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Limping Pack could use some playoff fine-tuning

By: Stew Kernan

 | Mar 06, 2013 - 11:42 AM |
Injuries to more experienced players like Kevin Raine and Jeff Corbett have forced rookies like Conor Cummins to step up on the blueline. Photo courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHLimages.ca.

Injuries to more experienced players like Kevin Raine and Jeff Corbett have forced rookies like Conor Cummins to step up on the blueline. Photo courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHLimages.ca.

With a playoff spot secured, the Wolves have the last 10 days of the regular season to get ready.

While there have been a lot of positives this year, some tweaks are needed heading into what looks like a first-round match-up against the Brampton Battalion.

I see two areas that really need improvement — one defensive and one offensive.

It’s tough for a team to do much about injuries, but the last couple of weeks have shown why the Pack needs to get healthy, especially on the back end.

Missing both Kevin Raine and Jeff Corbett shows the youth of the Wolves’ defence. Take away Charlie Dodero and Cory Genovese and the rest of the blueline is pretty green.

Rookies Conor Cummins and Evan de Haan have come a long way this season, but they can’t really be expected to do much more. The good news is, next year their progress has them set up as key pieces of the puzzle.

Also young and inexperienced is Zach McFadden, who has done a great job helping the team weather the injury storm. He’s another young Wolf who has put himself in the mix for a spot on the team next year.

Not to be overlooked is Chad Thibodeau, who, on several occasions this season, has gone back and forth from forward to defence and has become a player Head Coach Trent Cull can depend on.

But make no mistake, a healthy Corbett and Raine, arguably the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 defencemen, will be needed to tighten up play in the Wolves’ end, which will be key to playoff success.

Offensively, the Wolves have to become better finishers around the opposition net. Last Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Guelph Storm is a perfect example. Guelph wasn’t the better team, but they could capitalize despite being out-shot 41-28.

Sure, the Storm’s goalie was good (as was Sudbury’s Frank Palazzese), but Guelph’s shooters were better. The Wolves don’t out-shoot many teams, but when you put 41 shots on net and only score twice, it has to be a case of missed opportunities.

I love a team that fires the puck on net as much as possible, because you never know what can happen if that first shot doesn’t go in. But, if players are giving up after that first shot is taken, then the chances for success go way down no matter how many shots you get.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Both aspects of the Wolves’ game can be tweaked successfully before the playoffs.

It’s expected Raine could be back as early as March 7 in Barrie. Corbett’s slated to return before the end of the regular season.

With five games left before the playoffs, four of which against teams sitting higher in the standings, the Wolves are going to have a great opportunity to work on their finish around the net.

Stew Kernan is the radio and television voice of the Sudbury Wolves, and the news director at EZ Rock and Q92. This column appears every other week in Northern Life. 

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