Quick, how many Reign defensemen who played Wednesday were on the team to start the season?
Answer: One. David Walker.
“There’s usually change,” coach Karl Taylor said, “but not that much.”
The change seems especially turbulent on a team that has been remarkably stable in its defensive personnel.
Consider that in 2008-09, its inaugural season, the Reign used a total of nine defensemen all season. Seven of the nine played in no less than 33 games, meaning that when one of the top six missed a game due to injury or AHL recall, he was replaced with someone who was familiar with his teammates and the system. (Congratulations if you remember Ryan Card and Colten Teubert skating backwards that season.)
The blue line was a little less stable in 2009-10, when eleven different D-men appeared in a game. But the top seven were just as steady – Walker, Andrew Martens, Mike Egener, Shawn Germain, Chad Starling, Dan Knapp and Brian Kilburg all played at least 39 of the 72 games. (The other four were Teubert, Jon Landry, Luis Tremblay and Patrick Mullen.)
The 2010-11 season isn’t halfway complete, but already 12 different defensemen have appeared in at least one game – more than all of last season. Walker has played in all 31 games, Lane Caffaro has played in 27 and Luke Beaverson played in 25 games before being shelved with a lower-body injury.
Then it gets interesting. In order of games played, the Reign have also used Matt Delahey (20), Starling (14), Pat Bowen (14), Jordan Hill (14), Eric Doyle (12), Reggie Traccitto (8), Alan Dorich (8) Shawn Germain (6) and Doug Krantz (4).
That volume of turnover isn’t the sole reason for the Reign bringing up the rear of the ECHL standings, but it doesn’t help.
“Honestly, on Wednesday, our team struggled but our defensemen struggled too,” Taylor said. “We’ve worked yesterday and today trying to get our D up to speed in certain areas. We did a lot of video work, new bodies, and hopefully they understand what we expect from them better, some of the newer fellows, and hopefully they’ll be better tonight.”
Germain missed the first two months of the season and didn’t have a training camp, but should be as familiar with Karl Taylor’s system as anyone. That’s marginally reflected in his plus-2 rating in his six games (it’s a tiny sample size, but the Reign have been outscored 30-25 in those games).
From Germain’s point of view, the problems on defense have little to do with a lack of chemistry or familiarity.
“It’s easy mistakes that we should know,” he said. “Just picking up the high guy in the slot, looking around, being aware of where guys are on the ice. It’s not so much knowing and chemistry, stuff like that, it’s just basics.
“I’m not worried about it at all. The bigger concern was the scoring. That’s something, at the end of the day, you don’t have much control over. This is much more, like, fixable. That’s a good sign.”
The twin 6-foot-5 towers of Beaverson and Starling, in particular, have been difficult to replace. Beaverson isn’t practicing yet and said Tuesday that he doesn’t envision returning until next Wednesday at the earliest.
Starling, who hasn’t played since suffering a lower-body injury on Nov. 20, has been working out off the ice as much as anyone but still isn’t skating, either.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Chad,” Taylor said. “It’s just not moving along the way we want it to. It’s the damndest thing for Chad, and also for Luke – two guys 6-5, big bodies, lots of range, really good defensively. We miss those guys a ton. Then obviously Eric Doyle’s out too. Missing those three guys has been a really big void for us.
“We’ve been trying to find other guys to do it for us, to help us out in those areas.”