*This was originally posted March 7, 2022*
The Rockets played Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the second straight weekend.
This time, they came away with the sweep. 5-4 OT over the Royals on Friday. 5-3 over the Giants on Saturday. And 5-4 over the Giants at the Langley Event Center on Sunday.
Not only did the Rockets sweep the weekend, but they also got a very important x-beside their name. That means they have clinched a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Rather than recap each game, let’s instead look at some things we are learning about the Rockets.
1) The offence is there, and it’s well-balanced.
The Rockets have scored 198 goals this year. That is good for fifth in the Western Conference. They have ten players who have ten or more goals this year. They have two players that have cracked the 20 goal plateau. Mark Liwiski and Pavel Novak. Interestingly, Novak, the leading scorer of the Rockets, is 26th in WHL scoring. By contrast, the Kamloops Blazers have two players with over 30 goals (Stankoven and Toporowski) and two players over 20 goals (Kuefler and Seminoff). They have six players over ten goals. Let’s not forget that Colton Dach got his 100th career point on Sunday. The Rockets have the ability and can get goals from three lines. They can also reach goals from their defence. Jake Lee has 14 goals this season. Captain Tyson Feist has 13 goals this year. Offence is not hard to come by for the Rockets.
2) At the same time, the defence has struggled the last few games.
While it’s nice to get goals, the goals against number is likely a concern for Kris Mallette and his staff. They’ve allowed three or more goals in their last six games. Going back to Tuesday, they had a 3-2 lead heading into the final minute against the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds got two late goals to take two points away from the Rockets. On Sunday against the Giants, the Rockets jumped out to a quick 2-0 in the first. Only to head into the first intermission trailing 3-2. Even in Saturday’s win, the Rockets had a 4-1 lead, and the Giants pushed to 4-3 before Jake Poole added an insurance goal.
The Rockets are fifth-best in the Western Conference in goals against. However, of the five teams that have clinched a playoff spot on the Conference, the Rockets’ 162 goals allowed has them fifth. The Blazers have allowed 139. The Thunderbirds have allowed 142. The Silvertips have allowed 145. And the Winterhawks have allowed 150. Playoff games are typically tight, low-scoring games. We are likely to see more 3-2 and 2-1 games than the recent runs of 5-4. And since the path to the Championship will likely go through the Blazers, Thunderbirds, Winterhawks, and Silvertips, the Rockets will focus on tightening things up heading into the playoffs.
3) Andrew Cristall is an emerging star in the WHL.
The whole lines of Gabriel Szturc, Turner McMillan, and Cristall has been a bright light for the Rockets this season. But for Cristall, he had back-to-back three-point games against the Giants this weekend. Two goals and one assist on Saturday. One goal and two assists on Sunday. Cristall is third on the team in points 49 points in 46 games.
While Cristall is a star, let’s not forget about his linemates. Szturc has goals in four straight games, and McMillen got his 10th goal of the season Sunday. However, Cristall’s shifty skating and skilled passing offensive presence is adding his name as one of the exciting stars in the highly anticipated 2023 NHL Draft.
The Rockets hope to keep their hot streak going next weekend. They have a home-and-home series against the Kamloops Blazers. Friday in Kamloops. Saturday at Prospera Place. The Rockets are eight points behind the Blazers for first in the BC. Division.