Friday night’s game in Toronto started off looking somewhat similar to the Vancouver Stealth’s visit to the ACC a week ago. The Wings came out fairly strong, scoring two minutes in, and playing a very physical game both on offense and defense. But while Vancouver dominated the first quarter before the Rock got the engine fired up and raced ahead, the Wings never dominated at all, they just happened to score first.
For the first quarter, I thought the Wings played pretty good defense. The Rock weren’t getting many good looks at all though they did pick up 3 goals in the first quarter. But for the rest of the game, the Rock scored almost at will. Inside, outside, bouncers, in close, bad angles, everything was going in. The goals were spread around among the forwards; Garrett Billings led with 6 while Stephen Leblanc and Kasey Beirnes had 4 each. Only three Rock players who hit the floor didn’t record a point, and one of them was Nick Rose. But the oddest stat of the night for the Rock was Josh Sanderson’s line: 0G, 2A. Whaaaa…? The Rock score 20 and one of the best feeders in the history of the league picks up only 2 assists?
On Friday afternoon, I expressed my concern about the Rock’s face-off situation, with Stephen Hoar having been released. In this game, anyway, it wasn’t a huge concern. Scott Johnston was the man, taking 29 face-offs and winning 41% of them. Of the players that might have been chosen for this task, Johnston wasn’t one of the ones I was expecting, considering he’d taken all of one faceoff this year (though he won it), none last year, and three in 2012 (lost ’em all). A 41% face-off percentage isn’t stellar, but it’s better than Hoar’s 35.7%, and not far below the 44.8% that Patrick Merrill pulled in last season.
The Wings obviously didn’t have the greatest night, but your offense is going to suffer when someone like Jordan Hall is out of the lineup. Of course, offense wasn’t their problem so much as defense. Both of the goalies were hot and cold – they obviously let in a good number of goals (20 of them on only 49 shots), but each of them made some pretty impressive stops as well. The Rock defense was strong, and while Kevin Crowley did have one of his standard “dive across the crease” goals, most of the time the Philly forwards couldn’t get in close. Ryan Ward only scored one but it was a beautiful low shot through traffic, and Tracey Kelusky continues his resurgence after two disappointing seasons in Buffalo.
I didn’t actually think the Wings played that badly overall. They obviously weren’t great, and their physical play seemed to diminish over the course of the game, but the Rock won this game because they were firing on all cylinders.
Other game notes:
- Damn, that Garrett Thul is a big man. It was a little weird to see 6’4″ Thul and 6’4″ Kevin Crowley next to the 5’8″ Tracey Kelusky, 5’8″ Kyle Buchanan, and 5’9″ Ryan Ward.
- In the 3rd, Ethan O’Connor fell down just outside the crease and Evan Kirk fell over him. CJ Costabile then jumped on O’Connor and started pounding on him. This seemed to me to be a really dumb play – it was quite obvious that Kirk falling over O’Connor was purely an accident, so there was no need for Costabile to “retaliate”. They were already down by 7 and the retaliation put the Rock on another power play. The Wings did score a shorthanded goal during that penalty, which ended up offsetting the Rock PP goal that Kasey Beirnes scored 45 seconds later, but still. Unnecessary penalties are never smart (that’s why they’re called “unnecessary”) but they seem extra dumb when you’re desperately trying to get back into a game.
- Speaking of the Wings’ shorthanded goal, it was a thing of beauty. Check out the video: Nick Rose sends a pass up to Garrett Billings, who gently tosses it to a teammate (can’t see who on the video), but Pat Saunders just puts his stick in the way and the ball goes into it. He turns around, just as surprised as anyone else, and races back towards the net. He dekes around Billings and then around Marshall and puts one over Nick Rose’s right shoulder. Nice.
- Funniest moment of the night: Damon Edwards races up on a breakaway chasing the ball, but Evan Kirk, way out of his crease, gets to it first. Edwards hits Kirk though not especially hard, and Kirk passes the ball away. Brodie Merrill doesn’t like the fact that Edwards hit his goalie, so he nails Edwards and drops his gloves. Edwards just calmly walks away, and Brodie gets an unsportsmanlike conduct minor. “You’re gonna hit our goalie, huh? Get over here and I’ll teach you some mann– hey, where you going? Come back here!”
- The guy beside me wouldn’t shut up all night. Just kept yappin’ and yappin’, Mammoth this and Denver that… I’m totally kidding, Jonathon, it was great to meet you and Annette!