Monday, February 19, 2007

Expansion clubs get the better of veteran Eagles

Ah, the unpredictability of junior hockey.

One weekend, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles go three-for-three on the road, beating a couple of the league's top contenders along the way. The next, they shock their fans by losing two of three home games against the expansion cousin Saint John Sea Dogs and St. John's Fog Devils, continuing a disturbing recent trend of playing down to the level of weaker opposition.

Cape Breton dropped a 2-1 decision to the extremely young Sea Dogs on Thursday night and lost 2-1 to the second-year St. John's Fog Devils on Sunday afternoon. They also came dangerously close to losing to the Sea Dogs again on Friday night, before managing to come up with a big third period and turn an otherwise ugly performance into a 4-1 win.

The Screaming Eagles, near the top of the league in goals scored for most of the season, had an incredibly hard time scoring in these games. Goaltenders Travis Fullerton of the Sea Dogs and Ilja Ejov of the Fog Devils both came into C200 and absolutely stood on their heads, limiting Cape Breton to just six goals on 134 shots for the home stand. If you take away the three-goal third period outburst against an out-of-gas Sea Dog team on Friday night, the Eagles were held to three goals on 118 shots in the other eight periods.

It would be easy to simply write it off, using "The team just ran into hot goaltenders" as an excuse, but it's not quite that simple. The Eagles were not themselves; their chemistry seemed off, they were panicking around the net, and they were making poor shot selections that led to a lot of blocked shots, pucks going wide of the net, and wasted shots right into the goalie's chest. To almost oversimpify it, they simply couldn't score. Despite the large shots on goal advantages the Eagles held in each game (41-14, 44-31, 49-21), you couldn't really say they deserved to win.......... the opposition made their chances count, and Cape Breton didn't. As well, all three games (even the win) saw the opposition come into our rink and get the Eagles away from playing their own game, sucking them into playing theirs.

The powerplay, which struggled even on the three-win road trip of last weekend (1-for-19 on that trip), continued to sputter. The Eagles went just 1-for-21 with the man advantage on the three-game home stand, leaving them at a ghastly 2-for-40 in their last six hockey games. This is the same Eagles team that has thrived on the powerplay for much of the season! On the plus side, Cape Breton's penalty kill was successful 14 times out of 15 on the home stand, and has allowed just two powerplay goals against in 30 enemy powerplay attempts in the last six games.

A lot of the offensive struggles do have to do with the key forwards currently missing from the Eagles' lineup. Cam Fergus and Scott Brannon have been out with injuries for fairly extended periods of time now (Jonathan Laberge also missed the last game and a half of the home stand), and their absences have forced the Eagles to go with makeshift line combinations - impromptu, unproven combinations that have been hit and miss in terms of chemistry. One would hope that things will be a bit back to normal once these injured players return to the lineup, most of them ready to return relatively soon.

With the surprising results of this frustrating home stand, and with Lewiston having won their weekend games, the Eagles now fall all the way back to six points behind the MAINEiacs for first place in the division; they were just two points back as recently as Thursday. Lewiston also continues to hold a game in hand. Cape Breton's hopes of finishing first certainly took quite the hit on this home stand, with the chances of making up six points on the MAINEiacs over the final ten games being rather slim.

Not much else to say about a frustrating trio of hockey games. Stretches like this are not the end of the world, and could very easily be pretty much forgotten by the time the dust settles on the season.......... heck, maybe in a way it's best that the team gets these kinds of games out of the way now rather than have them happen come playoff time. But dropping unnecessary games here and there will likely be the difference between first and second place for the Screaming Eagles this season; 10 of the team's 19 regulation losses have come against teams with sub-.500 records. I know, the President's Cup isn't handed out to the team that finishes first overall in the regular season, but it is frustrating to see the team miss out mostly because of these unnecessary losses to bottom-dwelling teams.

The best medicine to break out of this little funk would likely be a big challenge against a top-of-the-standings team. However, thanks to this year's wonderful Q schedule, next up are two more games against the Fog Devils - Thursday and Friday night from Mile One Centre in St. John's- making it three in a row against the Devils and five in a row against the expansion teams. What a way for a team to gear up for the playoffs down the stretch drive! Excuse my sarcasm.

Although it could be so easy for staleness to set in playing against the same team three games in a row, maybe the Eagles can use their 1-6 all-time record in Newfoundland as a source of motivation for the upcoming two games. Hopefully the few days off between now and the Newfoundland games will be enough for some of our injured forwards to get back into the lineup. There are only ten games left in the regular season, and we need to get everyone back into the lineup to find the proper line combinations with which to start the playoffs.


Anonymous said...

So whoever said finishing second overall is a bad thing.First overall would just be a very big confidence booster going into the playoffs.I'm sick and tired at all the negative talk about the eagles,let's have some positive things to say about the boys.For the people who are commenting if you know anything about hockey it is very frustrating to play against the trap,no flow to the game very boring hockey,just think back a couple of years ago with the new jersey devils and you know what i'm talking about.I know as well as did everybody else that these games were not going to be easy.When you outshoot the opposing team by that much of a margin you are suppose to win the game 9 times out of ten.So lets get back to normal and finish of the regular season on a winning note."GO EAGLES GO"

Anonymous said...

After watching the last 3 games on the weekend,I'm very worried that an offenseive team like the eagles could only manage 6 goals in 3 games.In each of the games the eagles averaged around 42 shots per game.Could Cam Fergus and Scott Brannon make this much of a difference? Looking at the eagles web site,Luc Bourdon played 13 games in Moncton. He had 3 goals,11 assists,14 points,28 pims,and was a plus +17.
With the eagles,Bourdon has 1 goal,1 assist,2 points,22 pims and is an even 0 + - rating.


We all know you have the skill so show the fans and this team what your made of.Play for our team like you would play for team Canada.

I'm hoping that the eagles are just going through a little funk before the playoffs. 10 games left boys to get it together. You can do it boys!


Anonymous said...

Great blog! I can't disagree with a thing you said. You were right on about the shots (blocked, wide, or into the goalie's chest). As I watched the game, I was saying the same thing. The two goalie's (Fullerton and Ejov) were fantastic, and definitely deserved the ovation they got when named first stars of their games. But the Eagles have the talent to get by these, and other, talented goalies. They have done it before, and I have faith that they will do it again. I know the team was probably as upset as the fans, or even more so, about the outcome of the weekend games, so I hope that when they hit Nfld, they will do so with a vengence. The Fog Devils took two points from their ice, so I'm hoping that they will be determined to take four from Mile One! We were so close to Lewiston, now it will be an up-hill climb. But it can be done! Starting on Thursday! Let's go boys! Get the ugly goals, if need be! Bounce a few off the defenders or their goalie! Just get the puck in the net! We'll be cheering you on, for sure. GO EAGLES GO!

Anonymous said...

I wasn't at any of the games this weekend, I did watch the one on Eastlink.

I've said this since the beginning of the season, Defensive coverage by this team is not good, and if they don't work on it collectively, and focus on trying to be better in their own end, they will be lucky to get past the first round in the playoffs. They rely totally on offense to win games.

I believe we must have set a record for most home games in a row with a penalty shot being rewarded to the visiting team. This is happening because forwards are able to get behind or beat our D in a foot race. Our D are slow and not the most mobile, although Bourdon is supposed to be but he can't seem to get over himself long enough to put in a solid 60 min.

Pascal, in my opinion, is more worried about pissing off some of the top guys on the team instead of making changes to correct problems, the main one being the PP. Many others have commented on this already, if it ain't broken, don't fix it. I don't care if Bourdon is the cream of the crop or the next coming if Christ, the PP was rocking before, should have let it be, make Bourdon the 2nd line PP quarterback.

Now it's struggling and as usual, the same 5 guys go out PP after PP with no results. It baffles me why Pascal does nothing when this type of thing happens. It's like he can't make critical adjustments during games.

All this talk about finishing first, who cares if they finish first and go out in the first round. That will make it an even bigger disappointment. Let them struggle, let them work for their wins, and when the playoffs start they will have been through some adversity and know how to play a 60 min game.

Enough ranting.

Inside the Nest said...

Tommy- You say that defensive zone coverage is poor, and that the team relies totally on offense to win games.

However, the Eagles currently have the second-fewest goals against in the league, and if you look at the latest stretch of games, it's been offense that's been losing games on them........ not defense. The team has really been keeping the goals down lately.

Perhaps you could explain your stance a little bit further?

RinkRat said...

After reading blogs,I'm agree with tommy on one thing.Put Bourdon on the 2nd powerplay.We were flying before with Mcilveen and sawyer on the point.(4 forwards)With Sheppard,
Culligan,and Ouellet up front until Fergus is back.
However,I don't agree with tommy saying that our defensive zone coverage is bad.The eagles are a +91 goals for and against.Tops in the league I might add.
Anyway,the Eagles need to regain some confidence in NFLD so if the fans have anything good to say,write in and support our team instead of bashing them.Let's go and kick some ass in Saint John and show them who really is the better team!


Anonymous said...

Stats only show a result, they don't show what caused the result.

If you have an offensive team, that can create opportunities and keep an opposing team always on defense, then you cause that team to play a different game. They know they need to be perfect defensively, because every mistake will cost them a goal.

At the same time, the offensive team develops bad habits in their own end because they have the confidence that they can play avg for 40 min and then put it all together for a huge 3rd period and still win.

Anyone who has watched this team all season, can see that any team with a few creative players causes the Eagles tons of trouble in their own end. At times they are running around without any organized defensive effort.

I'm not saying they don't have the players to play better defensively, I'm just saying they are not.

As for stats, stats are used as an indicator, and for the most part they give you an "idea" of how a team is playing, or a player is performing, etc... But they can be deceiving at the same time.

Perfect example, stats for goalies. Say we have 2 goalies on 2 different teams. Both teams are offensively challenged, but one is better at keeping the play in their end to the outside. This goalie faces the same amount of shots with less scoring chances than the other goalie. He ends up with a better GAA and save% even though the quality of the shots he faces are very low scoring chances. Is he a better goalie? Just an example, stats don't always show all the whole story.

Hope that explains better.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention the fact that overall, the Eagles have 2 great goalies who also bail them out of poor defensive mistakes on many occasions.

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of comments.

1) Bourdon is not going to make or break the PP. PP is definitely missing Furgus. He's the key man on our PP.

2) I won't say either opposing goalie was doing head stand's out there. They didn't have to - couple of good saves and good positioning was all that was required.

3) Shep's line has, imo, been our first line since Xmas. And the line continues to lead the rest of team. No disrespect to Brannon but I hope to see Slany remain on the line (team owes it to him).

4) Regarding standings - I think we've seen a hiccup for the team, unfortunitly it was at home and at a time in the season where we can't flinch. Management has been saying they are only interested in play-offs, and now that's really all that's left to focus on ( maybe not a bad thing) !!!


Inside the Nest said...

The last few responses have been great guys, keep it up! This is the kind of discussion the blog had hoped to generate amongst passionate fans of the team.

And here's to the Eagles rebounding on the Rock, and getting that confidence around the net back.

Anonymous said...

I don't know but why is everyone exepecting wonders out of Luc Bourdon.He's not going to score the highlite reel goal but he is going to play a steady defenceive game.I know he can and will chip with a couple of points here and there.All's I'm saying he's one of the best if not the best.And stop blaming our recent struggles on Luc he will be there when it counts