You can get highlights, recaps, and basic game stories any number of places around the internet. In Running With the Herd’s new weekly series, “Take 5”, we will bring you our hottest takes about the week, the season, or anything else for that matter. I mean, if the season continues down this path, we may be reviewing movies by January.
After scoring 26 goals as a rookie in 2016-17 and performing at nearly a point per game pace with the Rampage last season (40pts in 42 games), Samuel Blais hasn’t recorded a point in three games with the Rampage this season. In the two home games this weekend, the recently sent down Blais recorded four shots and was a -2 with 2PIM. Yes, there could be an adjustment period to think about, and it is a very small sample size, but in limited viewing, he hasn’t been particularly effective and as a long time fan of minor league hockey, this makes my spidey senses tingle in a bad way.
Jordan Binnington collected his 100th professional win Sunday and, through the first three weeks of the season, looks far more comfortable in net than his counterpart Ville Husso. This is another small sample size alert, but just watching the two goalies is an interesting experiment in body language and confidence. Binnington looks unrattled and confident, even when the team is imploding in front of him. Husso has been shaky and carries himself more like a frustrated or defeated player after allowing a goal. This could be me projecting because my attitude about hockey sucks right now, but it could be something to keep an eye on.
Coming into Sunday’s game with the Wolves, the Rampage had scored three power play goals all season. One came on opening night, the other two came 15 days later in a 6-3 loss at Manitoba. The system isn’t necessarily to blame here. From what I’ve seen, zone entries and possession seem to be fine. The problems I’m seeing are two-fold.
First, the entire team is afraid to pull the trigger and when they do, they have difficulty being anywhere near on target. Second, there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to put a body in front of the crease or in the slot to clean up rebounds and put pressure on goalies. This seems like a simple fix, but net front players aren’t easy to find, and after #19, there aren’t a lot of options on this roster.
Sunday marked the final games for three NHL players on conditioning assignments. Forwards Robby Fabbri and Nikita Soshnikov as well as defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will all be on their way back to St. Louis, meaning Blues GM Doug Armstrong is going to be tasked with making some tough decisions over the next couple of days. The Blues currently have 13 healthy forwards, 7 healthy D, and 1 healthy goalie.
Zach Sanford has been terrific since being called up last week, so I am wagering he’s not an option to come down right now. This leaves the Blues with a few options, two of which are not going to make Blues fans happy. In both options, I see Oskar Sundqvist being waived and sent to San Antonio if he clears. The other forward spot to be cleared is the bigger issue. The Blues can send 19 year old rookie Robert Thomas back to juniors, sliding his contract another year or they have the option of sending Jordan Kyrou to San Antonio to play big minutes in all situations. Both have their pros and cons and I’m glad I’m not the one to make that decision. But if I were, Kyrou and Sunny would be in Silver & Black by Tuesday.
Last season, Drew Bannister lost 7 games in regulation as coach of the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL. This year, Bannister’s Rampage hit that mark on October 24th. Granted, the Greyhounds were loaded with future NHL talent, and comparatively speaking, the Rampage aren’t at that same level, but they aren’t this bad either. Early on, fans had an argument for questioning if this team was talented enough. But when Blais was sent down and the team received three NHL’ers on conditioning assignments and nothing changed, that argument went out the window.
So is it a system problem, a locker room problem, or the coach? The effort is there every single night, and others have observed that the system the Rampage are running isn’t the same as what Bannister ran last season. Here is where I have my problem. I am all for continuity and fidelity when it comes to systems within an organization. But when losses start piling up and the problems are repeating themselves, sometimes multiple times in one period, it’s time to sit back and assess what the problem is.
Bannister seems to have his favorites already, and a couple of these guys are not only not helping the team, they are actively hurting the team on a game by game basis. Coaching at a high level of any sport requires adjustments–whether it be personnel or in-game strategy–and holding players accountable and, so far, the staff in San Antonio just isn’t getting it done.