The Moncton Wildcats are rolling, they seem almost unbeatable right now.
The highly skilled offensively gifted team continues to put up impressive numbers and are starting to dominate teams, as they should.
The Cats are loaded for bear.
Everything is pointing toward a long playoff run and a championship or maybe two.
Nevertheless, do the Moncton Wildcats have any holes and if so how are teams going to exploit them in the playoffs?
Any team is beatable and you better believe that’s the message from Daniel Lacriox and his staff are preaching at this time of the year.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the teams success, excitement and amazing offensive numbers right now, but how are the Cats going to address their weaknesses if they have any moving forward?
What are the Moncton Wildcats weaknesses?
That’s probably the question many teams have been asking during their advanced scouting video meetings lately.
They might be rolling now and running on all cylinders, but there are still some areas that will need to be addressed heading into the second season.
The Wildcats are vulnerable when confronted with a heavy team that forechecks effectively and efficiently.
Physicality and grit in all three zones will be an ongoing issue that the Cats will have to likely be confronted when the playoffs start.
They will have to earn their time and space.
Any highly skilled offensively minded team want time and space to make plays with the puck.
The Cats have an amazing defensive corps full of great puck movers, but the D corps struggles sometimes when pressured and when their outlets are eliminated.
They are quick to turn pucks over when pressured down low.
The Cats love going D to D, as do many highly skilled transitional teams. Nonetheless, the Cats have struggled at times when there are different layers of forecheck pressure.
If a team get in and take away the Cats option early on their breakouts it will force the defensive corps to wrap the boards which in turn will create puck battles on the half boards.
When the Cats wingers have been pressured this season they haven’t been the greatest at getting pucks out or making plays at times. This is going only magnified when the playoffs start.
The Cats know all too well that come playoff time teams will be leaning on them very heavily with pressure and physicality.
They have to be willing to get their noses dirty or teams will wear them down.
No one likes to be hit, especially skilled puck moving defencemen.
So how do you eliminate or neutralize speed and mobility, you hit everything in sight.
Wildcat forwards will have to track back to pucks better during the post season to alleviate pressure when their D’s have the puck in regroup scenarios and or the breakout.
If teams pinch down low which they will with more regularity the Cats will have to support the puck through the middle with various layers and with speed.
You see that’s where the Cats will have the upper hand if teams want to play a relentless forecheck game.
The Cat forwards are so skilled and fast that they will generate a lot of odd man rushes in open ice when going indirect off the boards.
Now you have to be cautious not to turn too many pucks over in the neutral zone versus a good transitional team, cause they will make you pay.
So what team in the Eastern Conference are heavy and a solid transition team, that’s right the Cape Breton Eagles and we all know how dangerous they can be.
The Cats will have to be very committed as a team on winning puck battles in all three zones.
Everyone that is so fixated by points and offensive numbers have to realize that the Cats haven’t been pushed physically and that there are two teams in the Maritimes Division that have been able to lean on them physically, the Isles and the Eagles and that’s been about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Moncton Wildcats aren’t tough enough to play playoff hockey, all I’m saying is they better be ready to earn their time and space if not they will struggle against opponents eager to be physical.
Forecheck, Back check, Pay Check!
At times this year the Cats forecheck has been less than stellar.
It’s been a hell of a lot better and more natural ever since Daniel Lacriox has taken over.
At times this season the Cats have been a little stagnant and passive on the forecheck which simply doesn’t work in the post season.
The Wildcats will have to use their team speed to hunt down pucks for the full sixty minutes if they want to be successful come playoff time and they will have to be physical when they arrive to pucks on the forecheck.
The Cats forward group are aggressive on pucks, but they will definitely have to ramp it that much more to be lethal offensively in the post season.
The Wildcats can score goals there’s no doubt about that.
Now for all the stats and analytics people out there, how many dirty goals have the Wildcats scored this season.
I sure as hell don’t know, all I know is the Cats will have to get to the net and get to the dirty areas with more regularity come playoff time.
They will have to play with even more intensity and discipline.
Being discipline, meaning sticking to their forecheck systems and structure.
At times this season the Cats haven’t back checked all that well and their D have made ill advised pinches and decisions at the offensive blue line.
That just can’t happen in the playoffs.
Transition defence is definitely one area the Cats will have to sure up heading into the President Cup playoffs.
If you have to forecheck with purpose, you have to back check with urgency.
There can’t be any passengers when the puck drops in the post season.
Every Wildcat forward has to be willing to play a full 200ft game.
Certain Cats not naming any names pick and choose when they back check.
That can’t fly in the post season.
Good teams will make you pay for your mistakes in the offensive zone and the Cats coaching staff are certainly aware of that.
As far as the pay check goes, well just put it this way the Cats will make teams pay the price if they turn pucks over in their defensive zone.
This Cats team from the blue line in are the deepest offensively skilled team in the entire league.
They will inflict damage on any team if they don’t manage the puck well coming out of their own end.
I’ve been critical at times this season about the Cats power play.
They have all the weapons, but teams will start keying in on certain Wildcat tendencies and trends.
The Cats power play has to be a difference maker in the post season.
If teams want to get chippy and physical and take message sending penalties the Wildcats will have to respond on the man advantage.
The Cats need to move the puck quicker and more efficiently, they will have to be more mobile with and without the puck.
They will have to support the puck better in 50/50 puck battles down low on the power play and they have to continue to hit the open man.
At times some forwards have held on to pucks too long, quicker decisions have to be made and different looks and sets will have to be created.
From a PK perspective, gap control has been an issue at times, but I love the way the Cats kill penalties.
I also love the fact Lacriox and his staff have his top six out there killing penalties.
Plus their shift length and structure while killing penalties is exceptional.
Areas of Concern:
A) Alexander Khovanov
The Russian import star is the Wildcats catalyst. If Khovanov stays focused and discipline the Cats are going to be very tough to beat.
However if he gets to emotionally involved in other antics and gets thrown off his game the Cats top line will struggle and it will also hinder the power play.
B) No Shut Down Pairing
The Wildcats still really don’t have a lock down defensive pairing, which is a definite cause for concern.
Tons of skill and puck moving ability, but what will the post season pairings look like?
Obviously Axel Andersson and Jared MacIsaac will probably be paired together at some point again, but that’s an area that will certainly be experimented with coming down the stretch.
The Cats are still in experimental mode right now.
C) Staying healthy and Depth
I don’t want to even talk about injuries, but they happen.
Let’s hope every team across the QMJHL stays healthy in hopes of seeing best on best throughout the President Cup Playoffs.
The Cats are deep enough up front to deal with injuries, but are they deep enough and physically strong enough on the backend to deal with multiple injuries?
The addition of Ryan MacLellan has certainly helped the Cats D-corps, but the what if scenarios end there.
Every team will be confronted by injuries, it’s just part of the game, but I would hate to see any team lose multiple key pieces during the post season especially coming so far and taking the steps to be a championship contender.
That’s what life is like when you go all in!
D) Expectations and Pressure
How will the Wildcats handle the pressure and stress of extremely high expectations?
That remains to be seen, all I can say is this, the Wildcats have tons of character, leadership and a will to compete like very few others.
How do you beat the Moncton Wildcats?
I guess we will just have to wait and see.
Just put it this way it’s going to be very very difficult.