The Auburn Tigers dropped their first (and only) exhibition game against the D-I Alabama Crimson Tide last Friday in a 10-2 loss. That score, while disheartening, isn’t exactly reflective of how the team should perform come the start of the regular season on Oct. 15. Auburn faced an overwhelming opponent on barely two weeks notice; it’s also worth considering that the Tide team the Tigers played is a division above them and had played two games prior to the matchup.
With that said, what did we learn about Auburn from this game? Who are the players we should care about, what are trends to be excited for, and what does the team need some work on? It’s hard to say from just one game, but after reviewing the tape, there are some things worth discussing and noting.
- Special teams play and discipline. The Tigers drew five penalties on the night and converted on two of them, with newcomer Noah Henry tallying both Auburn goals. Despite facing an opponent down big with a clear disadvantage in size and speed, the team avoided taking lazy penalties on weak back checking efforts and kept their heads, garnering just three calls against them. Of those three penalty kills, only one resulted in a goal against. Not too shabby considering the scenario; Auburn looks to have some exceptional play at 5-on-4, regardless of which side of the penalty they end up on. You can also count on this roster keeping themselves engaged regardless of score or opponent; they didn’t get careless with their checking, and the box score shows it.
- The new blood showed out. Noah Henry and James Willoughby-Ray, two of the more advertised additions to the squad, each found their names in the box score in a game where that was a rarity for Auburn players. Willoughby-Ray in particular impressed me with his tenacity and anticipation of opposing forwards, which was especially exciting given that he was a gamete decision with an injury. If the Tigers can get some more scoring punch from elsewhere and return top D-man Henry Humphrey, they’re looking at one of the most talented rosters in program history.
- The offense drove play. While Alabama did have shifts of absolute dominance from time to time, Auburn actually kept the game much closer than the score indicated. There were plenty of long cycles, shot attempt barrages, and examples of smooth transitional play to be found on tape, which should bear out into a high-flying attack over a larger sample size against more appropriate competition.
- The goaltending might take some time. While Cam Denk didn’t exactly perform poorly in net (44 saves), it’s not a stretch to say he might need a few games of seasoning before he gets really comfortable in the crease. Denk flashed promising athleticism and covered for a number of Auburn mistakes, but there were some lapses in concentration sprinkled here and there that proved costly. The upside in net for the Tigers is tangible, but it’s certainly not a guarantee that it will end up a legitimate strength.
- Defensive depth will be tested. While the Tigers didn’t play defense poorly enough to warrant ten goals allowed, there are certainly questions about how the back end will hold up without Humphrey to stabilize it. Auburn doesn’t have any glaring issues on the blue line; that said, there weren’t any players who stood out as positive impact guys in this game outside of some nice things I saw from Willoughby-Ray (and even he had his warts).
- Finishing has to come from up and down the lineup. It’s great that Noah Henry had two goals in this game, living up to the lofty expectations I had for him. It’s not so great that despite dictating an impressive number of possessions, the rest of the lineup couldn’t find the back of the net. Returning players like Brandon Weis and Blake Robison have said that they’re ready to produce as key veteran scorers, and that should be the case over a larger sample. Still, it was a noticeable trend in this game that Auburn couldn’t bury chances. Hopefully that’s not an issue in the future.
- This team should be a lock to make the playoffs, barring unforeseen things like injuries or COVID-19. The talent up front is tantalizing.
- The white uniforms look great and are probably my favorite jerseys the team has worn outside of the classic “Orange Crush” set.
- This was a tough loss, even with silver linings and context provided. No doubt about it.
The Tigers will take on UCF in Daytona Beach on Oct. 15, 4:30 EST to open up the regular season. Details on the game will be released at a later date.