Sports 'n' Things

Smokies playoff poised but not perfect

A fair turnout, for a Wednesday, for the Smoke Eaters fifth win in six games.

A fair turnout, for a Wednesday, for the Smoke Eaters fifth win in six games. And those that came out, other than a few Vernon fans, left the building happy.

The result was huge for the Smokies playoff hopes, moving the team within a point of the Vipers, over whom they have three games in hand, and whom they play a couple of more times, including the final game of the regular season in Cominco Arena.

A tougher test comes tonight, and two points from the game against Salmon Arm are still a desirable goal. The Silverbacks are 2-0 against the Smoke Eaters and have outscored the locals, 11-5, but, one hopes, that was then.

Underscoring the difficulty tonight, however, is the fact that Salmon Arm is the only team in the BCHL with a  positive record against the number one team in Canada, the Penticton Vees, against whom they have taken five points (two wins and an overtime loss), so far this season.

Not long ago Cowichan Valley trounced Trail in Trail – then the Smokies returned the favour on the island during their last trip. There is then, hope, especially given the surge from Trail’s special teams (five goals on the power play and one shorthanded Wednesday to go with a usually competent penalty kill).

Trail is playing better, much better in fact, than they were two months ago, the last time their opponent was Salmon Arm. The team is getting balanced offence and strong goaltending.

But, (you knew there was one, right?) lots of things need to be cleaned up about the Smokies approach.

Two of Vernon’s goals Wednesday were the result of simply dimbulb back passes in their own end which landed on Vernon sticks – even though Trail had full control of the puck and there were safer options available. It is nice to see the team playing with more confidence, but here is hoping hard that that doesn’t overflow into cockiness/sloppiness. The individual skills on the roster are not sufficient to a game of fancy-schmantzy attempts to outfox opponents, most of whom can match the Smokies on the skill meter.

And there is still the matter of shot selection and offensive positioning. That part of Trail’s game has improved, a lot, but there are still too many times in a game where puck carriers skate away from the prime scoring area towards a back corner or potential shooters pass the puck from optimum areas to lower chance ones. Or as a friend, and very long term Smoke Eater supporter, said recently, “I have never seen a team pass up so many good opportunities in favour of bad ones.”

Fix that, and encourage players joining the rush to get into shooting areas and NOT FINISH UP BY GOING BEHIND THE NET FOR NO REASON WHEN THEIR PUCK CARRIER HAS CONTROL AND IS LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO PASS TO, and the current good form could continue indefinitely.

More hope than ever that the Smokies can achieve a playoff spot for the first time in a while, and tonight should indicate how far they have come in the past month. A fast start – the Smoke Eaters are way more succcessful when they score first – and a continuation of the recent high energy play could do the trick.

A win tonight (Friday), when Smoke Eater fans are taking up their last opportunity to grab souvenirs and such, would send the team and its fans happily into the Christmas break, regardless of the result in Merritt tomorrow.

See you there.

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