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Leader-Post article (Playoff plight only gets tougher for Pats)

February 3 2012 at 7:05 AM
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N. W. Bruin  (Login NW_Bruin_GM)

Playoff plight only gets tougher for Pats

By Greg Harder, The Leader-Post

February 2, 2012

The Regina Pats' blueprint for success is going to require some minor revisions down the stretch.

That's not to say the WHL club shouldn't be commended for its startling transformation from playoff pretender to contender. It's a credit to the entire team that the Pats have embraced the aforementioned formula, achieving just the right mix with solid goaltending from Matt Hewitt, diligent defence from the top of their lineup to the bottom, and clutch offence from Jordan Weal.

It's well known that defence and goaltending are a winning combination in the playoffs, when the margin for error can be paper thin. That could bode well for a Pats team that has found a way to win close games all season. However, the squad's ability to produce enough offence beyond Weal remains a concern, one that's growing by the day.

The 19-year-old centre has had a hand in roughly 50 per cent of the Pats' goals this season, a startling statistic for a team with a winning record. That fact alone should make Weal the runaway winner of the WHL's player-of-the-year award. The problem is, there are no trophies handed out in February.

Weal's open ice has been shrinking by the day as opposing teams set their sights on Regina's best player, believing - for obvious reasons - that if they can shut down Weal they stand an excellent chance of shutting down the Pats. When you think about it, it's actually quite astounding what Weal has accomplished to this point given the fact that he was already one of the worst-kept secrets in the league.

Some of the tactics being employed against Weal don't exactly fall within the rules - or good sportsmanship - but that's the nature of the beast at this time of year. Weal knows that, which is why you won't hear him complain. In fact, the fiery competitor in him thrives on the challenge.

It's a good thing, too, because the target painted on Weal's back is only going to get larger as the playoffs approach.

"We've played some really good teams (lately) and teams that are playing really well," noted Weal. "When you get in games like that where it's kind of a stalemate you have to wait for your chance. In the Moose Jaw game (on Jan. 21 when Weal took over late) I thought nothing was really happening for both teams. Then you get that one chance at the end of the third and then in overtime to capitalize and give your team the win. That's what you have to do."

Pats GM Chad Lang tried to alleviate some of the pressure on Weal at the WHL trade deadline, submitting offers on just about every available front-line forward. He found the price to be exorbitant, so the Pats settled for a consolation prize by adding offensive defenceman Martin Marincin.

Regina's back end, already the strength of the team, is now regarded as one of the elite groups in the league - on paper, anyway. Now the Pats have to find a way to translate some of that defence into offence, without sacrificing the former.

At this point, they'd take secondary scoring from K-9 the mascot if they could get it.

The power play might be a better place to start. Regina's production with the man advantage has been lousy this season - ranked near the bottom of the league for much of the campaign - despite possessing one of the most dangerous power-play quarterbacks in the league. Unfortunately, Weal has been miscast at times by restricting him to the point, thus limiting the exposure of the team's biggest scoring threat to prime scoring territory.

Again, the discussion invariably comes back to Weal, which in a sense contradicts the team-first concept embraced by head coach Pat Conacher, a worthy coach-ofthe-year candidate. The Pats are well aware of their shortcomings, but so is the opposition, which places even more onus on the rest of the team to take its game to another level.

Weal is already there. His clutch performances are a pleasure to watch, but the Pats' resident superhero can't always be expected to save the day.

"One player isn't the team," noted Conacher. "We have to score by committee. We can't wait for Jordan each and every night. He does his part for sure but everybody has to contribute somehow. We have to find offence from somewhere, whether it comes from the back end or the other forward lines. Some days maybe some players look at him to carry the ball but we preach each and every day that everyone has to contribute."

The Pats' playoff fate depends on it.

(Centre Ice appears Thursdays.)

© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

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