After a month off for the holiday break, Mustangs men's hockey returned to action last Friday, falling 4–2 to the York Lions. Now with just 10 games left in the regular season, the Mustangs sit one point out of the final playoff spot in the OUA West Division.
Western's overall record for the season so far is 6–10–2, earning just under 39 per cent of the standings points available to them.
Kicking off 2017 with a loss is hardly the start coach Clarke Singer wanted, with the team in danger of slipping back into the slump that defined their play in November. The Mustangs snapped a seven-game losing streak just four games before the December break.
According to Singer, the Mustangs can get back on track by focusing on their defence and special teams.
"Those are two areas where I don't think we've played as well this year as we need too," he said. "I think with our lineup the goals will come, especially if we can add a power-play goal every game."
Western sits 17th out of 20 teams in the OUA in goals-against average, on average allowing 3.57 goals per game.
"We certainly have to be better defensively," asserted Singer.
As for the special teams, the Mustangs are again near the basement. Their power-play is 18th in the league, with the team scoring on an abysmal 9.5 per cent of their man-advantage opportunities.
The penalty kill, slightly better, has been successful 82.4 per cent of the time, good enough for 12th in the OUA. The Mustangs killed three penalties on Friday against York, a lone bright spot in a poor performance.
Singer will be tweaking the special teams and defensive systems now as the team looks to make a late-season push. Fortunately for the Mustangs, the time off over the holidays afforded them an opportunity to rest up.
"We're healthy," pointed out Singer. "I think it's good generally to give [the players] a good break at Christmas so they can get home, they can re-energize, see their families."
Singer added that some other hockey programs only allow their athletes a week's break before returning to the team, a philosophy he disagrees with.
With just 10 games left, the pressure is very much on for the Mustangs. They have a tough schedule to come in January and February, with six of their games against teams in the top half of their division.
"There's 20 points still on the table," said Singer, "and we've got to do our best to get as many of those as possible given the situation we're in."
The Mustangs are now in the tightest playoff race they've been in for a long time. After years of finishing at the top of the OUA, even a top eight spot in the West Division is no sure thing.
They're just one point back of Waterloo in eighth, but they will have to hope their luck improves down the stretch. The Mustangs' shooting percentage is barely over seven per cent, meaning goals should start going in for them soon. A few favourable bounces could improve Western's -22 goal differential.
"We've got to get some wins, that's the most important thing," said Singer.
The Mustangs are next in action on Jan. 13, when they'll take on the second-place Ryerson Rams at Thompson Arena.