There really is no explanation for this game. None. I'd love to flex my analytical prowess and pinpoint the exact weaknesses in Surrey's game, or shine a light on what the Express did so right, but I can't. It's impossible. The result -- and beyond that, the way Coquitlam completely dominated the first half of the game -- defies all logic. It's simply baffling. But some thoughts nevertheless:
- To call the opening 20 minutes of this game the worst period of hockey the Eagles have played all year is no exaggeration. And they've had some bad periods, like the second frame of opening night against the Vees, or the third period of a 7-4 Thanksgiving collapse at the hands of the Trail Smoke Eaters. But this... This was much, much worse. At the end of 20mins, shots favoured Coquitlam 18-2. 18-2!!! Look, I don't want to sound cruel here, but the Express are not a good team. They're right near the bottom of the league standings, and sit in fifth of five teams in the Mainland Division. They are, to put it as politely as possible, a conspicuously average club. And for half of the game, the Eagles made them look like the 2002 Detroit Red Wings. Surrey has played closely contested games night in and night out, save for the season opener, in games against some of the league's best: your Chilliwacks, your Prince Georges. But Coquitlam controlled the game with a level of one-sidedness that would make the Harlem Globetrotters blush. Penticton didn't even look this dominant. The Coquitlam Express! The mind boggles.
- Credit the Express for doing everything they could to limit chances in their own zone. Tying up sticks, poking pucks, blocking shots... They are the dark mirror of the Eagles, a team with seemingly no trouble scoring (or at least one line who claim that to be true), undone again and again by sub-par goaltending. They knew that if they wanted to break their six-game losing skid, they'd need to limit chances against as best they could, and they did exactly that.
- The truth of that last thought is crystallized by the fact that when Surrey finally started to get some shots on net in the back-half of the second period, they went in. The second line continued their excellent run of late, with Darius Davidson netting his second goal in as many games, and Joe Drapluk extending his goal-scoring streak to three contests. Had the Eagles been able to generate at least a handful of quality scoring chances in the first period, they'd have been looking at an entirely different outcome. But they had nothing in the first, and it cost them in the end.
- Having said that, they very nearly tied the game based solely on their work in the second period, with Joe Drapluk ringing one off the post early in the second, and Chase McMurphy putting a wrap-around attempt right through the crease, in one end of the blue paint and harmlessly out the other side. Both of those were grade-A Eagles scoring chances, and neither went for a shot on goal. If they go in, as they were mere inches away from doing, the goalie is never pulled for a late empty-netter and this is a game that goes to overtime.
- It wasn't just tidy defensive play from the Express in their own zone that limited the Eagles in the first though. Coquitlam barely allowed the Eagles to leave their own end in the first place. Part of this is strong forechecking, but it can mostly be chalked up to poor strategy on Surrey's part. As the coaching staff reviewed the tape after the fact, the avenues for a clean escape into neutral ice were available. Too often however, Surrey skaters panicked and made the wrong decision, forcing the play up the wrong side of the ice and giving the puck away in the process. "We need to play within the system" is said so often in hockey it's almost an empty cliche, but it's also true. Calmness and a trust in the game plan even as things were going sideways on Friday could have prevented a lot of trouble. Instead, they looked rattled, and their zone exits were downright abysmal as a result.
- Latrell Charleson was out of the line-up for Surrey, which meant a shuffling of the deck in terms of defensive pairings. He's got a nagging shoulder problem that he'll let sit for a little while, and will likely be out for another week or two. Though he hasn't had the kind of offensive success this year that he would like (just 1 assist on the season thus far), the steadiness he brings to the back-end couldn't be underlined any further than what the group looked like without him. Speaking of zone exits, you don't really notice how simple Charleson makes clearing the D zone seem until he's not there to do it.
- The Eagles will likely be without Sam Chatterley for a while as well, who was dangerously low-bridged in the third period by Coquitlam's Brendan Lamont. I'm not sure Lamont meant to do it -- not entirely anyway -- as he was seemingly losing his footing as he skated up behind Chatterley. But Lamont did nothing to avoid contact as he started to go down either, and if anything made sure to catch a piece of Chatterley from behind. Sam had his legs taken out from under him, falling backwards over Lamont's body and landing awkwardly on his shoulders and neck as Lamont got up and skated away. An absolutely garbage play that did not result in a penalty. In a two referee system, it shouldn't be possible that something like this goes unnoticed and uncalled.
- Cole Plotnikoff made his Eagles debut in this game, taking the roster spot and jersey number of the player Surrey traded to make room for him: newly-acquired Langley Riverman Ben Butcher. Butcher was tied for the team-lead in scoring at 7 points on the year when he was dealt, which is very strange to me. Not that he was moved, but that he had somehow accumulated 6 assists over a stretch of largely quiet play. I wish him all the best with his new club, and will miss calling him "Bonesaw" on the broadcast.