It’s quite simple really ... win this weekend and you likely win the division, meaning a higher ranking in the Eastern Conference standings and a more favourable matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
The only problem? Wins have been hard to come by recently.
That’s what has a lot of people, including yours truly, scratching our heads trying to figure out how this happened.
Thanks to an incredible run that went for two months from mid-November to mid-January, the Wolves built up a comfortable lead in the division with thoughts of top spot in the conference on everyone’s mind, with hardly a worry about the teams below them in the standings.
So once again, the million-dollar question is .... what happened?
The first thing that jumps out to me is the lack of offence. The Wolves seemed to be able to score at will earlier in the season, but that isn’t the case anymore.
Despite Nick Baptiste, the rest of the team has struggled to find the back of the net.
Nathan Pancel who had 32 goals at the Christmas break and seemed like a shoe-in to score 50 has only nine goals since.
You can go down the list: Jacob Harris with three goals in his last 28 games, Dominik Kahun with one in his last 13, Connor Crisp with one in his last 11, Mathew Campagna with two in his last 29 and Radek Faksa with just five goals in the 27 games he has been with the team.
The Wolves are 3-5-0-2 in their last 10 games and going back to the OHL trade deadline, the Wolves are two points below .500 at 10-12-0-5. In a lot of those losses, the team looks as if they lack the intensity and the consistency needed to win the important games, especially games against teams below them in the standings.
Another frustrating statistic is the 11 games the Wolves have lost in overtime (3) and the shootout (8). Everyone keeps telling me it won’t matter come playoff time. While that’s true, it’s still 11 potential points that the Wolves let get away. You take five or six of those games and put them in the win column and we aren’t talking about dropping out of the division lead.
All that said, there are still three games left in the regular season. The players and the coaches are all saying the right things.
“We have to work harder,” “We have come together as a team,” and “We can’t worry about other teams, it’s up to us.”
That’s all fine and good, but what’s needed is to make all that come true. The way to do that is to win some hockey games this weekend.
The Wolves are a good hockey team, the talent is there, but the test will be to see if they can put it together in time to be ready for the playoffs.
What better way to start than with a win over North Bay tomorrow night, which could go a long way in reclaiming the Central Division lead.
Stew Kernan is the radio and television voice of the Sudbury Wolves, and the News Director at KiSS 105.3 and Q92.