The similarities are eerie. It’s like we’ve seen this team before. I hate to bring up painful memories, but in this instance, it is necessary to look back in order to prevent a similar ending. I’m sure there are many among the Orange Army that have drawn their own comparisons at certain points throughout the season. The 2015-16 Missouri Mavericks remind me an awful lot of the the 2013-14 Missouri Mavericks.
There are good and bad things about that previous statement. That previous Mavericks team was the best in the league, dominant from start to finish, and won the regular season championship. They had a dominant first line anchored by the legendary Sebastien Thinel, with Eric Castonguay, and either Mike Ramsay or Andrew Courtney on the other wing. They posed incredible challenges to opposing defenses on a nightly basis. They got significant secondary scoring from players like Trevor Kell, Colt King, and John-Scott Dickson. They had one of the best goalies in the league in Shane Owen. Until this season, that was the best Missouri Mavericks team to date. This year’s team also has a dominant top line with Rocco Carzo, Tyler Barnes, and Darian Dziurzynski (even without Jesse Root). They have secondary scoring with Courtney, Sebastien Sylvestre, and Josh Holmstrom. Between the pipes, they have Josh Robinson who no longer requires adjectives, as well as Steven Summerhays who has played extremely well since arriving from Anchorage. Similar characteristics indeed.
That being said, there are also stark differences between the two squads. Let’s forget about the affiliation for argument’s sake. While this year’s team has been formidable on special teams, they 2013-14 Mavericks were the best in the league in both power play conversions and penalty kills. The current version of the Mavs is a far superior defensive club. That’s no knock on players like Dave Pszenyczny, Matt Stephenson, or Henrik Odegaard. The present day Mavs are more committed to total team defense, and possess the best blue line this organization has ever seen. Granted, a lot of those guys are currently up in Bridgeport right now, but when draped in Orange, goals are hard to come by when facing the Central Division champions. There is also a considerable contrast in regards to style of play. The Scott Hillman-led Mavericks were much more run and gun, and could outscore any team on any given night. The Richard Matvichuk-led Mavericks were built from the back up, touting smothering team defense to suffocate the opposition.
Both systems have had their success, however the current version of the Mavs are playing in a more sustainable system. Sometimes offenses can be stifled, as we have seen in years past. However the more defensive-minded system is something, barring mental mistakes, that can be replicated easily on a nightly basis. While some personnel losses have made that somewhat difficult as of late, the system itself is still in place and effective.
Why all of the comparisons to a team in which Courtney is the only remaining member still on the roster, you might ask? Don’t you worry, I’ll explain. If this team can take anything from the 2013-14 version of the Mavericks, we can only hope that they learn from their mistakes. Those mistakes ended in nightmarish fashion, getting knocked off by a number eight seed in the first round of the playoffs. That was a team with so much promise, and had played so well for 99 percent of the regular season. It is that one percent that could have possibly led to their downfall. That team was not playing great hockey at the end of the season and backed their way into the playoffs.
There is a common saying about playoff hockey that all you have to do is get there and anything can happen. There is a lot of truth to that. However, with a team as talented as the Mavericks, it could make all the difference in the world for this team to play at the level that they were a couple of months again, compared to what we have seen lately. Just this last week, after thumping Allen on their home ice earlier in the week, the Mavs took one on the chin against Tulsa, then split their pair of games against Wichita. It’s hard to complain about finishing 13-1-0-1 against the Thunder this season, but with both of those losses coming in the last couple of weeks, it has to make you at least slightly raise an eyebrow. In fact the Mavs have dropped five of their last 10 games. By definition, that is mediocre. Teams playing at a mediocre level typically don’t make a lot of noise in the postseason, just ask the 2013-14 Mavericks.
This team has done some incredible things, feats that will long be talked about within the organization and possibly around the league. Then again, prior to this year’s campaign, we all looked at the 2013-14 season so fondly, and held it in the highest regard. The biggest possible difference between these two Mavericks teams is yet to be written. It’s easy to just say “play better.” I’m just a mouthpiece and have been known to ruffle a few feathers. I’m okay with that. It’s my job to make these observations. It’s their job to figure out what needs to be done in order for this team to be firing on all cylinders over these last couple of weeks heading into the postseason. With the body of work that Matvichuk has shown since the trade deadline last season, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt. There’s no guarantee that reinforcements are coming from Bridgeport, but there’s enough talent on this team to accomplish the goals that were put in place when Matvichuk accepted the coaching job in Independence. Playing at the level that this team is capable of would be a good start. They have nine games to figure that out.