INDEPENDENCE, MO – While strolling the concourse following Tuesday night’s home finale, the questions were abundant. The look of bewilderment on the faces of Mavs fan was eerily similar to a deer peering into the headlights of it’s impending doom. It was a game in which the Missouri Mavericks dropped their third straight home game. In fact, it was the first time all season the Mavericks had lost three in a row, home or away, period.
Did the Mavericks play well on Tuesday night against Tulsa? No.
Does the Mavericks fan base have reason to be concerned? Maybe.
I was asked on twitter following the game (@MissouriMavs_9) where my level of concern was and I decided to address it here because 140 characters just simply isn’t enough sometimes. So, here are some reasons why Mavs fans should be cautiously optimistic as the Kelly Cup Playoffs near.
#1 This isn’t the 2013-14 Mavericks
The banner with “Governors Cup Champions” hangs proudly from the rafters of the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena; yet for seasoned Mavs fans it is a banner which symbolizes great accomplishment and unfinished business. The feeling is most closely related to the Kansas City Royals raising the 2014 World Series participant flag prior to the start of last baseball season. The flag — or banner in this case, — serves as a stark reminder of what a great season it was, but a reminder of what might have been.
All have varying memories of that 2013-14 Mavericks team. Some choose to just remember how incredible the season was as the Mavs steamrolled through the regular season. But inevitably, your attention is drawn to what happened during hockey’s “Second Season.” That year, the Mavs ran into a freight train engineered by an Arizona Sundogs squad that was not your normal 8-seed. Heartbreak and disappointment followed.
So, why doesn’t the ghost of 2013-14 team haunt me? It’s simple. Nothing is the same. New coach, new system, new players and a new identity define this year’s team. The lone holdovers from that team are Andrew Courtney and the man standing behind him in a suit, John-Scott Dickson. The ghost of Scott Hillman has long since left the building.
#2 This team is built to endure
A quick look at the leadership of this team should tell you all you need to know. The captain has been there and done that. Courtney has seen it all and has been here long enough to deserve every Mavericks-related accolade that will be bestowed on him. Add in the young, fiery Philadelphia native, Rocco Carzo, and you’ve got a leadership team that has control of the locker room and is feeding positive vibes to this team.
The Mavericks possess something many teams would love to have…depth. They can score from all three lines when needed. The defensive depth is going to solidify with the return of Jesse Graham from Bridgeport and CJ Ludwig coming off suspension. The player’s suite to the right of the press box is full of guys who of guys that aren’t suited up, but could play good minutes on any ECHL squad. The signal here is the team is trying to avoid any further injuries right now and prepping for a deep playoff run into June.
#3 The Suits
Coach Richard Matvichuk hasn’t provided reason to doubt his ability to build a championship worthy team yet, so why start doubting him now?
The man has his name engraved on the most hallowed trophy in sports and has a nice ring from the Allen Americans to prove he’s no slouch at this coaching thing. Until given reason to believe otherwise, I’m sticking with the coach.
Dickson provides a guy that relates well to the players and possesses solid hockey knowledge, while working with and being mentored by Coach Matvichuk. Simon Watson is becoming a seasoned coach as he analyzes the game from up above the ice.
Finally, Matvichuk and team President Brent Thiessen have done a meticulous job of molding the roster to where it is today. It isn’t an accident this team had incredible regular seasons two of the last three years and has made the playoffs in six of their seven years of existence. These guys know what they’re doing and deserve the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
Now, reasons for concern for those of you still reading.
#1 The last 10 games
I’ll be completely honest, the Mavs have not set the world on fire with their play over the last ten games. Trying to gain a presence in the offensive zone has been a continual struggle. Any pressure up the middle is quickly pushed outside by the opposing defense and players that normally have no problem finding the back of the net have been high and wide consistently.
Do teams go through streaks in which they have trouble scoring? Sure.
Are the Mavericks in one of those streaks? Yes.
But, like all streaks, it has to come to an end at some point. Pessimists will say it’s going to come too little, too late, but I’m a positive person generally. I’d rather have this streak now than in 10 days when elimination hockey rolls around.
I’d like to think the last 10 games have been the outlier instead of the norm. The thought of a team who has nothing to play for at this point, except for continuing to pile up points and not step off the gas is probably a non-realistic thought. Although, there will definitely be some who will disagree with me on that, human nature steps in occasionally and calms down the adrenaline when nothing is on the line.
While this has maybe been more noticeable on the blue line of late, the Mavericks as a whole have struggled to eliminate errors resulting in odd man rushes for their opponents. The defense must continue to push the opposition outside and can not rely on their goaltenders to make Brodeur-like saves on a consistent basis. Forwards have to get in on the backcheck and be more physical in general (Not applicable to Reed Seckel). The forecheck has been slow to get to the corners of late and the crisp passing of early in the season has been inches off lately.
These are all correctable things and with a few days off before the playoffs start after this weekend’s set with the Steelheads, I would expect to see the intensity level in practice increase and the little things be re-visited by the players and the coaches.
#2 The Jesse Root Injury
Jesse Root sustained a significant lower body injury on March 9th against the Allen Americans. Since that game, the Mavs are 6-6 in twelve games. Obviously, .500 hockey isn’t what you’d like to see this time of year, but losing your best player and leading scorer isn’t ideal either. However, the Mavericks have to find a way to overcome the obstacle in front of them. Root will not return this season. In fact, his rehab will carry him well into the offseason. It’s the job of the coaching staff and the players on this team to step up and replace his offensive output and team leadership. Interestingly enough, when Root played a handful of games with Bridgeport, the team hardly lost a beat.
So, who can fill the gap? The number one guy is Darian Dziurzynski. The trade for Dziurzynski will go down as the best trade of the year for Missouri and possibly one of the best in the league. He has done an admirable job of filling the spot on the top line formerly occupied by the law firm of Carzo, Root, and Barnes.
Second guy that can help a ton is Sebastien Sylvestre. He shows flashes of brilliance throughout games, but consistency here is going to be the key. When he gets it going on all cylinders, you’re watching a future NHL player.
Most surprising guy to fill some of the void left by Root has been Darren Nowick. This kid came from nowhere but has been the best player on the ice at times over the last 10 games. He possesses the speed that Root has with a knack for finding open ice to operate in. His continued chemistry and development on the Courtney and Sylvestre line is important to this team.
#3 Help is probably not coming
I keep hearing from fans “just wait til our guys in Bridgeport come back down.” Well, folks I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is a chance the cavalry may not show up. All of this will be determined by New York’s and Bridgeport’s time in their respective playoffs. The Mavs may get some help in the second round of the playoffs if the Islanders and Sound Tigers were to be eliminated early on. If either advances, help is not likely to arrive for awhile.
But for the sake of this article, let’s say the help does show up, where do they slot in and not disrupt the chemistry that some of the lines have been put together since the roster stabilized? Does that even matter? Both are valid questions and I think some guys might fit better than others.
Blue line players should slot in pretty easily. Guys like Pat Cullity and Kane LaFranchise who spent considerable time here this year would be an easy fit in this lineup. Players like Carter Verhaege and Colin Markison who haven’t been on the roster for a few months would be a tougher sell, but could still add something to an already deep team.
So, all of that leaves me with the million dollar question…am I worried about this team? The answer is no.
I have faith in this coaching staff. I have faith in the leadership of this team. I have faith that the youth of this team will bring energy and passion as playoff hockey nears. If you think Trevor Ludwig, Andrew Courtney and Eric Neilson aren’t telling this team what they need to do to be ready for the playoffs, you’re crazy. I believe this team is special beyond what we’ve seen and has an outstanding shot of accomplishing big things this Spring.
Will it be easy? Nope. Things worth achieving never are easy.
Sixteen teams will have a shot at hoisting a the Kelly Cup in a couple of months. Fifteen will not.
If it were easy, everyone would do it.