Notes from Sunday's game, the third in three nights for both teams involved, as the Spruce Kings made their first visit to the South Surrey Arena this season. Surrey really deserved to win this game, but in hockey, as in life, "deserves" ain't got nothin' to do with it:
- It hurts to lose a game like this much more than an 11-2 drubbing at the hands of Penticton. It was a heart-wrenching loss for a number of reason, not the least of which that the Eagles put in their best, most consistent 60 minute effort of the year to date, and received zero reward for doing so. When victory is out of reach for the bulk of play, it's easy to disconnect from it and start looking ahead to the next one before you're even out of a game like the season-opener. To give up the go-ahead goal (and essentially surrender the win) with only 16 seconds to go... Just rip my heart out and throw it in the garbage, why don't you. Long faces up and down the Surrey bench at the end of this one. They all know how close they were.
- Credit to the boys, however, for setting aside the pain of this loss and gamely getting back on the ice for the first "Family Sunday" Skate With The Eagles event of this season, making a lot of kids happy in doing so. But back to the game...
- Nice to see Ben Butcher get his first of the year. I'm sure he would have preferred to net it against his former club in the home-opener on Friday night, but Butcher (who I've dubbed "Bonesaw" on the broadcast) was being utilized as the net presence on the first-unit powerplay and took a beating throughout the game in doing so. His team wasn't on the man-advantage when he tallied to tie things up, but it was a textbook example of how he will score a bunch this season if he stays on the powerplay. A Spencer Unger shot from the line was knocked down by the blocker of Jesse Jenks. Before Jenks could smother it in front of him, Butcher found it at his feet, went forehand to back-hand and tucked it into a largely open net.
- Zach Landon got into his first action of the season with the Eagles on the back-end on Sunday night, and to be honest, I didn't really notice him. When he had the puck he made smart passes with it, and going largely unnoticed as a defenseman tends to be a good thing.
- Speaking of things I didn't notice: I actually missed the way the play developed that allowed Prince George to open the scoring in this one, as the goal came just 8 seconds into the second period. Chase McMurphy won the opening faceoff, I looked down to hit a button on the broadcast computer, and when I looked up the Spruce Kings' Justin Rai was alone in the low slot, sliding the puck five-hole on Short. Director of Ticket Operations Eddie Cheung, who joined me late in the broadcast to provide colour once his responsibilities at the gate had wrapped up, explained it thusly: McMurphy won the draw back to Brian Drapluk, who tried to go D-to-D to the other side. Except, because of the Semiahmoo minor hockey youth game that entertained the crowd during the first intermission, the zamboni was late getting out on the ice and left a big puddle of water out there for the start of the second. Instead of going D-to-D, the puck hit the puddle and lost momentum entirely, skidding to a halt right in the middle of the ice, where Rai -- who couldn't believe his luck -- scooped it up and was off to the races. Another bad luck break in a weekend seemingly full of them.
- Landon's entry into the line-up, along with the return of Trevor MacLean, allowed the coaching staff to utilize Quinn Lenihan as a forward for the first time this season. Playing on a line with Josh Blanchard and Ty Westgard, the three gelled almost instantaneously, and provided many of the game's most exciting moments. They have an innate understanding of where the other guy will be at all times, and for a line playing their first game together that's might impressive: Drop-passes, finding guys in the slot off the rush, dynamic scoring chances... They did everything but actually score a goal, stymied by Jenks' most spectacular saves of the contest. Given how close they came time and time again however, you have to think this trio will stay together and continue to develop some chemistry.
- While the three of them were solid as a unit, Sunday's action was something of a coming-out party for Blanchard, who has shown great stick-handling ability in the early-going of this season but played easily his best game of the year against the Spruce Kings. He's a pretty slight guy at 5'8" and 154 lbs, and has been knocked off the puck a number of times through the first four games of the season. On Sunday, he may as well have been glued to it. Defenders lining him up for checks were left choking on dust, as he artfully dodged hits all over the place, at some points even managing to power his way through guys seemingly twice his size. While that whole line with Westgard and Lenihan was exciting (and Lenihan's size certainly opened up some room for Blanchard), there was a buzz in the building every time Blanch had it on his stick.
- This one was a goaltender's duel, and if Saturday night was not Christian Short at his best, on Sunday he bounced back in a big way. Jordan Low had a tremendous chance to get the Spruce Kings on the board in the final minute of the first, with just seconds left on the clock, but Short made a huge save to keep things scoreless. He had a slight scare with about 45 seconds remaining in regulation as a save ramped off his pads and looked like it might sneak in over his shoulder. It didn't. When you make it through a late scare like that unscathed, overtime seems like an inevitability, but Prince George continued to press, and got a nifty deflection from Chad Staley in front of the net. With the puck rapidly changing direction from so close in, Short never really stood a chance to make the save, but that didn't temper his disappointment. Shaken and his focus clearly shattered, he allowed a weak one with just 0:02 left on the clock. It didn't really matter, save for stats of course, but it's indicative of the way the scoreboard does not tell the story of this game.
- ...because this game was evenly-matched, and not in the same way that Friday's was. The home-opener against Chilliwack was two tentative teams gritting it out. It had excitement in it, don't mistake what I'm saying, but it was a game more notable for the hard-working effort within it than back-and-forth chances and displays of offensive skill. Sunday's game was beautiful -- tremendous hockey played the right way, fast and smart with all kinds of razzle-dazzle and pretty passing plays. The boys played great. And yet, it still did not end in victory. And after five games without a win, that's nothing if not frustrating.