the same point last season, with the two biggest increases primarily due to more games played (Matt Pistilli, Bobby Sanguinetti).
While some reinforcement should eventually come when Drayson Bowman (11 goals in 35 AHL games this season) returns from the NHL, for now, it’s up to those currently on the roster to turn things around. One need look no further than last week’s 6-2 win over Peoria that featured a handful of highlight-reel goals for an example of what the team is capable of on any given night.
“I don’t know if it’s the other teams’ goalies or what, but we need to be trying to shoot it through the net rather than getting it safely on,” said forward Zach Boychuk, who leads the team with 19 goals. "A lot of it is just your confidence level, and if you look at our recent practices, there have been a lot of two-on-one and three-on-two drills that give guys chances to score and start feeling good about themselves."
Boychuk has been the exception to the recent drought, as he’s scored six of the team’s last 13 goals – an average of one per game. That being said, he also ran into some tough luck in Hershey that prevented him from adding two more – he had one goal disallowed due to a referee’s quick whistle and another robbed at the last second by goalie Dany Sabourin’s dazzling toe save.
“It’s nice that I’ve been scoring, but still, I had a bunch of chances in Hershey and I need to bury a couple of those,” he said.
As they move into their last 10 games needing every point to ensure their spot in the postseason, the Checkers say that the key to individual offensive breakthroughs will be to avoid the frustration that comes with not being able to score. They’ve averaged 39.5 shots in their last four games, which should more often than not allow them to reach the magic number of three that seems to dramatically improve their fortunes.
“When you’re not scoring you tend to put a little too much pressure on yourself,” said Boychuk. “A lot of it comes down to keeping it simple and just getting shots on net, because a lot of goals are scored on rebounds.
"When we do get those rebounds, we just need to be sure we’re putting them top shelf.”