The 2017/18 Kelowna Rockets have continued to prosper despite creating roadblocks on their path to the playoffs. Convincing losses to the Victoria Royals and Portland Winterhawks early in the year, as well as a few stinkers to other Western Conference opponents, put the Rockets in a position they don’t often find themselves: playing catchup.
Their roster is once again loaded for bear with star forwards Dillon Dube, Kole Lind, and Carsen Twarynski aka Leon Draisaitl Lite, taking the lead on the scoresheet most nights. On the back end Captain Cal Foote, Gordie Ballhorn, and over-ager James Hilsendager have helped propel the Rockets up the standings and currently into first place in the WHL West.
After a see-saw battle with the Kamloops Blazers on Saturday night which resulted in an electrifying 6-5 come from behind win, the Rockets should look at the road ahead and shore up a few issues they are experiencing, which to a certain degree are self-inflicted.
Giving up the lead has begun to shoot the Rockets in the foot after putting up a lead and sitting on it. Going ahead 6-2 on the Cougars on Tuesday should have been a cakewalk at that point but the Rockets let PG back into the game before finally shutting it down 6-5 to earn the victory. Saturday, Kelowna went up 3-0 before squandering their lead 4-3, tying it 4-4, dropping back 5-4, tying it again 5-5 and then stealing it late 6-5 to take the victory.
Kamloops didn’t deserve to be in that game but Kelowna let them in with a handful of decisions they most likely will regret. If it wasn’t for the balanced scoring on the Rockets it might have had a different result. That probably could be said a few more times this season as well. It’s inevitable that the Rockets will matchup against the Royals in the playoffs so do a little housekeeping before the end of the season will benefit them down the stretch.
Kelowna and Victoria split their season series 4-4. Tons of goals, a few blowouts, and a recipe for a seven-game series gem is in order.
Goaltending has been a strong point for most of the season even with the call-up of 16-year-old Roman Basran who managed to put up a shutout in only 10 games played along with a .926 SA% and a 2.28 GAA. James Porter Jr. earned the starting job over Brodan Salmond and until his injury didn’t look like he’d be giving it up.
Salmond has taken back his net for the time being but he’ll need to be better if the Rockets want to go deep this post-season. He has never been the best option in net since arriving in Kelowna but as has been seen so many times in their net, when push comes to shove they rise to the challenge. If and when Porter returns they’ll have a 1-2 punch they can feel confident in.
The defensive unit in front of Salmond hasn’t been as elite as much as coach Jason Smith would like but he’s starting to see a progression from Minnesota Wild draft pick Braydyn Chizen, and Kaedan Korczak.
Chizen has appeared to be awkward on the ice on many occasions even with his large frame and booming shot when it gets through. Only recently has Chizen used his body to create separation from forwards and the puck and he even threw down the other night in a convincing win via KO:
Goals from Captain Cal Foote and Dillon Dube evened things at 2-2, but it was the big man @Chizen22 that got the building rocking with this little scuffle in the middle frame. 3rd period action on the way! #KELvsSEA#BigChiz#boom🚀🐉🧀💥👊pic.twitter.com/3ivbZe2ALV
— Kelowna Rockets (@Kelowna_Rockets) February 24, 2018
His defensive awareness has grown and with Cal Foote beside him, he’s able to take a few more chances.
Kelowna shouldn’t be giving up leads like they have or going down early to teams either. Jason Smith might have to tap into his Oilers days and remind his players what they’re playing for. A WHL Championship isn’t entirely ridiculous to think about when they’re producing but this team has looked pedestrian at times which can end games quick.
As a team, the Rockets are closing deals on the power-play as often as possible and their 27.2 PP% is second in the WHL. That will be their strong suit with Dube and Lind giving goalies headaches this spring. On the PK, however, Kelowna has given up the fifth most goals while down a man or more combined with the fact they’ve taken the third most penalties in the WHL with 273, eight back of first. It’s too late to change that statistic but it resets in late March.
Discipline will be key as the Blazers game gave evidence to. Allowing Jermaine Loewen, notable Blazers tough guy, to get in their heads… and on the scoresheet is the Micheal Ferland to Vancouver Canucks equivalent. Kelowna has the weapons to go far this post-season and keeping a level head will make the Rockets a very dangerous team to play.
Of course, they’ll have to beat Everett.
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