There are a lot of questions surrounding the Kansas City Mavericks right now. More questions than answers, unfortunately. A 3-6-0 start to the season will do that. We have watched a team now that is struggling in multiple facets of the game and is yet to find their identity. In their wins, they’ve looked good, even very good at times. In their losses, they’ve looked beyond dismal at times. There has been quite the Jekyll and Hyde aura lingering in the air.
This provides some strategic hurdles moving forward. This roster is far from finalized. Moves have already started happening with the releases of forward Ian Mackey and rookie blueliner Cole Fraser Thursday and there are more on the horizon, but even that has to be challenging at this point. Players on this roster have looked great one night then struggled the next. Mavericks coaches John-Scott Dickson and Kohl Schultz are trying to evaluate nine games worth of tape and analysis in order to mold this roster into one that can get back on track. The massive levels of inconsistency turn what should be a walk in the park into a mountain climb during a blizzard.
It easy to look at the performance over the first few weeks of this season and determine what’s going wrong. The special teams play has been lacking on both sides. The offense has struggled at times to create consistent pressure (4.0 goals per game in wins, 2.0 goals per game in losses). The goaltending looks sub-par on paper, although outside of opening weekend, both have performed pretty well. However, the defensive lapses are what have been most concerning.
Throughout the offseason and leading up to the opener, we all looked at this roster and drooled at the potential that this defensive corps had. I said it myself, this team was built from the back up, which is a common of most championship teams. Outside of the addition of Michael Parks, Jack Walker, and Ryan Van Stralen, the priority was re-tooling the defensive unit. Dickson did just that. What none of us expected, and I’m assuming that includes Dickson, is how much this team would struggle defensively early on. Every team needs time to gel, I know that and you know that. We can only hope that what we’ve seen throughout the first nine games is just a product of an on-ice chemistry void, but I think it’s a little bit deeper than that.
By now, we know the priorities of Dickson on the ice. His teams must be strong in transition, forecheck like gangbusters, and be responsible in the defensive end. He has preached two-way hockey since his first day on the job. That hasn’t changed one iota. So, the message hasn’t changed. The style and the teachings haven’t changed. The system hasn’t changed. What has changed is the players, and it’s on their shoulders to turn this thing around.
Now, I don’t want it to seem like the sole responsibility is on the nine defensemen currently on the roster. It’s not. To be successful and to play to the system that Dickson and Schultz have put in place, the defensive efforts are just as much on the forwards as they are on the blueliners. That strong forecheck not only can create offensive opportunities, but it can also greatly disrupt the transitional strategy of the opposition. Forwards busting their hindparts to backcheck is a staple of the defensive strategy. Controlling the neutral zone is another key. Odd-man rushes have decimated this team, and yes, a lot of that falls on the defense but when I say the defense, I don’t just mean the players that have a “D” next to their name on the roster sheet. The defensive hockey that JSD and Schultz preach requires all six players on the ice to work as a cohesive unit. That cohesion, or lack thereof, is one of the main culprits of this early season funk.
If this team wants to dig themselves out of this hole, they must commit to what is being bludgeoned into their heads day after day. They must realize that playing sound defensive hockey will open up opportunities offensively. They must buy-in to what this coaching staff is preaching to them day after day. The message hasn’t differed. It’s time for this group of players to figure out who they are and what they need to do in order to live up to those expectations and hype. Right now, we’ve only seen flashes of brilliance. Flashes won’t get you out of the dark, a consistent and concerted beam will. Utah is in town. Now is the time to grab a shovel and start digging your way out. That hole that the Mavericks are in right now doesn’t look so damning if everyone on this roster grabs a shovel as well.