On Wednesday, November 21st, the Danville Dashers took down the Port Huron Prowlers in a 5-2 win on the road, temporarily putting them in first place in the FHL with a glistening 7-1-1-0 (W-OTW-L-OTL).
The Prowlers appeared to be riding high and we even said it was shaping up to be a two-team race for the FHL’s regular season crown. Oops.
But what the hell happened? We try to answer that question that ultimately led to the team axing Paul MacLean just 17 games into his first season behind the Danville bench.
Scoring has dried up and goaltending has fallen back to earth
Thru the first nine games and that 7-1-1-0 start, the Dashers were averaging a bonkers 4.75 goals per games on offense, and had given up the second fewest goals in the league, which usually means winning a lot of hockey games.
Their goalies at the time of our first FHL Weekly Wrap-Up where we posted the league leaders in stats had a combined GAA of 2.50 and a Sv% of .944, both insanely good numbers for the FHL that were probably not sustainable, especially the Sv%.
But since that hot start, the Dashers have dropped seven of their next eight, with only two of those seven losses being close. They started the poor stretch of play with a pair of losses, 3-2 and 5-3, on the road to Watertown, not a bad showing against the defending champions, but a disappointing one to walk away with no points.
Aside from their one win on December 8, a 7-5 win over Port Huron, in the other five losses that followed the close games in Watertown, the Dashers were outscored 27-5, and during the entire 8-game skid have been outscored 40-17.
That 40-17 number equates to a team GAA of 5.00, doubling what they had done through the first nine games, and the team’s combined Sv% for the season has fallen to .918, a 26-point drop, meaning during this stretch of bad play, the Sv% was likely around .890.
The offensive woes can be partly attributed to missing players, including leading scorer Ryan Marker missing the last three games, the last two seeing the Dashers get shutout by Watertown and Mentor. But the Dashers are also very top-heavy on offense. After Marker’s 28 points in 14 games, Justin Brausen has 22 points in 17 games, Stephen Gaul has 21 in 17, and Daniel Martin has 19 in 17…and that’s it for forwards who have double-digit points. No other full-time forward has more than seven points. Basically, if one of those four don’t produce, and with Marker up in the SPHL he can’t produce for the Dashers, then the team doesn’t score, and that’s clearly been the case over the last eight games.
But the defense issues are even more baffling, because only one player who is listed as a defenseman and played more than 10 games is on the inactive roster, so the back-end has remained largely in tact. More likely, as we noted early with the stats, the goalies came back to earth and then some. A .944 Sv% was not going to be sustainable over a full season, and their 8-games stretch of a 5.00 GAA and .890 Sv% likely won’t happen for a full season either, more likely is they’ll settle somewhere in the middle around .910 to .915, so this was a case of regression to the mean after an insane start by Matt Kaludis and Aaron Taylor.
Failure to defend home ice
Amazingly, you would think during a bad extended stretch that a team might be playing a lot of road games, and in the FHL where you might arrive on the day of the game after traveling for 6-plus hours (at least) by bus, the home teams seem to have a huge advantage.
Well, during this 8-game skid, the Dashers have had five home games, all in a row, and went 1-4 during that stretch. And they were flat-out lousy in those five games, getting outscored 26-12, including losses of 6-1, 6-2, and 7-2. Not exactly the type of performances that keeps fans coming back.
And again, this was after the Dashers opened the season by going 6-0 on home ice (though four of those were against the two expansion teams in their first games), where they dominated teams to the tune of a 34-13 on the scoresheet. It really has been a 180-degree turn in every aspect for the team.
Did the coach lose the locker room?
We won’t post them here, but if you feel like searching our Facebook page or any of the FHL fan and news pages, there were a handful of comments saying something along the lines of, “The players hated him,” and remarks that the new interim coach and current defenseman Dustin Henning, was running things anyway.
And obviously, if a coach does lose the locker room and the trust of the players, it becomes a problem for a lot of reasons, mainly your motivation to play for the coach on game night, and if that was the case, clearly the Dashers didn’t want to play for him over the past eight games.
We don’t know if he was a hard-ass coach who constantly ripped into players, or if he was passive, but either way, a coaching style is great and brilliant when a team is winning (nobody likes the way Bill Belichick does things, but he wins so his style is therefore brilliant), and a disaster when that same style tried somewhere else doesn’t work, and clearly, after a strong start, it wasn’t working in Danville.
Again, we don’t know it for sure that this was the case, but if the issue was indeed something the locker room and a dislike for the coach, then the Dashers were smart to cut bait sooner rather than later.
Now, the next question becomes if this move will turn things around and get the Dashers back on track, because after the way they started the year, there is clearly talent on the team. It won’t be an easy start though, as the Dashers ready for a home-and-home with first-place Carolina this weekend.