The Solar Bears got back to work on Monday, after dropping a pair of games over the weekend – first losing on Friday at home to Norfolk by a 3-2 decision before dropping a 4-2 road contest at South Carolina on Saturday.
Few likely expected that the Solar Bears would start the season 0-3-0-0, with two losses at home, but head coach Drake Berehowsky isn’t ready to hit the panic button just yet.
Orlando’s bench boss acknowledged there’s certainly room for improvement, citing a need for getting more shots from in front of the opposing net and creating rebound opportunities that will lead to secondary and tertiary scoring chances.
“I thought we did a good job of that Friday, and Saturday we didn’t do a good enough job with that,” Berehowsky said.
On Saturday it took until the third period before the Solar Bears were awarded an opportunity with the man advantage, but Berehowsky doesn’t want to use that as an excuse, and demands more from his team.
“Just because we don’t have the man advantage doesn’t mean we can’t build momentum,” Berehowsky said. “We want to be a fast, physical team, so I think that’s how you build momentum. The flip side of that, I think our discipline has to be a lot better. We’ve been taking some undisciplined penalties, and that’s got to stop.”
With two big games against the Florida Everblades this weekend as part of a home-and-home set that opens at the Jewett Orthopaedic Rink at Amway Center on Friday, Berehowsky knows that his players have to be willing to give more in order to get the desired results.
“I just think everybody has to pay a bigger price,” Berehowsky said. “We’ve all got to dig in a little harder, and you have to pay a price to win hockey games, and I think they understand that, and we’re just going to keep working hard and eventually [the wins] will come.”
Like their coach, Solar Bears captain Mike Monfredo and forward Chris LeBlanc know better than anybody else on the roster not to sound the alarm. During the 2017-18 campaign – their first seasons with the Solar Bears – the team went through a rough stretch from late October through November, as Orlando went 0-5-2-0 at home to start the season. Eventually, the team was able to recover.
Let’s not forget last season, either. On January 6, the Solar Bears were halfway through their slate of 36 home games. At 8-10-0-0, the team had shown promising spurts, but had been dogged by periods of inconsistency. After the team made a few roster moves in late December and returned from the holiday break, the Solar Bears finally started to jell. Orlando went 13-3-1-1 at home down the stretch to finish with its second-highest win total on home ice in franchise history, completing the season with a 21-13-1-1 record at Amway Center.
The formula for success, explains Monfredo, is a simple one.
“We just need to stick to the game plan. We can’t go out there and start going on different pages – we see that when we do the systems that [the coaching staff] draws up that it works and we have success doing it, but as soon as we start straying from that, that’s when we play some of our worst hockey.”
The captain echoed Berehowsky’s emphasis on discipline against a dangerous team like the Everblades.
“We can’t take dumb penalties against them, because they’re good on the power play,” Monfredo said. “[We have to] play a nice, simple game, chip pucks in, get going north as quick as possible and stay disciplined.”
LeBlanc knows that the fans expect more, and the team is capable of delivering on those expectations with some better execution.
“It’s not the way you want to start the season, going 0-and-3, but we’ve got to have a short memory. We played pretty good on Friday – if you throw 50 shots at a goalie, most nights you’re going to have the outcome you want.
“[The fans] were great for both home games. We obviously build off that; [the losses] are not the outcome they deserve or we expect, so if they continue showing up like that, we’ll put out a better for them and hopefully we can pull out a couple of wins this weekend.”
Last season, the Solar Bears enjoyed one of their better head-to-head series against the Everblades during the regular season, going 6-3-2-1 against Florida.
“It’s always a challenge playing them, but they’re a fun team to play against,” LeBlanc said. “That’s the type of games we like to play in this locker room, so I expect the Amway to be buzzing and it’ll be fun this weekend.”
LeBlanc also enjoying solid start
LeBlanc has also been one of the early performers for Orlando in the early stages of this season. At the start of his sophomore campaign last year, LeBlanc initially struggled to produce: it took him until his 15th game of the season in mid-November before he found the back of the net. LeBlanc scored his first goals of the 2019-20 campaign on both Friday and Saturday, and the forward admitted he was relieved to have been able to get that task out of the way.
“It’s a good feeling, it’s good to get that production early,” LeBlanc said. “It helps with your confidence, so we’ll have a good week of practice and carry it into the weekend.”
Berehowsky also noticed the confidence LeBlanc has been playing with.
“I think last year he came on at the end, and he’s just continued it from there [this season],” Berehowsky said. “He’s a great 200-foot player, and I use him in all situations. I count on him a lot, and hopefully he can continue to keep it going.”
Goaltending still up for grabs
One area of the team that remains slightly opaque is the question of who will start in net on Friday against the Everblades. At the start of last week, the Solar Bears were carrying three goalies, but that changed on Friday afternoon, when Zach Sawchenko – who was slated to start that night’s game – was recalled by the San Jose Barracuda, thrusting Zachary Fucale into the starter’s role against the Admirals, while Spencer Martin got his second start of the season on Saturday against the Stingrays.
Although the coaching staff prepared for the challenge of juggling three goaltenders at the start of the season, the recall of Sawchenko doesn’t necessarily mean that the workload now becomes an even 50-50 split for Martin and Fucale.
“I believe that you have to earn your starts and you have to earn your ice time,” Berehowsky. “Whoever’s playing the best and performing the best in practices and games will get the majority of the starts.”