Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thoughts on Niagara and Mississauga from October 16

Went down to the Hershey Centre last night to check out the Dogs and Majors. Once bitter rivals, the bite between these two Central Division teams has left the building. When the Majors first moved to the Hershey Centre and the Dogs left for Niagara, you'd be hard pressed to find a more intense match up. But as one reader pointed out in comments not long ago, the bitterness among these two teams has long since dissipated. With only a handful of players still around from before the switch, the rivalry seems long forgotten.

This game was a real testament to that, for the majority. Definitely not the prettiest game to watch. Lacked any real energy for the first half of the game, especially from the IceDogs. There were some fisticuffs at the end of the game, but that was more to do with a cheap shot by Johnson Andrews than anything else. Possibly a little frustration from what appeared to be a lifeless IceDog team.

Perhaps the Dogs were tired after their longwinded shootout victory over Owen Sound the night before, because only a handful of their players showed any giddy-up at all. The lack of energy from their end really allowed the Majors to dictate the pace of play for the majority of the game. Of note, the IceDogs powerplay is particularly atrocious and almost frustrating to watch. They really miss Alex Pietrangelo and Drew Schiestel on the back end. Not one of the many different powerplay combinations could generate much of anything for the Dogs, including the ol' fashioned five forward powerplay unit (which I'm completely against using). This team is sitting at under 6 percent right now for their powerplay unit, that's by far the lowest in the league. With only 3 powerplay goals all year, the Dogs are close to giving up as many shorthanded markers (2) as they've scored powerplay goals. That right there is the definition of a struggling unit. It's almost as if the Dogs would prefer other teams didn't take penalties against them so that play could remain five on five. The other thing I've noticed as far as the Dogs go is the breaking up of the DeSousa/Friesen/Agozzino line in order to try and spread the wealth offensively. That line was performing so well and really dictating the pace of play. While spreading the wealth and getting production from your other lines is important, so is scoring goals. I'd much prefer the Dogs keeping that line together and pressure the secondary units to step up their game. One line working well together is better than 4 lines working averagely. Plus that aforementioned "mini" forward line really set the pace of games. They tired out opposing defenses and really brought energy to the ice and this is something the Dogs lacked tonight. It'll be interesting to see how the Dogs handle the struggling Sudbury Wolves (losers of 6 in a row) today at home.

As for the Majors, they played a really strong game. Defensively, the effort was tremendous. Chris Carrozzi didn't have to do a whole heck of a lot tonight, as the Dogs were kept to the outside for the majority of the game. I really think this team is one really solid offensive forward away from being a serious OHL contender. Getting Gregg Sutch back in a week or two shoudln't hurt.

Here are some thoughts on individual players...

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors

Tim Billingsley (PHX)
I think Billingsley is really starting to come around again. This is the third time I've seen him this season and he's gotten better each time. I think the background of my disappointment with Billingsley is that I remember how promising he looked in his first two years in the league, as a somewhat hard-nosed two way rearguard. Last year was a huge step backward for him, but he seems to be slowly putting it back together. I think the key for him is keeping things simple with the puck, like he did tonight. He's not a blessed puck mover so as long as he can make smart decisions with the puck and not rush movement up ice, he can limit his turnovers. Last night he actually laid a few nice hits too, which is an element that has been absent in Billingsley's game of recent times. He needs to play that way in order to be successful defensively. I think Dave Cameron has to be happy with Billingsley's progression this year too since he actually received some powerplay time tonight and didn't look out of place either.

Brett Flemming (WSH)
Good to see Brett back on defense after he was up at forward the last time I saw him play. Glad to see that experiment over. He's back paired with Cameron Gaunce on the Majors top defensive unit and I continue to be impressed with his play. His best asset is his mobility which he uses to play both ends of the ice. Made several nice rushes up ice tonight. He also used his speed to make a solid play at the defensive end. Turnover at the blueline led to a breakaway by Andrew Shaw, but Flemming caught up to him and forced him to a somewhat weak backhand attempt. It was good on him to not take a penalty on the play, but to play Shaw clean (although how much damage would an IceDog powerplay do anyway?) Was somewhat disappointed by the fact that he saw little powerplay time though. He finished the game a solid +2.

Casey Cizikas (NYI)
Thought he played a pretty solid game. As always, he was active on the penalty kill and I like the fact that he's starting to show a bit of grit to his game (saw his fight against Matt Clark recently). He's been more consistent this year in playing active and going to the net with and without the puck. He scored on a very nice tip in of William Wallen's point shot. Cizikas finished with a goal and an assist.

Jordan Mayer (2010, but 1991 born)
I'm always impressed by Jordan Mayer. He's definitely one of the elite skating forwards in the OHL. He can turn on the jets and really blow by an opposing defense. I like his fearless attitude too. Not the biggest, but he works hard in the corners and is active near the crease. Corey Bureau's third period goal was all Mayer. He drove hard into the offensive zone, came up with the puck, kept possession and found Bureau at the side of the net for the nice finish. His speed and work ethic really do wonders to confuse opposing teams defenses. As one of the youngest players eligible for the draft last year, here's hoping NHL teams have taken note of his progression this season.

Devante Smith-Pelly (2010)
Even though he was held off the scoresheet, I thought Smith-Pelly was the most impressive Majors forward on the night. Not always a consistent point producer, I don't think it's long before he starts hitting the stat line consistently. I really liked the newly formed Smith-Pelly/Cizikas/Wallen line. The thing I like about Smith-Pelly is that he plays bigger than he actually is. Only average sized, he generates a lot of power in his skating stride and it makes him very hard to contain on the rush. At times I've questioned his offensive ceiling and overall skill set, but I'm starting to believe it's more a matter of confidence with the puck on his stick. He showed a couple highlight reel moves tonight, one as he got past the Dogs defenseman with some nifty puckhandling, but couldn't get a serious scoring chance out of it. I think we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg with Smith-Pelly.

Cameron Gaunce (COL)
Cameron Gaunce was typical Cameron Gaunce tonight. Steady as he goes. Gaunce is almost always a solid two way defender who makes smart decisions with the puck. Sometimes he gets himself in trouble when he tries to do too much, like one turnover he had at the blueline that nearly led to an odd man rush. Not the most blessed stick handler you'll see, he's better when he relies on his on ice vision to make quick plays, rather than trying to play the puck possession game (part of the reason why the Gaunce/Flemming pairing works so well IMO). Gaunce can absolutely wire it from the back end too, scoring on a nice hard point shot in the first period. I also like the added physicality to his game this year. Always a criticism against Gaunce, it appears hes working on becoming more of a physical threat.

Chris Carrozzi (ATL)
Carrozzi was solid when he had to be tonight. Wasn't really tested a whole lot, but when he was he was up to the occasion. Made a nice save by sliding over to hug the post on the Andrew Shaw breakaway attempt. Made a couple second chance saves on goal mouth scrambles by standing his ground. One such occurrence happened because of Carrozzi's poor clear of the puck which led directly to a turnover and a couple scoring chances, but none of Niagara's forwards were able to get the puck over his pads. Carrozzi has always been a really steady goalie who doesn't necessarily wow you, but who won't lose the game for you either. It'll be interesting to see what happens as the season goes on. Whether the Majors keep Carrozzi to continue to split time with J.P. Anderson, or whether they trade him to one of the teams looking for a starting goaltender (ala Windsor). He made 22 saves for the shutout victory.

Niagara IceDogs

Alex Friesen (2010 but 1991 born)
Friesen has really taken steps forward this year. He's learned to use his speed to generate offensive opportunities and has a lot more confidence in carrying the puck into the zone. In a way, he's a very similar player to Mississauga's Jordan Mayer. Friesen was one of the few IceDogs who looked like they were actually tying tonight, but he often got swallowed by the Majors defense as he entered the zone. It'll be interesting to see if his steps forward this season earn him NHL draft attention.

Chris DeSousa (2010, but 1990 born)
This year is DeSousa's last chance at being drafted and he's playing like he wants it. I thought he was Niagara's best forward tonight. Not the greatest skater in the world (which can spell trouble for smaller players at the next level), DeSousa uses solid strength and positioning to get by defenders. It almost felt like he was all by himself out there, as he'd do well to get puck possession in the offensive zone, but receive no support from it. I think he's got a real nose for the puck too and has a pretty high level of hockey sense. Once the Alex Pietrangelo situation is cleared up, I'd be surprised if DeSousa wasn't the next IceDog captain (should Petro not return).

Matt Petgrave (2010)
I continue to see a lot of potential in this kid. He's not really putting up points right now, but I think it'll be really interesting to see what he does at the end of the year. An OHL rookie who played AAA last year, Petgrave is still going through some growing pains. He still turns the puck over in the offensive zone by making poor decisions. He still takes himself out of position going for the big hit. But, you can see the potential in him. The way he skates the puck up ice. The way he reads plays offensively. I'd love to see him get more playing time on the powerplay. It's pretty obvious that the PP isn't working as it is, so why not give Petgrave a chance on the first unit, so that he can develop his skills and get some experience.

Petteri Simila (MTL)
I thought Simila was outstanding tonight. The Dogs have been really blessed to get the quality of goaltending they have been getting so far this season. If not for Simila, this game could have been 6 or 7 nothing. You'd be blind to not notice his size on the ice, at 6'6 he's a behemoth goaltender. But I like the way he challenges shooters and makes himself even bigger. Often times you'll see big goaltenders stay deep in their net, but I like to see them stay aggressive and come right out to the top of the blue ice. He takes away the bottom of the net really well and controls the rebounds from his pads, directing them to the corner. Like some big goaltenders, I do think he needs to work on his lateral mobility. On two of the goals tonight he got beat going side to side (the Lopes SH goal, and the Corey Bureau goal). A skating and strength coach should help him improve his overall agility. He made 38 of 42 saves and took the loss.

Anyone else see the game?


Anonymous said...

Hey Brock, spot on game report for both clubs.

Yes another biteless affair, lol! In terms of the when the game got interesting, the Lopes shortie fired up the Majors and spelled the end for the IceDogs. If the Majors are going to be true East contenders, they'll need leadership from their veterans.

Regarding the player reviews, I think you're being too generous on Gaunce. He's got the back-from-camp blues. He should be a monster this year. He's not urgent or deliberate enuf with the puck. He's capable of way more points. He's 19, it's his 3rd year in the league, he was the Av's 1st pick 2 years ago, was an O all-star last season, and was invited to the U-20 camp. Sorry, but I expect more, and he certainly has the skills to deliver.

You're absolutely right about Smith-Pelly, a still a work in progress in some areas, however he's steadily improving. He should become very noticeable come spring and just in time for the playoffs & draft.

Mayer is skating with more authority this year. He's either finishing or making a play at the end of a rush, rather than just turning the puck over - which is resulting in better production. However he needs to consistenly keep driving to the net, willing to pay physically for the points. He'll need close to, or over 40 markers to get the call in June. Overall, you're also being too generous on him. However the potential is there.

Your analysis on the others is fine. I'd really like to hear your thoughts on Percy.

About the IceDogs play, they need to stop with the ridiculous penalties. I still see shades of Gilbert hockey. Speaking of GG, Cicchillo was a GG wannabe but without the breadth of knowledge and ability to make GG's in game adjustments. He should do fine back in T2. As for McCourt, I'm all for giving a protege a chance, however outside of tightening their defensive systems, I'm not seeing anything different. However, perhaps he's making one in the dressing room and that's where you start.

You're right about breaking up their energy line. Their success comes from the high octane offense, so it will be interesting to see how McCourt's experiment unfolds. There's also a difference in how effective the spread out offense is on the snaller pad at home vs away.

As far as the player reviews, I'm not sure I see the same potential in Petgrave you do - the skills package doesn't match the head. So there is late bloom potential.

Speaking of potential, I'm waiting for Freddie to step up. The kid's got all kinds of upside. I'm interested in your take.

Friesen would be asset to any club. DeSousa just doesn't have the Martin St. Pierre skill, so needs to make it up by leaving the grit button in the on position. A decent performance last night, but ... same for Aggozino.

A dangerous team, but not last night.

Btw, you're not the only one with IceDog fan issues ;-) It's a motely crew that is by & large maturing and finally weening off T2 & Jr. B/C.

Brock Otten said...

Thanks for the comments!

I'll try address everything your brought up.

RE: Gaunce - To an extent I agree and to an extent I don't. I actually prefer when he plays a bit of a safer game. He doesn't have the overall agility to be a game breaker on the rush and I really like the Flemming pairing because it allows Gaunce to get up ice to try and set up in the offensive zone. I don't really think he's ever a stand-out player by doing things that make you say WOW. He's more of a really solid two way defender who uses his hockey sense to try and dictate play. I said I agree to an extent because I do think he could stand to be more urgent and deliberate with the puck. I also agree he could probably do more, but in a sense I like the way he's playing and safe and honest game.

RE: Mayer - I do agree that he needs to work on consistently keeping his motor going. That's the difference between a guy like him and a guy like Jeff Skinner in Kitchener (and why Skinner is a first round NHL draft prospect). Mayer is skilled and he has great speed, but he needs to find a way to be consistently involved, rather than in spurts. But the reason I like him is for his potential to shift the game's momentum. I also like his NHL draft prospects because of his age. As one of the younger players available last year, I don't think he was mature enough to make a more consistent contribution and to an extent I don't think it was really known as to what capacity he could contribute at the next level. Now he's a year older, but still only a couple months behind some of the late 1991's. I think there is some high end potential as an NHL energy line player, barring he can increase his intensity level.

RE: Stuart Percy - I like what I've seen from him so far. In the sense that he seems to be keeping things simple. In the times I've seen him this year, I can't really recall too many mistakes he's made. And as a 1993 defenseman, I think that's a big thing to ask of him. As he gets stronger and gains more confidence, you can see his potential as a puck moving defenseman. There seems to be a few solid 1993 defenseman in the league, guys with potential.

RE: Breaking up the IceDogs energy line - It certainly worked tonight for MM and the Dogs. The reason being that they got a solid effort and intensity level from both lines. Guys like Andrew Shaw (who I really expected big things from this year) and Freddie Hamilton stepped up tonight. The key to the Dogs success, since they aren't the most blessed team offensively, nor the most solid defensively, is to outwork the opposition. When they win, it's because their forecheck tires out the opposing defense and they play with a high intensity level (hitting and driving to the net).

As for MM's coaching thus far. I do agree that there doesn't appear to be much of a change in philosophy. However I do think he's making a difference in the room. Just by watching him on the bench and seeing him converse with players, he seems to be a solid motivator and a "players coach." A guy who's going to try and give his players' confidence. Any time a player makes a nice play on the ice, I always see him go over to him on the bench when the shift's over and give him a pat on the back and some kind words. I think those things mean a lot at the junior level since the adolescent psyche really needs that reassurance. I think he's done a fine job. The Dogs have played in some tough games thus far and they could really easily have 7 wins, rather than their current 4. I think they're right around where I expected them to be, in that 6-9 range of the East.

Brock Otten said...

RE: Petgrave, I can see what you mean. He's been somewhat hit and miss. I do truly believe it to be a confidence issue. His skating ability really makes him an asset on the back end. And I think his desire to be involved physically really helps too. His puck moving ability and overall offensive hockey sense will come, that's why I'd really like to see him on the powerplay. But in tonight's Sudbury game, he played his best game of the season IMO. You can tell he's starting to get the confidence to jump up in the play and he's starting to realize his skating ability allows him to take a few chances offensively because he can get back to the zone.

RE: Freddie Hamilton, I agree. He's a solid draft prospect, however he runs the risk of falling into obscurity in this years draft, with so many talented OHL players available. I look at him as a similar player to Sam Carrick in Brampton. Solid two way forward, good wheels, good hands in close to the net. But Carrick has really exploded recently (7 goals in his last 4 games), while Hamilton has yet to take that step forward. I think a lot of it has had to do with the fact that his wingers haven't been able to help him generate offense. I actually think that's part of the reason MM decided to break up that first line. Freddie was playing well but his linemmates were holding him down a bit. By putting a guy like Agozzino on his line now, he should be able to increase his offensive output.

Again thanks for the great comments and keep reading!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent feedback Brock.

I can go along with your position on Gaunce. We both agree that he can't allow the opposition forwards to setup and intercept the first pass or break up the transitional play. Although I'm still not sure about Mayer, you're right he needs to keep driving.

I also agree with your analysis of Percy & Hamilton - very good insight, especially on Hamilton.

And yes, the Dogs' spread out O busted out yesterday; you're right they have to forecheck/outwork the opposition down low to generate opportunities.

Thanks again!

Brock Otten said...

And thank you for the excellent comments.

I'd be incredibly interested to hear your thoughts on the goaltending situation in Mississauga.

Do the Majors continue to go with the platoon, uncertain as to whether JP Anderson can handle the full load, or do they trade Carrozzi as the deadline approaches, hoping to fill a hole (perhaps a dominating physical defenseman, or another scoring center?)

Anonymous said...

Hey Brock, that's the million dollar question (pardon the melo-drama).

Before the season I thought it was a foregone conclusion, likely occuring way prior to Jan 10. And some of the "loose talk" is that it's a sure bet. However I'm not so sure now.

I completely agree that a Matt Clark type blueline bruiser (probably a '91, but a '92 would do) is needed, and together with a veteran forward with decent hands, great things would be possible.

While not perfect, prying both Blacker & Timmins (filling the OA slot Pelech opened) for Carrozzi and some picks and/or a young depth forward, was a trade worth doing.

Perhaps with Carrozzi's stock rising and the fact that Cameron is yet to evaluate Sutch, he'll leave it to Jan 10 ... or not.

As you know, he's run the tandem two-step, riding the hot tender till a loss, successfully with Budaj/Chiodo then Chiodo/Peters.

Also, I'm not certain JPA is completely free of the sophmore jinx as he's letting in a couple of questionable 1's each outing.

Cameron maybe waiting on the full assessment on Sutch which most likely will take till the deadline before he's in top game form and in tune with the systems.

I'm digging the WW-CC-DSP line and expect Sutch to slide in with JM-CB. The grinders will remain as DE-RF-RL. KG-JC-RB are the energy spares.

Cameron has never been much of a card burner; unlike Stefanski. So I'm just as stumped...

To conclude, Alex Laino is being closely monitored in the Missy Chargers T2 team - his capability must factor into the equation. After all this, my honest answer is flip a coin. Seriously, it's 50/50 call at this point.

Brock Otten said...

I'd tend to agree.

Cameron has always been favourite of the goaltending platoon, and this was one of the reasons I didn't include Carrozzi in one of the preseason Sunday Top 10's I did on players likely to be traded.

Quite frankly, I'm not so sure that a solid goaltending platoon is a bad thing for the rest of the season. Too many teams put all of their eggs in one basket and then when the playoffs roll around, their goaltender is dead tired and underperforms (see Edward Pasquale in Saginaw last year). Being able to go back and forth with two great goaltenders is a great problem to have. Then in the playoffs, you make a call and ride the hot hand. Just look at the playoffs last year with Carrozzi struggling and Anderson stepping in. Nice to know you've got a back up plan.

That being said, if I can trade Carrozzi for a Matt Clark or another quality physical two way defender, I consider it. Being able to address a weakness from a strength is something a good GM does. But if we're talking about trading Carrozzi for draft picks or immature roster players, what's the point? Unless Carrozzi brings something back that vastly improves the hockey club now, what's the point of taking the chance that his trade could ultimately weaken the club if Anderson struggles.

Definitely an interesting situation to keep an eye on.