Big weekend. Huge.
This is one of the most talented Smoke Eaters rosters in a long time. This weekend is the biggest challenge of the year for that roster.
Simply put, even a split of the home and home with the Penticton Vees will likely mean first place in the Interior Division is well out of reach of Trail. Gaining only a single point of the first 12 they played for was always going to be a long term problem for the Smokies. Now it is THE problem.
Since that opening slump, unexpected because a basically hand picked team was prepping for the season from the start of training camp, Trail has produced as good a list of results as anybody in the division – as good, probably, as anybody in the league that is not called Coquitlam Express.
But, any hopes of a division title may have been already dashed by the time October rolled around. Except – a sweep of the Vees would keep those hopes alive with seven weeks of the season, and a home heavy runout schedule for the Smoke Eaters, going forward.
For that to happen, of course, the Smokies have to address their main weakness – the tendency to lose focus on defence and allow scoring chances to even less than brilliant offensive lineups.
A case in point from the last game. Trail was leading, and on the power play. The puck turned over, and that potent man advantage group looked up to see a wide open Merritt Centennial crossing the Smokie blue line home free on the Trail goaltender.
The Centennial had been standing at the Trail blue line for a while, leaving his team two men short in their defensive end, because Merritt was behind and hopes for a turnover and a breakaway was a more positive approach than just getting the two minute penalty killed.
That just cannot happen, not at even strength, and absolutely not when the Smokies have a man advantage.
Trail has, as I said, one of the most talented rosters it ever has. No excuse, then, for the fact their goaltenders face a barrage of rubber in almost every outing. Penticton’s top goalie has played just four fewer games than Trail’s number one, but has faced more than 300 fewer shots than Logan Terness, who has made the most saves of any goalie in the league.
That’s why the Trail number one, despite a sterling .930 save percentage, has a goals against average quite a bit higher than the Penticton number one, with a save percentage 20 points lower.
First in the division at regular season end or not, the Smoke Eaters look like they should be title contenders during the playoffs. A title is unlikely, however, unless the team can find a way to prevent some of that rubber from heading towards their own net.
Tonight should be a dandy contest. Trail and Penticton both have top tier offences. The devil in the defensive details will make the difference.
Another bad weather turn is forecast for today, so be careful on your way to and from what will be a packed arena.