Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ten Things the Blazers Will Need to Overcome

Last week it was ten things to be excited about for the upcoming season, now it's time to look at the other side...ten things the Blazers need to overcome as they prepare for puck drop on the 2011/12 campaign. Situations just don't change because it's a new season, a team has to work at it to get better. Here's 10 things I think the Blazers will need to overcome...

1. Discipline - Yes it might as well be the number one issue. Last year's team showed at times a complete lack of it. Leading the league in PIMS for a good chunk of the season, the Blazers finished with the 4th most in the WHL with 1500 as a team. Key players were also suspended for parts of the season including Chase Schaber, Brendan Ranford, and Jordan DePape. Players served a total of 22 games in suspensions and quite frankly the team was in no position to get a break from the officiating for most of the season. I know discipline will be stressed throughout camp by the coaching staff and will be a focal point of this team moving forward.

2. Coaching Dynamic - The Blazers have not one, but two WHL head coaches on the bench this season. That is a good thing in my opinion but it poses some potential logistical problems. With the addition of Dave Hunchak as the team's Associate Coach, the Blazers will have to find a dynamic that works. Who controls what, who says what, and who puts their foot down. So far it's going well between Guy Charron and Dave Hunchak. I'm sure the two will be communicating their thoughts openly to get the best out of the scenario. Let's keep in mind, Guy felts Hunchak was the right guy for the job.

3. Penalty Kill - This has been a point of contention for this hockey club and is exposed more by the lack of discipline discussed above. Last year's PK had a decent 2nd half of the season but still only killed off powerplays at 76.4% - 20th out of 22 teams. Two seasons ago the PK was at 75.3% - again 20th out of 22 teams. A year before that, 76.9%. You have to go back to the 06/07 season to find the last time the PK was over 80% and even that year it was only 80.2%.

If the Blazers want to be a team in the upper echelon, it means the PK will have to be in the 83% to 85% range.

4. Defense - the Blazers gave up the most goals in the Western Conference last season with 285 - 3rd most in the league ahead of only fellow non-playoff teams Regina and Lethbridge. Granted, the Blazer blueline is older this season, they still have to go out and prove themselves. Just because everyone is a year older, improvement doesn't just magically happen.

With six returning veterans in Austin Madaisky, Bronson Maschmeyer, Tyler Hansen, Josh Caron, Brady Gaudet and newly acquired Marek Hrbas, it'll be up to all of them to take the next step. Madaisky, Caron and Maschmeyer will have to specifically lead the back-end but it'll be strength in numbers if the Blazers want to be a winner.

Dave Hunchak has a proven track record of developing defenseman as a coach. We will see if he can continue the trend with the Blazers.

5. Fragile mindset - The Blazers lost a handful of games last season and gave up precious points because of late goals against in tie games. Too many times the Blazers gave up that heartbreaking last minute goal. It was a "playing not to lose" mentality and not an assertive attitude that was their demise. There's nothing worse than giving up that late goal. It adds doubt and can snowball in a hurry. The Blazers need todictate the pace and flow in those situations and not sit back and react. It won't happen overnight, but every situation they overcome this season will build momentum in their favor.

6. Goaltending - the Blazers need to get quality goaltending all season long. They likely haven't had a legit game-stealing all-star goaltender since Devan Dubnyk in the 05/06 season. With the departure of Jeff Bosch, the Blazers will host an audition for the number one spot. Cam Lanigan and Cole Cheveldave are expected to battle it out in camp with Taran Kozun and Troy Trombley trying to push into a back-up role. As the saying only go as far as your goaltending.

7. Getting everyone on board - Last season I think there were times when not everyone was on the same page. Perhaps some players were more or less motivated than others and the coaching staff said as much in our post-game shows. It's cliche but the Blazers will need everyone "pulling on the rope in the same direction" this season if they want to have the year they hope to have.

8. Better play within the BC division - The Blazers lost every single head-to-head series in the BC division last season. A combined record of 10-19-1-2. Division games are always big ones...the Blazers gave up too many points to their division rivals leading to a last place finish in the BC division.

9. Being more resilient - The Blazers will have to show a bit more of it this season. Whether it's overcoming a bad call, bad goal or injury problems, this team will need to be able to handle adversity better. At times emotions get the best of this team and usually it had a negative effect. The Blazers will have to battle through it this season because adversity will come up several times over the course of a 72 game schedule.

10. Exorcising the playoff demons - The truth of the matter is this: No matter how good or bad of a regular season the Blazers have, their year will be judged on playoff success or lack thereof. The Blazers haven't won a playoff round since 1999 - the last time they went to the WHL Championship. Since then, they've amassed a 5-40 record in the playoffs with 10 straight series losses. It is the biggest issue dogging the Blazers and will be until this team gets through a round or two and takes a run at an Ed Chynoweth Cup.

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