Making life a lot less bearable for opposing goalies is one of the themes head coach Jason Smith and his staff are pushing hard this week at Kelowna Rockets’ practise.
The Western Hockey League club finished up a three-game road trip to Alberta on Saturday with a respectable 2-1-0 record, but managed to score just one goal over the final two games—a 1-0 victory over Edmonton, followed by a 5-0 loss in Red Deer.
With a four-game home stand set to begin this Friday night at Prospera Place, Smith said the Rockets need to start paying a bigger price to get results in the offensive zone.
“The biggest thing for us the last two games is we haven’t generated enough traffic around the net, we’re not battling the way we need to…we’re just not challenging opposing goalies, makingit too easy for them to see the puck,” said Smith. “We’ve talked about how important it is to battle in the D-zone, and the guys need to know it’s just as important in the offensive zone.
“We need to have a better net presence, take a little abuse if necessary,” Smith added, “and do what we need to do score some more goals.”
The Rockets (3-5-0), who have played six of their first eight games this season on the road, will get a formidable dose of home cooking over the next week and a half.
Kelowna will host the Saskatoon Blades on Friday, followed by the Swift Current Broncos on Saturday night. The Everett Silvertips will visit Prospera Place next Wednesday, before the Rockets close out the four-game home stint on Friday, Oct. 21 against the Tri City Americans.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get some momentum here, build up a foundation where teams come in here and find it very hard to play against us,” Smith said. “We need to make it difficult for teams to leave with a positive result and, at the same time, take advantage of our home games when we can.”
And despite his club’s relatively slow start to the season, Smith said the Rockets have all the tools to compete on a nightly basis.
They key, he said, is straightforward—working hard and sticking to the game plan.
“As much as the results haven’t been there, we’ve had stretches where we’ve done things really well,” he said. “When we get away from those things, it becomes a struggle and makes it hard to get into a flow. We need to play with the right intensity and commitment and stick to that.”
Centre Nick Merkley played in his first three games for the Rockets since returning from the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes and registered one assist on the club’s Alberta trip.
Kelowna continues to await the return of centre Dillon Dube who is sidelined two to three weeks with a knee injury.
The Rockets have released 19-year-old forward Tate Coughlin. The Victoria native, who was in his third season with the club, scored four goals and added nine assists in 107 career games.
This season, Coughlin played in four games with Kelowna.
Last week, the Rockets added 17-year-old forward Leif Mattson to the roster via a trade with the Brandon Wheat Kings.