Going in, it was just about getting two points, but Sunday’s game against the Toronto Flyers proved tougher than expected for the Jr. A Niagara Predators.
With the playoffs imminent and points vital, the match against the last-place Flyers seemed like a surefire win. But despite beating them 9-2 a week before, Niagara barely squeaked out a 3-2 victory in their only game of the week.
While Predators head coach Kevin Taylor did not go so far as to call it a bad game, he instead described it as “blah.”
“I thought we played down. We didn’t step it up,” he said.
The Predators started off well with Luca Fernandez scoring 3:08 into the game and Georgy Kholmovsky capitalizing on a powerplay 10 minutes later.
Add in 23 stopped shots by Zane Clausen – recently named the top goaltender in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s south division – and Niagara ended the first period with a 2-0 lead.
Toronto’s Iaroslav Morozov narrowed the gap at the 8:09 mark of the second period, with Niagara’s Isaac Locker answering back about seven minutes later. A final effort in the third by the Flyers made it much tighter than it should have been.
Though a win’s a win, the closeness of Sunday’s game did not escape Taylor. Considering his team’s strong record against the Flyers, he feels over-confidence may be to blame.
“I just don’t think they take this team as serious as they should,” he said. “They’re a good team and they worked hard. They’re short-benched, they have players that want to be here and we just didn’t take them as seriously as we should have.”
That is not to say he had no positive comments about Sunday’s game, but he still thinks his team needs to improve in time for the tough final stretch of their regular season.
“Even with the powerplay, I thought we were moving the puck well, we were moving it around nice, getting the opportunities. We capitalized on the one, and the other two, we got chances,” said Taylor.
“We’ll have to be much better next week. We have three extremely important games next week, huge games against St. George.”
The Predators have just four games left in the regular season, three of which are this weekend, starting with a Friday night game at home against the St. George Ravens followed by road games against the Tottenham Railers and St. George.
Right now, St. George and Tottenham lead Niagara in the standings by no more than three points and are possible opponents in the first round of the playoffs.
For now, Taylor is just happy with the win over Toronto and is trying to keep his players focused heading into a tough weekend.
“We’re one step closer to our goal and we’ll see what happens with the rest of the games this week,” he said.
“Play one game at a time, that’s what we have to do, and it doesn’t matter where we finish. If we finish sixth, we play Durham and we’re happy with that. If we finish fourth or fifth, we play St. George or Tottenham and we’re happy with that.”
The Predators take to the ice at the Meridian Credit Union Arena against the St. George this Friday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.