Yesterday was a great day to be in Grand Rapids.. Lots of people there for Art Prize, and lots of people there for hockey. It was the Griffins' 19th consecutive home-opener sellout.
In the lineup were a lot of familiar faces, but some new ones as well. One of the biggest eye-openers was first-line center Tomas Nosek.
The game itself, wasn't all that great. You could tell the Griffins were rusty.. Really rusty. Most problems came in the Griffins' own zone. Here were the defensive pairings:
Xavier Ouellet - Alexey Marchenko
Mattias Backman - Nick Jensen
Brennan Evans - Ryan Sproul
Here's the thing.. I understand what Blashill is doing. He wants that lefty/righty synergy going on across all of his pairs, and I completely get that. However, I feel like some players just don't match well with each other. The biggest one was Marchenko and Ouellet. As we all know, XO is one of those guys who has offensive upside, but the mainstay of his game is being a shut-down guy in his own zone. Marchenko looked pretty bad the entire game, and rightfully so. He hasn't played in quite some time due to his injury last season. Backman and Jensen was fine, but that's just pairing two offensive-minded defensemen together and it just didn't work all that well. If I was Blashill, I would be pairing XO with Backman, and Jensen with Marchenko, or Evans. I understand his motive completely though, lefty/righty and having each player play on his strong side. Much like Mike Babcock wants his defense.
"Instead of just playing, we started to force things and created a lot of outnumbered rushes. Next thing you know, you're down 3-0 and it's hard to come back. I just thought we looked a bit immature, which is a disappointment, but I know we have the character to come back from it."
"I do think if we score on our chances, and we had some good ones, the game takes a different life. We gotta make sure we have enough resilience to handle situations like if the game isn't going so well for us. It's hard to say where we're at right now, I think there are lots of things that we need to get way better at."
"We gave up too many easy out-numbered rushes. You just cannot do that and expect to win the game, I think we got lots of room for improvement. I think we let up three or four odd-man rushes in about five minutes and a combination of that and turning the puck over in our own zone, it just wasn't a very mature game."
On the offensive side of things, Grand Rapids had themselves a pretty decent game. They outshot Lake Eerie the entire game, and created some great chances. I think they rang the puck off the post about four times the entire game, so it was purely puck luck on their end. One definitive standout player was Tomas Nosek. He centered a line with Teemu Pulkkinen and Mitch Callahan. That line alone created a lot of chances, but still just couldn't bury it. Nosek definitely looked like it was his first official game as a hockey player in North America, but he's an extremely underrated puck-handler. There was one instance where he skated the puck up along the half-boards and completely deked the defender out of his skates. I think that with time, Nosek could be a very special player. But again, this is a whole new world to him:
"The biggest difference is the speed. You don't have time for moving, so it's closer in the rink. But I do not have a problem with this, I try to use the tempo of the game to make better plays."
"Game is much more physical, you can't move nearly as much."
"I picked the number 19, I wanted 92, but they say they don't have that high number, so I take 19 which I played in when I was in camp."
"I think we played good together, we understand what we do, so I think we are typical same player. It's a pity, but I hope he will stay in Detroit and I wish him best to his season."
Nosek then started talking to me about Grand Rapids, and how he likes the city a lot. He said he enjoys it more than Detroit because it's smaller, and less intimidating. Currently he's bunked up with Richard Nedomlel, but he then went on to tell me that he has found a place of his own and his girlfriend will be moving to America permanently with him in November. Could be a great way to have him feel more comfortable.
Other players who played decently were Teemu Pulkkinen, his shot is just as thunderous as always. He's getting better in his own zone, but I want him to score. That's what he does best. Andreas Athanasiou is just as talented as ever, however I think his speed and skill outmatches his linemates at times and he finds himself alone trying to make plays happen, and that just doesn't work at this level sometimes.
Petr Mrazek stopped 21 of 24 shots, and played well for the most part. I think there was one goal that he probably should have had, but other than that he made some very big saves and prevented the game from getting busted open even more than it already was.
The Griffins roll into Cleveland tonight to take on Lake Eerie again.. Jeff Blashill said there was a lot that he wanted to correct, and hopefully they can figure it out before and come into the game ready. He'll be doing some line-juggling, and said Nathan Paetsch will play, as opposed to being scratched like he was last night.
Other notes: Tom McCollum will be getting the nod this evening over Mrazek, which is to be expected on a back-to-back. However, I did see Mrazek with his glove hand wrapped in ice as he was walking around the locker room. Not sure on the severity of that, but as of this point I have not heard any injury reports.
Not the way they wanted to start the season, but Blashill is adamant on overcoming adversity and making his team better by making minor adjustments, which you can expect to happen starting tonight.
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