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Posted December 4th, 2018 @ 10:49 am

Shots on goal are there for Saints. Good results? Not so much

By Gord Montgomery

While the mantra in the real estate world is “Location, location, location,” the chant coming from within the coaches’ hangout in the Spruce Grove Saints world is “Selec-tion, selection, selection.”

That term refers to choosing when, and where to shoot pucks. While the Saints continue to dominate the shot clock in most of the games they play, the results of those shots on goal aren’t all that great. That’s what bench boss Bram Stephen was preaching after his team’s latest home ice victory, a come-from-behind 3-2 OT squeaker against the Dray-ton Valley Thunder.

In the game, the Saints dominated puck possession and shots on goal, 40-14, as well as shots at the goal that went wide or never reached the intended target.  The thing is, that stat matters little when there are few results from what you’re doing. Stephen noted that while his players are ripping shots at the opponents’ net on a frequent basis, the success ratio is low — much too low for his liking.

“We’re getting 30, 35 shots most games and lots of opportunities. We’re just not finish-ing like last year. We did a stat and our shooting percentage was just over nine percent,” prior to the last three games, a 2-1 win over Whitecourt (30 shots); the Drayton game (36 shots, including one in OT); and then 31 in a 3-2 loss to Fort McMurray.

That theme was underlined in the Thunder game, where the Saints outshot the visitors 18-6 through 40 minutes but only led 1-0 on a goal by Cole Basnett, his first as a Saints since being acquired from the Calgary Mustangs. They upped that shot count early in the third, but suddenly found themselves trailing 2-1 after a couple of quick greasy goals. They recovered to tie it on a marker by Jordan Biro, who then ended the game in OT, when he edged the puck over the goal line after a Drayton player blew a tire leaving the defensive zone on a rush while playing 3-on-3.

Stephen noted there are three aspects to what’s going on with the low shooting percent-age: “One, shot selection. Two, we’re burning opportunities off the rush. Three would be finish. Just finish.”

The coaching staff know the leading causes of the club’s sometimes scoring woes and the fact they either score a bunch in a game, or just a couple, although they have won some close, low-scoring games. He feels it’s just a matter of getting things ironed out as the season progresses.

“Really just making cleaner plays. Part of it is sorting out our plays when we get to the offensive blue line. Part of it is some puck management. Part of it is not getting pinned on the wall by the time you get to the blue line. It’s all details and on every rush it’s something else.”

One bright spot for the Saints, even while they’ve struggled a bit of late, has been the play of their young call-ups, who have shone when given the chance. They’ve been no-ticeable as of late due to a rash of injuries to starters. As for the under-ages showing so well, that’s no fluke, the coach explained.

“We have an open door as far as practices,” he said of the call-ups, including Ethan Ed-wards, Graham Gamache and Liam Hughes, seemingly adjusting so easily to the pace of the game at the higher level. “They were in camp in the fall and that helps. They under-stand what the Saints’ way is. As far as deploying them, we slot them into spots where we think they can have a position to succeed in.”

The Saints are back in action at home on Wednesday night, when they host Sherwood Park at 7 p.m. and then again on Sunday afternoon (Dec. 9) when Grande Prairie is in town. Game time is 2 p.m.

*Photo courtesy of Chuck Taylor

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