A sometimes feature that takes a look at the latest news for the K-Wings, their affiliates, and their fans.
– First up, a brief postmortem from the tough 4-1 semifinals loss to the Fort Wayne Komets. Goaltending was the big shortcoming – longtime K-Wing Joel Martin posted an unimpressive .909 save percentage for the series and squandered a 35-shot performance by his team in Game 2, where he let in three unanswered goals. It’s hard to understand why Dansk never got a shot at a playoff start, especially after Game 2; maybe the K-Wings want to play him a bit more in the regular season before giving him the crease in the postseason.
– Offensively, the K-Wings held their own for most of the series, besting the Komets on the shot clock in Games 2, 4, and 5. This is the story of hockey sometimes: a little better goaltending, a few luckier scoring chances, and maybe this is a seven game series, possibly with K-zoo moving on to the Division finals. That said, the defense had a few brutal breakdowns in coverage, especially on odd man rushes. There’ll be plenty of video for the coaching staff to bring in after the offseason, and some room for improvement all across the back end.
– A change behind the bench as assistant coach Colin Chaulk is off to Brampton to coach the Beast, Canada’s only ECHL representative. Chaulk was the defensive specialist on the coaching staff, and the K-Wings are already underway with a search for his replacement. If the front office thinks defense was a problem against Fort Wayne, this is a big opportunity to bring in a new voice.
– Speaking of defense, Aaron Portzline reported this week that Blue Jackets defensive prospect Mike Reilly is withdrawing from the University of Minnesota and declining to sign with the Jackets, likely opting instead to test the free agency market. The K-Wings’ parent club were already looking for upgrades to their blueline, and reportedly even offered Reilly ice time with the NHL team his first season, so it’s unlikely he’d ever have been assigned to Kalamazoo. Still, this could have implications for the draft; CBJ would be a great fit for Zach Werenski, if he’s still available at No. 8, and although it looks like the Jackets really have their eye on winger Timo Meier, this exit of a defensive prospect from their system might rearrange their priorities. The K-Wings would be a good destination for a late-round defensive draw to get some seasoning. The dominoes could also fall that some blueliners from the Chicago Wolves are promoted to start the season, and someone like Sam Ftorek or Michael Neal is called up to the AHL squad (there’s already speculation that Jake Chelios could be on his way back to Chicago). Anyway, looks possible that the K-Wing’s defensive line could look a bit different come October.
– The K-Wings unveiled their 2015-16 schedule this week, and a few dates to circle: opening night is October 16 at the Wings Event Center, versus their playoff killers, the Fort Wayne Komets. See also November 27, the first game against the Quad City Mallards since 2007; and December 11 versus Brampton, Colin Chaulk’s first trip back to Kalamazoo. Lots of tough draws: the K-Wings will play the Toledo Walleye in 9 games and the Komets in 8, not to mention multiple outings against the quietly-dangerous Orlando Solar Bears and Greenville Road Warriors. They’ll have to come up big in all of these series to make the playoffs again.
– In other Columbus news, this was a huge season for former WMU Bronco Kevin Connauton, who looks like he’s in a Blue Jackets uniform to stay. The Jackets acquired him off waivers from the Dallas Stars midseason, and he posted 19 points in just over 50 games for Columbus. Connauton is under contract through next season, and while it’s unlikely he’ll be reassigned to the ECHL, it’s nice to see a K-zoo boy do well, and to have him back in the family.
– Elsewhere in the hockey world, the Stanley Cup and Kelly Cup playoffs charge on. In the West, the Anaheim Ducks took Game 1 of their series against the Chicago Blackhawks despite getting woefully outshot and outchanced. If you want to know how they managed it, look no further than Corey Crawford’s embarrasing .884 SV%. The ECHL’s Ontario Reign took a thrashing from the Allen Americans in Game 1 of their series while beating the Americans in possession, then turned around and bested the Americans 3-0 in Game 2 while getting beaten in possession. It must be a Southern California thing to only win games that you should really be losing. Duck and Hound will tell you it’s because SoCal is better at hockey; I say it’s because Wil Wheaton sold his soul to the devil (as if there’s any doubt).
In the East, Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning came alive with a hat trick in Game 2 to even out their series with the New York Rangers. He was the story of the game, but a stick-tap to Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov to playing some great hockey of their own… not to mention Ben Bishop, who was lights out in the third period against 15 shots and 10 scoring chances. The Toledo Walleye are on the ropes, having dropped their two home-ice games to the South Carolina Stingrays.
– And last but not least, thanks to the whole Sin Bin crew for the warm welcome, especially Dakota, Joe, Matt, and my new sparring partners Duck and Hound. Really happy to be aboard. I’ll be checking in once in a while during the offseason, and if you like you can find me on Twitter for more action at @sinbinkwings.