February 27, 2013
The Saskatoon Blades extended their organization’s win-streak record to 16 with a 4-0 victory over the Red Deer Rebels on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
The MasterCard Memorial Cup host's recent success shows how much damage they can do when they reach their full potential with their confidence up.
However, not taking anything away from their special record, but the 39-21-0-3 Blades’ recent hot streak doesn’t exactly paint an accurate picture of the team's 2012-13 season.
There have been three different Saskatoon Blades teams throughout the year. Although it would be nice to use Clint Eastwood’s hit-movie The good, the bad and the ugly to describe them, it isn’t quite accurate enough. A more suitable description would be the terrible, the mediocre, and the great.
The Bridge City Boys started the year off as the Western Hockey League's whipping boy, coming out of the gate with a 3-7 record, including a 10-1 loss to the Swift Current Broncos on October 3.
They weren’t scoring enough goals, averaging 2.40 a game, and they were letting too many find the back of their net, averaging 4.50 goals against.
In that dismal 10-game stretch, there was no shortage of players underachieving in Saskatoon’s dressing room. Dallas Stars prospect Matej Stransky, Winnipeg Jets second-rounder Lukas Sutter, New York Rangers prospect Shane McColgan, and team captain Brenden Walker combined for five goals. Their blueline anchors, Colorado Avalanche first-rounder Duncan Siemens and Montreal Canadiens second-rounder Dalton Thrower, combined for five points and a -6 rating. Last but not least, Buffalo Sabres prospect Andrey Makarov was average at best between the pipes, maintaining a .887 save percentage and a 3.85 average.
In between Saskatoon’s face plant and hot streak, they were inconsistent, but proved to be a playoff team with a 20-14-0-3 record.
In that 37-game span, the Blades’ goals-scored average went up by over a goal (3.62) and their goals-against average went down by over goal (3.02) from their previous 10 contests.
Makarov pulled up his socks just as much as anyone did. In the 27 of the 37 games he played in, he maintained a .920 save percentage or better in 14 of them and racked up four shutouts for good measure.
For the most part throughout their 16-game win streak, Saskatoon dominated their opponents, averaging 5.06 goals-scored per game and 1.56 goals-against per game.
GM-head coach Lorne Molleken’s trade deadline acquisitions of Calgary Flames prospect Michael Ferland, Erik Benoit, and Collin Valcourt deserve partial credit for the Blades’ red-hot tear. As expected, Ferland has been one of Saskatoon’s top forwards, scoring seven goals and 27 points in 23 games. Benoit and Valcourt have given the Blades scoring depth, combining for 11 goals and 23 points in 23 contests.
A handful of veterans have burnt out goal lights left and right in the Credit Union Centre. Leading-scorer Matej Stransky has 14 goals and 26 points, Brenden Walker has 13 goals and 25 points, Montreal Canadiens defensive prospect Darren Dietz has nine goals and 24 points, and overage forward Josh Nicholls has eight goals and 16 points in their 16 consecutive wins.
One has to keep in mind the Blades’ hot streak is a tad deceiving because of their soft schedule. Saskatoon has only beat one contender, the Calgary Hitmen, in their win streak, that is if one considers the Portland Winterhawks, Kelowna Rockets, Kamloops Blazers, Edmonton Oil Kings, and Hitmen the WHL's only top-notch clubs. Not to mention, five of their wins came against the Moose Jaw Warriors, who sit in 10th spot in the Eastern Conference with 51 points, and three against the Brandon Wheat Kings, who are dead last in the conference with 47 points.
All that being said, it is safe to say Saskatoon’s poor start is well in their rear-view mirror, but their recent 16-games of domination doesn’t tell the full story of what type of team they are either.
The Blades seem to be what most described them as prior to the season, which is a strong playoff team, but not quite at the same level as the cream of the crop in the league such as the Winterhawks, Oil Kings, Rockets, and Blazers.
At the end of the day, taking into account their poor post-season history and inconsistent regular-season play, it seems the Bridge City Boys will be an underdog for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. But championship or not, a string of hot performances in the Canadian Hockey League’s Big Dance could lead to Saskatoon’s first Memorial Cup banner.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen