Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thoughts on Ottawa from September 25

I caught the 67's in action against the Niagara IceDogs last night. The Dogs were looking for their first win of the season after two close losses to Kingston and Barrie, while the 67's were trying to get their 2nd win of the season.

The big boost to the 67's line-up was the return of captain and Minnesota Wild first rounder Tyler Cuma. Cuma hadn't played for the 67's in over 9 months after injuring his knee at the World Junior camp last season. On the downside, Ottawa did not look good tonight. With Corey Cowick already out until at least Christmas with a shoulder injury, the team recently learned that fellow first line forward Anthony Nigro will also be out for a little while. He has contracted mononucleosis and will be out for at least a few weeks. Losing those two guys hurts, and it showed tonight. The 67's just don't have the depth at forward to sustain two major losses like that. The inabilities of their third and fourth lines were a major reason for their loss. They were a combined -3 and were on the ice for every even strength goal scored against the 67's (save the empty netter). In the absence of scoring depth, you need to ensure that your 1st line is really rolling and they were off tonight too. Tyler Toffoli and in particular Ryan Martindale did not have strong games.

Their defense also struggled mightily tonight. They looked very disorganized and the communication was not there. Turnover after turnover occurred. Even the pairing of Julien Demers and Travis Gibbons was out of sync, which is odd considering how much time they spent together last year. Much like the depth of their forward lines, their depth on defense hurt them also, with the third pairing of Cody Ceci and Derek Hartwick being responsible for two goals against. While Ceci played OK, Hartwick's inability to make quick and smart plays really hurt the team.

The Dogs ended up winning this one 5-3. They were leading 4-1 going into around the halfway point of the third period, but the 67's battled back to get within one. Their sudden burst of intensity was too little too late.

Here are my thoughts on some players performances for the 67.

Thomas Nesbitt (2010, but 1990 born)
Nesbitt was part of the one scoring line that actually was working tonight (with Dalton Smith and Matias Sointu). After such a strong preseason, Nesbitt has carried that success into the regular season. He was all over the place tonight. He works hard in the offensive zone, he works the cycle well, he comes off the wing with speed in order to drive to the net. He was also very responsible defensively tonight. I think he has about as much pro potential as Corey Cowick does, and Cowick managed to get drafted in 2009. If Nesbitt can continue to produce and play the way he has, he could have a shot of being drafted too. He finished the game with 1 goal and 2 assists.

Marc Zanetti (2010, but 1991 born)
Don't really have much to say about Zanetti, but just wanted to point out that he was playing forward tonight. I'm not sure whether this is a permanent thing, or a part time thing to help cover the Cowick and Nigro losses. He was part of that poor third line with Jon Carnevale and Andrew Merrett. Considering what I saw from the 67's defense tonight, I'd say they are better off putting him back on defense, where he has the potential to be a physical and relatively quiet presence.

Matias Sointu (TBL)
I was really impressed with Sointu tonight. He centered the powerful Nesbitt and Smith line. He's a little spark plug out there. Good skater, good stickhandler. Despite his size, he wasn't getting pushed off the puck. On the contrary, he was winning loose puck battles. He showed a lot of playmaking ability, in particular on the second period Dalton Smith goal. He won the battle for the puck behind the net, made a nice back pass into the slot and the puck eventually found Smith's stick. He was constantly creating plays, and surprisingly, he was also coming back defensively. Despite only registering an assist on the night, I thought he was Ottawa's best player. Reminds me a lot of a Buffalo prospect by the name of Felix Schutz, who used to play in the QMJHL and had a solid rookie year in the AHL last year.

Tyler Toffoli (2010)
Toffoli didn't have his best game tonight, but he did show some effort. If not for the inabilities of his linemates (Martindale and Cody Lindsay), they might have been more effective. He set up Lindsay and Martindale numerous times for scoring opportunities, only for them to fumble the puck or fail to corral it. Intriguingly, he was playing some center tonight, which I've never seen before. It seemed that he and Martindale were trading taking the faceoffs while on the same line. Once Chris Byrne shuffled the lines in the third period, he took over full center duties after Martindale was moved to another line. Toffoli is a good playmaker, but I'm not sure I like him at the center position. He seems more dangerous when he can work the slot and come off the wing.

Julien Demers (SJ)
It was his first game back after suffering a mild knee injury during San Jose's camp, and he was covered in rust tonight. He and partner Travis Gibbons were not in sync all night. He was directly responsible for the 4th IceDog goal by Chris DeSousa. Due to a lack of communication, and just a poor read, Demers threw the puck behind the net from the corner. But Gibbons wasn't there, he was starting to head up ice looking for the breakout. Instead, Andrew Agozzino was there, receiving the nice pass from the opposition, to which he put it out front to DeSousa in the slot (where Andrew Merrett failed to take his man to the net) . DeSousa roofed it top shelf and the Dogs were up 4-1. I say he was covered in rust because he just didn't look comfortable all night. He rushed plays with the puck and was not the calm presence he usually is.

Dalton Smith (2010)
I think I was right to have confidence in his ability to break out this season (see the Big Guy Breakouts Sunday Top 10). Was part of the strong Nesbitt and Sointu line. He's a big body and he uses it. Parks himself right in front of the crease, which is where he scored both of his goals. He's got good hands in close, as the first goal he dug the puck from the IceDog defender's skate, pulled it back and roofed it top shelf on Mark Visentin. I liked how he used his size to create room for his linemates too, and he was a physical presence on the forecheck. One thing that particularly impressed me was his penalty killing effort. Went down and blocked a shot from the point, got up quickly, and dove for the loose puck to tap it over the blueline. That showed a lot of gumption. He's quickly becoming a player to watch for 2010.

Tyler Cuma (MIN)
After returning from Minnesota's camp (where his play was apparently rusty), he did not look good tonight. It takes nothing away from the level of prospect he is, because I've seen him at his best. But he's definitely not 100% comfortable and confident yet since returning to the ice from that injury. He had a lot of trouble with the puck tonight, just couldn't create plays or handle passes. Whether it was bad ice, or nerves, he was fumbling it all over the place. Defensively, he was pretty solid, however he seemed too intent in trying to take the body and as such was putting himself out of position. The couple of nice plays he did make defensively, were as a result of a poor decision making, and he had to come back hard into the zone to erase the scoring chance. In those instances, he showed how dynamite a defender he can be, where he used his strong closing speed to come back and push his man off the puck. He's nearly impossible to get around when he's on his game. He's going to take time before he's back to playing the way 67's fans are used to, but when he does, the defense should be fine.

Ryan Martindale (2010)
Martindale did not have a good game tonight. The puck was jumping all over his stick and he just couldn't find the handle on anything. My biggest concern with Martindale is the fact that he's 6'3, but he plays like he's 5'6. I didn't seen any evidence tonight of a big guy using his size to his advantage. You take a look at a guy like Dalton Smith, who's using his big frame to shield the puck or to win battles. And then you see Martindale who's even bigger, but was soft on the puck, wasn't involved physically and looked generally passive. He didn't skate very hard tonight either. In a draft year filled with excellent OHL players, in particular forwards with size (Austin Watson, Andrew Yogan, etc), Martindale isn't doing himself any favors right now in terms of his draft stock. He finished the night with an assist.

Cocy Cedi (2012)
You'll be hard pressed to find a younger player in the OHL right now. Ceci is still 15 and will be until December 21. Considering his age, I thought he played a pretty good game tonight. Unfortunately for him, he was paired with Derek Hartwick who was handling the puck like a hand grenade. He didn't really make any plays that made him stand out in a bad way, which for a young defender like him is a good thing. He's got a long way to go before he's NHL draft eligible and he'll definitely grow into a more prominent player during that time.

Petr Mrazek (2010)
Chris Perugini is apparently a little banged up from a collision with first overall pick Daniel Catenacci, so Mrazek is starting all the games this weekend for the 67's. He was their first round selection in this year's import draft. I liked a lot of what I saw from him. He's not a big goaltender (5'10), but he was really aggressive in challenging shooters. He was coming right out passed the blue ice to cut down angles. Despite giving up four goals, I'd say he could only be faulted on one of them. This was the Dylan Wood wrap around goal. He didn't put his stick down to cover his five hole and Wood slid it in. He also had trouble with one long shot that snuck through his equipment and nearly into the net. But he's apparently playing with borrowed equipment, and thus he may be a little uncomfortable. Mrazek is definitely very agile in the net and moves side to side very well. On one occasion, he stoned a Dog forward point blank in the slot after a pass came out from behind the net. He reacted quickly and got to the middle of the net to block it. His rebound control was excellent tonight too. Other than a few shaky things, I think he impressed. It'll be interesting to see if he battles Perugini for ice time as the season goes along.

That's it folks. As usual, I welcome your comments if you saw the game or have any questions.

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