The Calgary Hitmen won their first game on home ice since October 13, Wednesday night – a shootout victory against Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Morgan Rielly and the Moose Jaw Warriors – and the entire roster seemed relieved and ecstatic post-game, including head coach Mike Williamson, but he made it clear, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“I thought [Chris] Driedger was exceptional for us, I thought [Brendan] Hurley had a strong game, but beyond that I thought a lot of our guys were quite average. We didn’t create a lot of offence and when we did get a shift or two when we did get some momentum, we didn’t follow it up or, especially in the first two periods, ended up in the penalty box,” says Williams. “So, we’ll go back to the drawing board as far as getting good starts and playing 60 minutes at home.”
After Wednesday’s win, the Hitmen are 4-3-1-1 at home versus an almost perfect 8-1-0-1 record on the road, after 19 games into the season, with 17 of their 27 points earned in opposing arenas.
Special teams, an area which receives a lot of attention, was better Wednesday night, the Hitmen killing five penalties, but overall, have they’ve allowed 15 shorthanded goals in 50 kill situations at the Saddledome. On the road, they’ve allowed five goals in 42 shorthanded situations, seeing success of their penality kill, 88.1 per cent of the time, compared to 70 per cent at home.
While the 18 per cent difference doesn’t seem like a lot, just less than 20 games into the season, it’s something that can improve greatly at home, but only if the players work on playing together, rather than playing as individuals.
“The good thing is, we found a way to win a hockey game at home and I think that we can give ourselves a little bit easier time if we play a little smarter and a little harder.”
The powerplay situation is better for Calgary, but like their penalty kill, it’s not great at home. They were scoreless in two opportunities Wednesday night, which isn’t surprising; the Hitmen have scored only six goals in 42 chances with a man advantage on home ice. Conversly, on the road, Calgary ranks second in powerplay goals with 10 goals in 30 opportunities, seeing success 33.3 per cent of the time.
So, what’s going on at home?
“You know, there are guys that are working hard but a lot of the time it’s individual efforts,” says Williamson. “One guy at a time will go in on our forecheck and lose the puck and the second guy is nowhere to be found.”
Despite the shootout win Wednesday at the Saddledome, after seeing so little urgency at home, will the Hitmen be able to pull off another win Friday against the Victoria Royals or was it just a fluke?
Williamson joked last month about driving the team to the rink in a bus to create an ‘on the road’ mentality to win hockey games, but in reality, he says he doesn’t have an answer.
“We seem to play a little bit more committed to little things on the road, we block more shots, we move our feet, we stay out of the penalty box. At home, we seem to do all of the things that get us in trouble, so we just have to play a simple game and work hard,” he says. “There are guys that are working hard, but a lot of the time it’s individual efforts, one guy at a time will go in on our forecheck and lose the puck and the second guy is nowhere to be found.”
The Hitmen have six remaining home games in the month of November and one game on the road to break up the homestands, but Williamson is well aware, there are only six points separating the top five teams in the Central Division.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead, every game is going to be a big one, so we have an opportunity to do something if we start to play better at home and maintain our positioning in the standings,” says Williamson. “It’s tight, so if we don’t figure it out soon, there are a lot of teams that are right behind us.”