by Jacob Lazare
I Tonight, we welcome a familiar foe to the Pond on Poirier as the Chilliwack Chiefs make their second of 4 visits to Coquitlam this season. Their last visit back in October saw the Express ended an infamous streak when they knocked off the Chiefs for the first time in 30 games by a decisive 5-1 score.
The Express enter tonight 3-2 in their last 5 games after a Tuesday night loss in West Kelowna. Chilliwack also holds a 3-2 record in their last 5, but had a strong showing on Sunday when they defeated the Trail Smoke Eaters 7-2. With the recent history set, it’s time for my Keys to the Game.
Key #1: Strong Start by all 4 Lines
The injured list of the Express which saw 8 regulars out of the lineup over the last week has gotten significantly smaller. Alex DiPaolo and Henry Rybinski return to their spots on the top 2 lines, Hunter Alden returns to centre the 3rd line, and Josh Bruce’s return will add some reinforcement to a penalty kill that has had its struggles as of late. With 4 players returning to the lineup on 4 different forward lines, getting some quality shifts under their belts early in the game will be beneficial. As cliché as it sounds, quick, energetic shifts without prolonged defensive zone time in the early going is never a bad thing, and it could be even more important for these players who have been away from game action.
Key #2: Score Second
It may sound odd putting the 2nd goal of the game on pedestal, but for this Express team as of late, the 2nd goal of the hockey game may be even more important than the first. Hear me out. After a 3-0 win in Nanaimo to kick off December, the Express trailed 3-0 in Alberni Valley, 4-0 at home to Trail, 3-1 in Surrey, and 2-1 in West Kelowna. Surprisingly, 2 of those 4 deficits were turned into victories but I wouldn’t play with fire any longer than is necessary.
If the Express open the scoring on home ice tonight, scoring the 2nd goal means the Express will play with a 2 -0 lead (which has only happened twice in the last 10 games). If this team can confidently play with a lead, they have the ability to beat anyone in this league. Obviously, confidence is only 1 piece of the puzzle, as the execution of the routine plays needs to be there as well, but chasing games early is not a sustainable way of picking up points in the standings.
The other situation the Express could find themselves in by scoring 2nd is a 1-1 tie. As rare as 2-0 leads have been recently, 2-0 deficits almost seem to be the norm (I’m exaggerating of course). While the comeback victories in Alberni Valley and Surrey were exciting, the Chilliwack Chiefs are not a team you want to spot 2 goals to early on. If Chilliwack opens the scoring, Clay Stevenson needs to shut the door between the pipes and give his guys a chance to strike back. This forward lineup looks significantly deeper than it has as of late, and any line has the ability to score. A quick response to first goal by the visitors will keep the crowd and bench engaged.
Key #3: Penalty Killing Pride
The penalty kill was a real strength for this team early in the season, however recent struggles have dropped the overall percentage to 80.1% which ranks 10th in the league. Coach Fortier has been pushing his penalty killers to stop standing still and be more mobile while on the man disadvantage. Thinking back to the PK early in the season, it was a tenacious forecheck at one end of the ice coupled with smart defensive switches at the other that saw the Express PK percentage hover around 90% in the first month of the season.
While Drew Cooper and Troy Robillard are still out of the lineup on the back end, the return of Josh Bruce as a leader on the PK may help spark some pride for the penalty killers. If the aggressiveness, focus, and energy of old returns to the PK, it will once again be an asset to the team’s chances of winning the special teams battle, and more importantly, winning games.
Puckdrop for tonight’s game is 7pm. We will be honouring the 2018 Minto Cup Champion Coquitlam Jr. Adanacs with various events during the game. Tickets can be purchased at the arena box office, or if you can’t make it to the Pond on Poirier, you can watch the live at bchl.hockeytv.com or listen at mixlr.com/coquitlam-express.