Welp, that did not go as planned. It was a rough weekend for the Kansas City Mavericks. “Rough” doesn’t really even scratch the surface when describing the first two games of the season. The matchups were tough. I think we can all agree on that. Tulsa has emerged as a legitimate Kelly Cup contender since Rob Murray took the helm, and Indy vastly improved their roster from last season. It was an early season test for this year’s squad, and the Mavs looked like a kid in school that studied hard for the upcoming exam, only to find that it was written in Cantonese when the teacher passed them out at test time.
So, describing last weekend as “rough” is an understatement. Let’s use the term that Mavs head coach John-Scott Dickson used after the drubbing that was the home opener: Unacceptable. That’s more accurate. He knows it. We know it. The players know it. The first 120 minutes of this season were completely unacceptable. The vast majority is because of the actual play on the ice. A small portion is due to the incredible energy and expectations surrounding this team and season. The defensive unit, completely re-tooled apart from one returner, looked lost at best. A lot of fingers were being pointed towards the goaltending, but the play on the defensive end was brutal. Poor positioning, bad decision-making, turnovers, odd-man rushes, breakaways, the list goes on and on about the defensive short-comings that can’t be pinned on the goaltending. The offense, transitional play, and special teams weren’t much better. The blame of this weekend can be split pretty evenly across the board.
It’s hard to look past what we all witnessed Friday night in Tulsa, and even tougher to let Saturday night’s home opener roll off our backs. There have been some slow starts for this team in the past, so bad losses, and hype that wasn’t lived up to at times. Some fans were outraged, and I can’t blame them. Others were disappointed but withheld judgement until further notice. Both are understandable reactions and completely justifiable. I’m going to encourage everyone, myself included, to remove that hand that is currently hovering over the panic button, ready to slam down at any second. It’s too early for that and this team and coaching staff deserves, and has earned, the benefit of the doubt.
We’ve all heard the standard hockey cliché, that the season is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s true but hearing that right now probably doesn’t bring much solace or comfort. That’s how bad opening weekend was. So, I’m not going to resort to clichés or any kind of rah-rah “let’s go get em” pep talk. I’m not going to pander. You’re all too smart for that, and would call me out on that, as you should. Instead, I’m going to point to several things that should help put your mind at ease, and ensure you that things will get better, and this team will be right in the thick of things throughout this season in their quest to bring that coveted championship to Kansas City.
I was harsh of the defense earlier on, but it my defense, it’s deserved. The Mavs blueline corps is one of the most talented that we’ve seen here in 11 seasons. After two games, we haven’t seen that. But let’s wait until 15 or 20 games in, and this defensive unit could possibly be the strength of this team. They are that good. I know, those words are likely falling on deaf ears right now, but as we get into the heart of the season and this team is locking the opposition down, I’ll be happy to say I told you so. I’m good at that, just ask Twenter and Gibby. They will figure it out. They will get better, much better. As far as the goaltending goes, I actually think that Hayden Hawkey played well this weekend. It’s a hard argument when he had 11 goals hung on him in two nights, but both games would have been much worse had he not made some big stops along the way. Once the defense figures itself out, those goals allowed numbers will look drastically different, whether it’s Hawkey or Nick Schneider in net, the latter expected back to KC soon.
Offensively, there were some bright spots. It’s good to see the Dziurzynski brothers find their scoring touch early on. The Mavericks will need them to have big seasons and getting that monkey off your back in the first couple of games could boost both of them towards a torrid start. The forechecking wasn’t great, but it usually takes this team a few games to forecheck the way the coaching staff wants and scripts. Applying pressure on the opposing defense has been a staple of JSD’s teams in the past and it will be again this year. They just need to get it figured out. Also, Michael Parks will be returning from injured reserve soon. I can’t explain the importance of that enough. Parks was the prized acquisition on the offensive side of the puck this offseason and can be a true game-changer. He will bring a whole new dynamic to this offense.
On special teams, both squads had some Jekyll and Hyde moments. The power play had some great scoring chances in both games. There was great puck movement at times, causing chaos for the opposition on the penalty kill. They just weren’t efficient in finishing. At other times, there was confusion and a lack of cohesion. A lot of that will get sorted out as these guys play together more. Chemistry isn’t created overnight. On the penalty kill, they were perfect Friday night, thwarting all five Tulsa man-advantage opportunities, with a lot of that thanks to Hawkey. Saturday was a different story. The Mavs allowed four power play goals to Indy and the penalty kill looked uninspired at best. We have to give Indy some credit, as they had a good game plan, in particular on special teams and it showed. But, this team needs the penalty kill unit to be lock-down if they want to get to where they want to be. We need Friday night’s penalty kill. Saturday night’s penalty kill can take a walk.
One of the most disheartening aspects of this weekend was the fact that the Mavs were just flat out outworked at times. Dickson said after Saturday night’s game, “Two games in a row, we got out-worked. We did not battle hard enough. We did not work hard enough. We’re not going to be outworked. That’s not going to happen.” Let me translate. You’re either going to work your hind parts off, give everything for the guy next to you, leave it all out on the ice, or you’re not going to be here. His message was clear and will continue to be clear. That message has never changed since day one of his coaching tenure. We won’t stand for it, he won’t stand for it, and the guys in the locker room shouldn’t stand for it either. Dickson and Assistant Coach Kohl Schultz can scream and yell until they are blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is that it’s on every player in that locker room to hold each other accountable. One thing that the Mavs certainly have is great veteran leadership, guys that lead by example on and off the ice. Accountability should come in masses and come quickly.
Here’s the silver lining to what has been a piece wavering on the down-trodden, a lot of these mistakes are easily fixable. The mental mistakes outnumbered the physical mistakes by a large margin. Committing to the system that Dickson and Schultz are trying to implement is step one. Do your job, play smart, and out-work your opposition every shift. That’s how you get weekends like the one we just witnessed to be a minor blip on the radar of the course of a “marathon” season. That’s how you flip the script on a miserable start. That’s how you prove to everyone that you are not only a good team, but a great team that will rattle cages and leave the opposition in the dust. If this team wants to win a championship, there are many things in which they need to be the best. Work harder than everyone else.
There's step one.