Nothing like some good ol' Wednesday night OHL action and tonight I was able to catch the Oshawa Generals take on the Belleville Bulls on the Olympic ice surface at the Yardmen Arena.
First time I've seen Belleville this year and the second time I've seen Oshawa. It was a pretty entertaining game, albeit a bit of a sloppy one. The Generals went on to win the game by a score of 5-3 and have now entered into a tie with Kingston and Peterborough for first in the East Division. This was a huge win for Oshawa as they were without their best player, Calvin de Haan, as he was at home due to the death in the family. Oshawa has a really interesting team this year. They've got a lot of heart and spunk. They play the game very hard and they really attack the puck in your end. With no real true offensive stars, they are getting scoring from a collection of players (9 already with 3 or more goals). More interestingly, the Gens have been finding success without good goaltending. With Michael Zador posting back to back good games, perhaps they've found the answer and can really start to go on a bit of a run.
As for Belleville, as expected by many, I think it's going to be a really long year for them. I've read that George Burnett wanted to give it to around the quarter mark of the season before he started to make moves regarding the teams direction this season (for example the trading of players like Shawn Lalonde). Were getting close to around that area and I think Burnett has to be getting a sense that this year might be a bit of a write off. Nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. The high and low runs in the standings from year to year is a natural occurrence in the OHL. The biggest problem for Belleville has been the lack of progress from their younger players. With the exception of a few (Silar, Grubauer, Tipoff), the younger players (1991 and 1992 players) who needed to play larger roles this season have failed in doing so. Stephen Johnston, Luke Judson, Andy Bathgate, Brett Mackie, Cody Alcock, and Scott Howe have combined for a total of 7 goals this year. This has been the biggest reason for the Bulls anemic offense this year (second last in goals per game at 2.8). In a sense, this has to be concerning for Bulls fans because these will be the same players expected to lead the team back to prominence next year. If they fail to show progression this year, who's to say next year will be any different? Maybe these guys just aren't very good. Perhaps early to be making an assumption like that, but Bulls fans, would you be lying if you said that hadn't crossed your mind?
Alright on to the player reports...
Scott Valentine (ANA)
I like what I see from Valentine again. I like his fearless and aggressive play in the defensive end. He needs to be careful with taking himself out of position going for the hit, but he has the skating ability to generally recover. He did a phenomenal job on defense on two occasions. One where the speedy Brett Mackie tried to fly by him down the wing. Valentine stayed with him all the way, guided him to the boards and absolutely obliterated him to the ground, forcing a turnover. On the second play, he recovered from a mistake on the powerplay where he overhandled the puck and turned it over at the line. But he hurried back, caught up to the puck carrier just passed the redline and eliminated him from the puck turning play back up ice for the Generals. This saved a breakaway and showed great determination and skating ability. I also like the way he plays offensively. Quietly but effectively. He's capable of moving the puck up ice, although I'm not sure he's comfortable rushing it up. I like his potential as a quality rugged NHL defenseman. He finished with 2 assists tonight.
Tony DeHart (2010, but 1990 born)
DeHart's point streak to start the season was broken, but he didn't play poorly. Without his DE-fensive partner (see what I did there) Calvin de Haan, he still logged a ton of ice time. He's not really a noticeable guy on the ice and I mean that as a compliment. He doesn't really make mistakes defensively, he's smart with the puck and he does a really good job of quarterbacking the powerplay. He's not going to wow you with an end to end rush, and he's not going to level a guy with a bone crushing hit. He seems to just play a very quiet, but effective game from the back end. With good size, perhaps his level headed game earns him some NHL glares.
Daniel Pachis (2010, but 1991 born)
Once a first round OHL selection in 2007 (by Saginaw), Pachis was considered to have a lot of promise in this league. But then he injured his knee in the 2008 playoffs and missed the majority of last season. Now he's playing for Oshawa and is getting a lot of playing time. As his confidence slowly returns, I think he's going to develop into a dangerous player in this league. Pachis was very strong tonight. Set up 2 goals beautifully tonight and nearly a third. On the first one, he split the Bulls line of defense (skating by Shawn Lalonde, no easy task), and got a shot on net that generated a juicy rebound for Alain Berger, who put it home. On the second goal, he received a pass from Scott Valentine as he skated in full stride, got knocked off the puck but managed to make a beautiful one hand pass to Nick Esposto for the one time goal. On the play that didn't create a goal, he turned Bjorn Krupp inside out on his way to the net and created a scoring chance in close that couldn't be buried. He really seems to have a knack for creativity and playmaking. I'm interested to see how he develops this year after missing so much time in crucial development periods. He finished with 2 assists.
Christian Thomas (2010)
The last time I saw him play I stated that I didn't think he had the goal scoring touch that his father did. I lied. His first goal tonight was a pure goal scorer's goal. Flying down the wing, using the defender as a screen and absolutely roofed a laser of a wrist shot just under the bar. A great shot. Thomas was very solid all night. He's little, but he's got a great center of balance and is really hard to push off the puck. He's always got that motor running too. More and more, he's starting to become a dangerous player every time he's on the ice. Thomas finished with that goal.
Michael Zador (TBL)
After a real tough start to the season, Zador has been lights out lately. In his last three games, he's got a 3-0 record with a .948 SV% and a 1.67 GAA. I'm hoping this is the beginning of a great stretch for Zador, and a great season. He has been inconsistent in the past though. Outside of a really terrible goal by Michael Curtis (on a dump shot from the blueline that went up his stick and into the net), Zador was quite solid tonight. He's a very athletic goaltender who moves very well laterally and is able to make the acrobatic save. He's definitely a pure butterfly goaltender who likes to make the save from his knees. He has some things he needs to work on though at the technical level, and perhaps they help to explain his consistency problems. He gives out a lot of juicy rebounds, of which the Gens defense did a great job of clearing. He needs to do a better job of controlling the puck with his pads and taking it into his body. He also tends to flop a little bit. On the Matt Tipoff goal, Zador was baited to go down with a shot hesitation and Tipoff put it over top of him while he was laying on the ice. There is definitely potential there with Zador though. He made 34 of 37 saves for the victory.
Bjorn Krupp (MIN)
I wasn't surprised to see Krupp fail to get drafted in 2009. I was surprised when he received a contract from the Minnesota Wild at their training camp. I'm sorry, but if this guy's last name wasn't Krupp, he'd be getting no attention (and this coming from a guy who was a huge fan of Uwe growing up). There are three dozen available defenseman in the OHL who are better than Krupp, yet do not have the opportunity he's been presented with. In the first period he coughed the puck up twice in his own zone trying to make a pass over the blueline, and he also got turned inside out by Daniel Pachis on a rush as he got caught playing the puck and not the man. Now granted he settled down in the second and third periods, but he's playing on the third defensive pairing of a rebuilding team and he's got a team low -11 rating. If he's going to continue to struggle with the puck, he's going to have to do a better job of playing defense and taking the man. I just don't see it, but to each their own (or Wild's own since it's obvious 29 other teams didn't see it either).
Shawn Lalonde (CHI)
Do you want the positive or the negative first? How about I combine them? On the positive, few defenders in the OHL can rush the puck up ice like Lalonde. His skating ability and confidence with the puck is tremendous. The thing I've always really liked about Lalonde's game is that he actually makes something of his rushes. It always bugs me when defenders (with Lalonde's skill set) bring the puck effortlessly up ice, but then just dump it in rather than continue over the blueline and help set up shop in the offensive zone. Lalonde has the confidence to continue his rushes. On the negative side, he needs to do it less. It feels like every time he carries the puck up ice, it's like he has to make something of it even if he has to force it. And when he does gain access to the offensive zone, he doesn't return fast enough to the defensive end. He needs to be a lot smarter in making these decisions and realize he's a defender first and foremost. On the positive, his shot from the back end is lethal and creates many scoring chances. On the powerplay especially, he does a tremendous job of getting open to unleash it. Two of Belleville's goals were scored off of Lalonde's point shots tonight. On the negative, he needs to make better decisions with the puck, especially on the powerplay. Because of poor passes or forced attempts, Lalonde's sloppiness led to 3 shorthanded odd man rushes during the game. Luckily enough, none led to goals, however one did lead to a forced penalty by Lalonde in order to prevent a goal and this negated a Bulls powerplay. On the positive, he can be an very effective one on one defender, especially using his speed to stay with forwards. On the negative, he rarely puts himself in position to play defense. On Daniel Pachis' first rush where he broke through the Bulls defensive line, Lalonde was caught standing there watching. Then he failed to hurry back to the zone to pick up the trailer and Alain Berger put in a rebound. Now don't get me wrong, I like Lalonde as a player and a prospect. I think he's just trying to do too much right now with so much talent leaving Belleville this year.
Andy Bathgate (PIT)
Completely invisible in a bad way. Had a hard time handling passes, was failing to win battles in the corners, seemed tentative to enter danger areas. On one occasion he failed to take a pass out of the defensive end, almost because it looked like he was afraid of getting hit (since it was a bit of a suicide pass). But it led to a turnover and a scoring chance for Oshawa. After having trouble with injuries, is it possible he's playing tentative in fear of getting injured again? I generally liked what I saw from him last year, but in tonight's game (and from what I've heard all year) he was quite brutal.
Steven Strong (2011)
A 4th round pick of Belleville in 2009, I liked Strong's game tonight. An averaged sized defenseman, he showed no fear on the ice. He threw a couple nice hits and played a generally very strong defensive game. He looks like he can move the puck up ice too and made smart decisions with the puck. Wasn't really a guy I went into the game looking for, but came out noticing. The only player to finish with a plus rating for Belleville.
Stephen Silas (2010)
If I hadn't made it clear by listing him in my early top 10 for 2010 (as part of my top 30), I'm a big fan of this kid's game. I almost felt bad for him tonight as Lalonde's carelessness with the puck led to several odd man rushes against him, including a 2 on 0 that he had to break up. I think he's the complete package. Defensively, he's very sound positionally. He's not the biggest, but he manages to win all his battles in the corner by gaining position on forwards and getting the puck out. I also like that he's willing to use his body from time to time. He'll catch you with your head down every once in a while, which tells me has a bit of a mean streak. Once he gets stronger, I could see him developing that more at the defensive end. Offensively, he makes the smart play, whether it be a pass or a pinch. I think his pairing with Lalonde has somewhat limited his offensive capabilities in that he's not getting to rush the puck as much as he's capable of. This kid is a star.
Matthew Tipoff (2010, but 1990 born)
About the only Bulls forward creating offense tonight (and pretty much all season it seems). And as he should be, as a late 1990 born playing in his fourth season. If only all of Belleville's forwards had taken the step forward that Tipoff has. He buzzes around the ice, uses speed down the wing to take the puck to the net. He's willing to go to the net for a loose puck and he shows patience and skill with the puck on his stick. Scored a nice goal by out waiting Michael Zador to the ice and putting the puck over top of him. I wonder if he becomes a trade piece for the Bulls, should they decide to fully rebuild. He finished with a goal and an assist.
Philipp Grubauer (2010)
Was impressed by Grubauer tonight. I think he's made some great strides this year and does seem to be playing well. His defense left him hung out to try a lot tonight and he did a good job to keep them in the game. First goal he didn't have a chance on (Thomas'); perfect shot. Second goal was a redirect off his defenseman's back; no chance. Third goal was a juicy rebound off a two on one, but it was an awkward save and his defenseman (Lalonde) didn't pick up the trailer on the play; again no chance really. Fourth goal, a one timer off that beautiful pass by Pachis. That's four goals which he had little chance to stop. He did a good job of controlling his rebounds. He attacks the shooter and challenges them at the top of the blue ice. He's athletic and can go post to post with the splits. I like him and hope that playing on a poor team doesn't hurt his draft standing too much. He stopped 34 of 38 shots and took the loss.
Anyone have any thoughts on the game?