They’ve been shut out three times in their last four games and have now lost 11 straight. The Coquitlam Express have sunk to a low not seen in Barry Wolff’s tenure as head coach/GM but there is much more to the issue than meets the eye.
The Express have been absolutely inundated with injuries. Coquitlam played a full line short Saturday night at home to Vernon dressing only nine forwards. They had nine regulars out of the lineup and of the 15 skaters they did dress, three of them were affiliates. It’s almost unheard of to have this many scratches at any point during the season but the Express are not alone. Their division rival Langley Rivermen have also been slammed by the injury bug this season currently with seven regulars out of the lineup, including both goaltenders in Bo Didur and Braedon Fleming.
But to make matters even worse for the Express, they were also victimized by an outrageous weekend schedule. Coquitlam made the trek up to Prince George for a Friday evening tilt that saw the Spruce Kings dominate with an 8-0 win. They then made the 8 hour return trip home only to host the Vernon Vipers at Poirier on Saturday. The Vipers made the trip up from Wenatchee, about half the distance the Express had to travel for their own home game. It’s the type of schedule that someone at the BCHL office had to red flag during scheduling meetings back in the summer. There is no excuse for this scenario to take place for any team. And it certainly didn’t help the decimated Express’ chances.
The Express currently sit at the bottom of the Mainland with a 6-21-0-2 record, a full 10 points back of fifth place Surrey, 11 behind Langley. Even if they can get healthy again soon they have a ton of work to do to climb back into a playoff position. At this point, it’s not looking likely at all.
The Rivermen have managed to weather their storm a bit better. They had a pretty decent weekend going 2-1 in a three-game home stand. The Rivermen beat West Kelowna 4-2 Friday night followed by a 7-5 win over Surrey on Saturday. AP goaltender Bradley Cooper from the Burnaby Winter Club picked up his first two BCHL wins in the process. Langley dropped a 4-1 decision to Vernon.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Wenatchee Wild have vaulted back into first place in the Mainland after rallying off three wins last week at home: 5-3 over Chilliwack on Wednesday, 4-1 over Vernon Friday, and an 11-2 destruction of West Kelowna Saturday. That win over the Warriors was so lopsided it wasn’t even funny. The Wild out shot the defending national champions 58-21 (including a 20-2 margin in the third period alone) and had a whopping six power play goals on ten chances.
The Warriors have had a bizarre season thus far. A couple times this season they appeared to have clawed out of a slide only to fall right back into a worse one. Amazingly they still hold down fifth place in the Interior at 12-14-1 and are just three points behind fourth place Merritt. If not for the struggling Silverbacks, the Warriors could be in even worse shape.
Salmon Arm has improved since former head coach Brandon West was relieved of his duties earlier this month going 3-3-1 since the change. But at 11-17-1 the Silverbacks remain at the bottom of the division with the third worst record in the league, only in front of Alberni and Coquitlam. The Silverbacks split the weekend earning a 4-3 regulation win in Merritt on Friday before falling 6-3 in Prince George Saturday.
The Centennials, meanwhile, have put together a much better stretch the last couple weeks going 3-1-1 in their last five games. The Cents fell at home to Salmon Arm Friday night but rebounded with a 3-2 win in Trail Saturday. Merritt has more overtime losses on the season with five than any other in the league. It’s an indication they are competitive in the vast majority of their games and easily could have a few more wins under their belt. But assuming their early November struggles are well behind them, look for the Centennials to be a threat within their division the rest of the way.
The Cowichan Valley Capitals did something that’s almost unheard of for them over the weekend and that was win in regulation in Powell River. The Caps earned a 6-4 win at Hap Parker Arena Friday night while the Kings got the split with a 3-2 win on Saturday. The weekend did come at a high cost, however, as veteran defenceman Ben Verrall suffered a broken foot and will be out of commission for the foreseeable future. Already without fellow blue liner Nii Noi Tetteh, the Caps’ lack of defensive depth will be tested big time over the coming weeks. The good news for Cowichan is they sit comfortably in third place with a 14-12-2-2 record, six points better than fourth place Nanaimo and 13 points ahead of last place Alberni. But a weekend home-and-home with the Clippers could see things change rapidly. The Clippers have extended their current winless streak to eight games after losing both halves of a home-and-home weekend set with Victoria.
Before I end for this week, let’s go back to the Mainland division because the Prince George Spruce Kings deserve some more attention. With Friday’s 8-0 shutout win over Coquitlam and Saturday’s 6-3 victory over visiting Salmon Arm, the Spruce Kings have now won five in a row and six of their last seven with points in seven straight. PG is now 14-10-1-2 and solidly in third place in the Mainland. Defensively the team is fairly strong but it’s on offence where they have done the most damage. Prince George has scored six or more goals in each game on their current streak. Is this level of goal-scoring sustainable? Certainly not, but it’s definitely a good sign for the long-haul.