Slough Jets first battle of the season against the much talked about Sheffield Steeldogs failed to show me the hype around the visitors that has been touted so far this season. In fact I fail to see how the Steeldogs went into the weekend in 2nd place.
Ok, let’s get things straight. The Steeldogs are a much improved team from last season. Last season I guess every team would have expected the points in their own barn from a Steeldogs match up. They all knew they’d have to work for them but you’d have been upset as a home team fan if Sheffield had come in and left with the points. This season I think they will be much tougher opponents, they are one of the improved teams over the summer and I don’t think any team will bank on two points when Sheffield come to visit.
One of the main things the Steeldogs have always had in their favour is their own rink. It’s been a tough place to go and get points and with the improvements they’ve made over the summer that advantage will be even bigger this season. The key for success for the Steeldogs is holding their own and looking to win as many as they can in their own rink while battling tough on the road and hoping to pick up as many points away from home. If they can do that then I think they have the team necessary to justify qualification for the play-offs rather than the last minute scrape-through they’ve had in previous seasons.
The Jets team continues to improve week on week and I still think there is much more to come from this team. The next couple of games will be a real test of where the Jets stand this season as they play away at Manchester tonight and home against Guildford next weekend. They are two teams that, along with Basingstoke and MK, are expected to perform well this season and matching up against them will be an indication of how well we can expect to perform.
Last weekend against a good MK team the Jets played a good tight defensive game, shutting down a lot of good scoring chances before they ever materialised. In contrast to the game at Basingstoke where 6 goals against were scored only 2 were scored plus an empty netter. The first goal scored came from the hash marks, Blaz Emersic going in on goal against his former team mate and using the knowledge he had accumulated from 2 years playing with Rocky. The second goal was blasted in from just over the blue line, on this occasion from the stage position and Jets TV camera angle it looked like the defenceman screen Rocky’s view of the shot. With the defenceman midway between the shooter and the netminder it halves the reaction time available to save the shot.
The Steeldogs, it is fair to say, lack the out and out firepower that the Lightning team brought with them the week before but the Jets’ defence were again tight and protected the netminder well. 29 saves out of 30 shots is a great return from Rocky and the defence did a good job ensuring a lot of the 30 shots that the Steeldogs did manage weren’t close in range maximum danger shots.
At the other end of the ice the forwards did well. The fourth goal in particular was one of the best I have seen in recent times.
Having dropped a goal behind the Jets set up pulling that back and took advantage of the powerplay. Going into the weekend the special teams boasted good stats with a 33.33% powerplay conversion and at 75.00% penalty kill success rate. Ideally you’d like to improve on the penalty kill stat, perhaps adding another 5% to that success rate and a 100% penalty killing success rate last night will go towards helping that stat improve. A 40% powerplay conversion on the night also helped boost the powerplay conversion even further.
Doug Sheppard found the equalising goal converting a powerplay and Darius Pliskauskas scored the game winning goal with another powerplay strike leaving the Jets with a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period.
With 20 minutes left to play and just a single goal difference it wasn’t inconceivable that the Steeldogs could come back into the game so Adam Calder scoring just 57 seconds into the third period was exactly the start the Jets wanted. Face-off in the zone, won straight back to Calder and a booming shot flying past Bowns is about as a good a first minute in a period you could hope to have.
As the third period got more and more chippy Darius Pliskauskas sealed the win with probably the best end to a penalty kill you could look forward. With Pliskauskas’ time in the box coming to an end Aaron Connolly fed Ryan Watt the puck, Darius rejoined the ice and the two charged down towards Bowns together. Ryan Watt held the puck just long enough to draw Bowns into a position to save his own shot before feeding Darius who then took full advantage and made it 4-1.
With the game well and truly won by then Andre Payette, head coach of the Steeldogs, then decided to take objection to virtually everything that happened on the ice. A spear to Joe Greener saw him ejected with a match spearing penalty and left me wondering what the purpose was to that. As Player/Coach you are the ultimate leader of your team, in collecting a totally unnecessary match penalty through nothing other than frustration at being outplayed how is that leading the team? In that particular game Payette being ejected in the last minute made little difference but in collecting a match penalty you automatically suspend yourself from the next match and you are bound to wait for the reports from the officials of your penalty to be deliberated by discipline to see if there is any supplementary discipline to be applied. As a player/coach this means that you can not only play in the game but you are not allowed to coach them either. Is that clever hockey? Probably not.
Doug Sheppard on the other way will certainly be the happier of the two coaches. His team not only secured the win but showed the hard work that they have put in to tighten up their defence. As Shep wrote in his column for the website the whole team are aware that they can’t possibly hope to concede 6 goals every game and win those games and things are improving in those areas.
With a win against the Steeldogs to start the weekend the Jets have done everything possible for the test tonight against the league leaders at Altrincham and I’m sure another tough week at practice will set them up ready for the first visit of the season of the Flames next weekend.
As you know now from Jets TV I recorded an interview with Ryan Watt last Thursday before practice and then stayed to watch the training before Lewis Cleveland did the photoshoot for the head shots after practice. There is a real buzz in practice, intensity but also a real evident team spirit. I’d like to say thanks to Ryan for taking the time to record the interview and to Doug and the team for finding the time at the end of the training session to do the player head-shots.