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K3ys to the Game – January 9

by Jacob Lazare  I

The Express are back in the win column after a dominant 8-1 victory over West Kelowna on Monday night. The boys will look to quickly build on that momentum as they are right back on home ice tonight with the Merritt Centennials making their only visit to Coquitlam this season. The Cents sit 2nd in the BCHL’s Interior division only 1 point behind 1st place Penticton and only 2 points up on 3rd place Wenatchee, so the Centennials will definitely be hungry for a win tonight. Here’s how the Express prevent them from doing that.

Jared Power – Photo Courtesy Damon James

Key #1 – Compete in the Offensive Zone
Monday night’s win saw the Express put up 8 goals. Watching them back, a common theme was “compete” in the o-zone. Jared Power won position in front of the net to deflect home his first of 3 on the night. Josh Bruce had the awareness to drive to the back post and stop up for a rebound to tap in a goal. Both Alex DiPaolo and Josh Wildauer scored from the edge of the crease where they won inside position on defenders. Power’s 3rd of the night came from a turnover he forced, then he used his speed to blow through the defenders and get into position for a tap in. Winning battles at the opponent’s blue line and in front of their net allowed the Express to run up the score. While the flashy passing plays and silky breakaway dekes look nice in the highlight reel, if this Express team works hard and works smart in the offensive zone, they can put up some crooked numbers. Merritt’s goaltender Austin Roden enters tonight’s game on a personal 3 game winning streak, with a SV% of .930 and a GAA of 2.22 in that time, so nothing should be expected to come easy for the Express in the offensive end.

Key #2 – Defend Aggressively
Kolby Matthews was great between the pipes on Monday night. He stopped 36 of 37 shots he faced for the win and covered up some Express defensive deficiencies. While the team defence as a whole was a bit better than we’ve seen recently, more passion on the back end should help reduce the scoring chances allowed. Physicality and gap control are a necessity when facing a team like Merritt, who have 5 players with over a point per game. Led by Brad Cocca, who sits 4th in the BCHL in points with 51, the skilled group of forwards on Merritt’s top 2 lines can tear a team apart if they’re given the time and space to do so. Keeping gaps tight and finishing checks cannot be optional tonight. Team defense is not easy, but when everyone buys in it makes the job easier for the individuals involved. I think back to some games early in the season where there was so little room for the opposition to utilize. On October 12, the Chilliwack Chiefs came into the Poirier Sport & Leisure Complex and the Express beat them 5-1. The Chiefs were 0 for 6 on the powerplay and mustered only 22 shots. Replicating defensive results like those would likely see a similar result on the scoreboard.

Key #3 – Stay Disciplined
The Express PK went a perfect 3 for 3 on Monday, however, there’s no need to tempt fate. The easiest way to kill penalties is not to take them. Merritt’s PP is surprisingly 15th out of 17 in the BCHL at only 17.9%. However, with the offensive talent they possess, a powerplay outburst from game to game would not be surprising. Avoid the lazy stick infractions, and build some confidence with big kills when you do find yourself shorthanded. This is more of a key to success going forward as the Express penalty kill tries to climb back over 80% on the season, but building on a good showing from Monday would be  great to see.

Want to see your Express in action? Tickets are available at the box office or by calling 604-936-4625.