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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wolves v Rampage; Hogs v MAds

The Houston Aeros, in fourth place in the West Division of the American Hockey League, are in a tight race with four teams fighting for the last two play-off spots, one in the West and one in the North Division.

They were helped by Wednesday’s win by the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins over the fourth place North Division team, the Syracuse Crunch. And, they were helped by their own efforts too, a win Wednesday night, 1-0 over the North Division Lake Erie Monsters of Cleveland.

Although I’d earlier forecast that Syracuse was out of the hunt for the post season, due to it being so far behind the four West Division teams fighting for fourth and fifth place, there is another possibility for the team, it could catch the third place Manitoba Moose or even the second place Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs, the Calder Cup winner last season, have 67 points in 58 games. The Moose have chalked up 66 points in 59 games and the fourth place Crunch have 61 points in 60 games.

So it is tight for the Crunch. They are in a hard spot. But it will be easier to beat two teams than to go on a run that beats four.

The Milwaukee Admirals, in fifth place in the West, beat the Rockford IceHogs 4-3. The IceHogs have been on a ride to nowhere lately, with only four points in ten games. Milwaukee, on the other hand has 13 points in ten games. The MAds are one of four teams in the West Division in a race for the two playoff spots, one in the West and one in the North, that seem up for grabs. The MAds are trailing the San Antonio Rampage in the standings by five points with the SAR having five games in hand.

The MAds have always been a hard-hitting team. But, I think they’ve met their match with the IceHogs, a physical team that is finishing its checks this year. The violence in hockey is usually confined to the ice surface and usually to the game. When it explodes outside of those limits, you have a problem defined outside the code. It would be fair to call it a personal problem.

The Hogs and the MAds had such a fight on Wednesday. Troy Brouwer, Colin Fraser, Kelsey Wilson and Alex Henry received a variety of penalties after the match. The two teams meet again on Saturday, March 8th at the Bradley Center. There should be fireworks.

I’m not a person to scream “fight, fight, fight” at games. But the Hogs need a boost. They need to regain their spirit. And a good scrum might help.

The Rampage hosted the Chicago Wolves for the first time this season. The Wolves, the number two team in the league, treated their hosts poorly, going ahead 5-0 at the end of the second period. But after putting 18 shots on the San Antonio goal in the first period, the Wolves seemed to relax: just 10 shots on goal for the remainder of the game.

San Antonio, on the other hand, put 40 shots on Ondrej Pavelec in the second and third frames. One of the things to look at in a team is the shots on goal. I remember games during the lockout when Kari Lehtonen was in net. The Wolves would typically give up 40, 50 and once I remember 60 shots on goal.

That’s poor defense. Have you ever heard people say it is hard to measure defense? There is a great measure of a team’s defense. I’ll put it this way: 40 shots on goal in two periods is equivalent to 60 shots on goal for 60 minutes. It is poor defense.

Visitors would complain that Kari’s numbers were inflated by off-ice officials in Chicago who favored him having a high save percentage. “They’ll give him a SOG for looking at a puck in the corner,” they said. Another way to look at it is that Lehtonen had a poor defense in front of him.

Forty shots on goal in two periods? Terrible defense. The Wolves are holding on by the grace of Pavelec. The Wolves are a good team and should be using this period leading up to the playoffs, not to rest, but to totally discourage every other team in this league. The defense needs to shut down the opposing offense. It can do it, the penalty kill numbers demonstrate it. Not only the penalty kill numbers, but in the one period the Wolves didn’t phone it in, SAR only had four shots on goal.

There’s another example of defense. Except this time it was clicking. Four shots on goal in 20 minutes of play.

These two teams meet again on Friday. Expect some fireworks. Whether true or not, a person purporting to be a former Wolves player went on a message board after the game to issue a challenge to the Wolves.

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