Tonight saw match up number 2 from my 10 Match-up's you've got to see this year, as the London Knights traveled to Windsor to take on the Spitfires. Two teams with a lot of fire power, I expected a bit of a "shoot-out." What I got was a hard fought, back and forth game that ended in a 2-0 victory for the Spitfires. The goaltending at both ends of the ice was tremendous, especially Michael Hutchinson who really kept London in the game.
London was largely snake bitten on the night. They created a lot of scoring chances, but failed to finish any of them off. Part of it was solid goaltending from Troy Passingham and part of it was just a failure of the Knights main offensive weapons to put the puck in the net. London had 33 shots on net, but they could have easily had 10 more. So many good scoring opportunities were wasted by players who couldn't get the puck off their stick, or corral a rolling puck.
The biggest surprise of the night was the fact that these two teams combined to go 0 for 14 on the powerplay. Some really good penalty killing by both sides and, as mentioned, solid goaltending.
With so many guys to write about, I'm going to keep some of the reports brief. This will be especially true for those players who really didn't do a whole heck of a lot. My thoughts on both sides...
Phil Varone (SJ)
I really expected Varone to come roaring out of the gates this year offensively. It's his third full year in the league as a veteran 1990 born player, and he's coming off an excellent 2009 playoff performance. But thus far, it just hasn't happened and at this point, you might have to consider the fact that it might never happen. It's not a direct criticism of him, but maybe he's just not as offensively talented as we once thought. He's still a dynamite penalty killer, and he skates hard on the forecheck. He had a breakaway with less than 2 minutes left, but couldn't beat Passingham. That would have been a huge goal for London. He looks like he could be a potential 4th line energy player and penalty killer at the NHL level, but I'm really not sure he's got the offensive potential to be more than that.
Zac Rinaldo (PHI)
Dare I say Rinaldo was London's best forward tonight? I remember having a debate with someone last season about Rinaldo's offensive potential in this league. I really didn't think he had the skill to develop into a scoring option the way other "scrappers" have in their veteran seasons. I must admit, I was wrong. He was dynamite tonight. On the penalty kill, he was a force. His forechecking really disrupted the ability of Windsor's defenseman to move the puck up ice. Offensively, he looked like a man possessed, taking the puck to the net and showing some really good puck control. On one occasion he got Ryan Ellis to bite on the fake and walked right around him to the net. Only an Ellis hook prevented Rinaldo from putting a good shot on net. Most importantly, he was disciplined and didn't take any bad penalties, while still playing his in your face style. He's really developing into a quality professional hockey league prospect.
Phil McRae (STL)
Still goalless on the season, it's easy to see why after this game. He's really pressing out there. Was not sharp tonight. Had two glorious opportunities at the side of the net after good cross ice passes, and both times he failed to even get a shot off, as he fanned on them. Outside of that, he just wasn't creating much offensively on his own accord either. The Knights really need him to step up his game.
Nazem Kadri (TOR)
Kadri didn't really have a good game. He was largely neutralized by Mark Cundari, who did a great job of getting in his face. Through the first half of the game, even though he was invisible, he did a good job of keeping his composure and sticking to the game plan. But, in the second half, it was obvious he was getting frustrated. Turned the puck over in the second period along the wall, as he tried to carry it out himself. This indirectly led to the Justin Shugg goal. In the third period, he really started to force things and turned the puck over terribly twice in a matter of minutes. As much as he's capable of doing great things, he needs to be less predictable with the puck. Windsor's forecheck and defenders really started pressuring him and he did not respond well. In a big game like this one, London needs Kadri to play better.
Jared Knight (2010)
At this point, I'd say the only thing preventing Jared Knight from making a bigger impact in the league is consistency from shift to shift. He needs to figure out a way to bring energy to the ice every time he steps on it, rather than just on a few shifts. On the couple shifts he was visible, he was hitting hard, causing turnovers and creating offensive chances from the cycle. But on his other shifts, he was invisible.
Michael Hutchinson (BOS)
The best goaltending performance I've seen so far this season. I'd be surprised if one of his two brilliant saves didn't make next week's Top 5 plays of the week. In the first period, the left handed goalie slid across the crease robbing Adam Henrique point blank with his blocker after a juicy rebound (Clip, 20 second mark). In the third, he threw on his glove going the opposite direction, taking an easy goal away from a Spitfire player. All night, he fought through screens and did a great job of making the save and controlling the rebounds. His composure was tremendous. He's also tremendously athletic and reads the play very well. Unfortunately for him, the black mark on his performance was Richard Panik's game winning goal. On the wrap around, he failed to get his paddle down and Panik slid it under him. Definitely one he'd love to have back, but it doesn't take away from his brilliance tonight. He made 41 of 43 saves, taking the loss.
Taylor Hall (2010)
Truthfully, he had a bit of a quiet game. His line with Richard Panik and Adam Henrique was not as dangerous as the Greg Nemisz, Scott Timmins, and Justin Shugg line. While he didn't really stand out offensively, on the plus side he did do a solid job on the penalty kill and I'd say his two-way game is starting to greatly improve. Just an interesting observation, but Taylor Hall has 17 points in 9 games. All of those points have come in 5 games, with him being held pointless in the other four. Windsor fans who've seen him more often this season, would it be correct to say he needs to find a way to make an impact offensive every game?
Ryan Ellis (NSH)
I thought Ryan Ellis played a very solid game tonight. I think he's really starting to prove those doubters wrong about his ability to play five on five at the next level. He is still learning though, but in a positive way. As an example. Tonight he bit on a fake by Zac Rinaldo, went for the puck and Rinaldo went right around him to the net. He was forced to take a penalty to prevent the goal. Not a good play and a situation where he's got to play the man regardless of whether Rinaldo has the size advantage on him. Fast forward to the third period, Rinaldo goes in on a drive towards the net, tries to use his size to go right around Ellis. Ellis has absolutely none of it, stays with him, pushes him off the puck and puts him to the ice. It's impressive for him to show, "Hey I messed up the first time, that won't happen again." Of course, offensively he was Ellis. Controls play and makes decisions with the puck that few do.
Adam Henrique (NJD)
Didn't really do much tonight. Simply a quiet game from him. But I do like him as a player.
Cam Fowler (2010)
I couldn't wait to get a peak at Fowler. First time I've seen him play in the OHL (although had seen him play in international tournaments). I thought he played O.K. Some really positive things, and some negative things. First the positive. I thought he did a very good job defensively tonight. He stays with his man and does a good job with coverage. He's also obviously an elite puck mover and seems to have very good offensive instincts. When to join the rush or make a pinch. He actually had a breakaway after pinching and stealing the puck from Steve Tarasuk, but fanned on the attempt on net, failing to get a shot off. On the negative side, for an offensive defenseman, he needs to do a way better job of getting the puck on net from the point. If you look at a guy like Ryan Ellis, he seems to find a way to get his shot on net every time. However, I'm not sure Fowler got his on net once. They were either blocked (for the majority) or shot way wide. He doesn't have to wind up for that big slapper every time. Also on the negative, he needs to take care of the puck better in his own end. I'd read that Windsor fans we're seeing this too. He had two bad giveaways in his own end that resulted in scoring chances for London. The potential is obviously there though, especially in terms of developing into an elite two-way defender.
Saverio Posa (2010)
I've had a fair amount of people ask me about him, and now I can at least tell them I've seen him once. I liked what I saw. He seems very composed on the back end. Did a good job of keeping the puck in the offensive end. Got an assist on the Richard Panik goal by doing just that. Didn't make any glaring defensive mistakes. For the amount of ice time he got, I thought he made a good impression.
Richard Panik (TBL)
Seems to be a bit of an enigma. He had two very good shifts, but outside of that he was relatively invisible. On one of those shifts, he managed to score the game winning goal on a wrap around. He fought off the London defenseman and took it right to the net. On another shift, he showcased some elite puck skills, getting around a couple London defenders before being stopped and stripped of the puck. On those same shifts, he was all over the ice too. He made a nice play on the backcheck to break up a London rush, before going in on the aforementioned rush of his own (where he went around two London defenders). At this point, it seems all about being able to put it together for the full 60 minutes.
Justin Shugg (2010)
Quite possibly the best Windsor forward tonight. Really liked what I saw, and I think it's great seeing him take that step forward this year after coming into the league with a fair amount of hype. He was very dangerous on the forecheck and was forcing turnovers. The turnovers came as a result of winning battles in the corner and showed a bit of a grit side to his game. He also showed a lot of skill. Made an outstanding pass to Taylor Hall on the powerplay in the first period; tape to tape cross ice. But Hall was robbed by Hutchinson as he slid from post to post. On his goal, he made a very nice deke on Hutchinson and slid it by him on the forehand. I hope he keeps up the solid play.
Mark Cundari (STL)
Honestly, one of the most underrated players in the league. If this guy were on any other team, he'd be on their top defensive unit. He did an outstanding job shutting down Nazem Kadri all night, getting in his face and taking away his space. He was throwing hits all night. Offensively, his pass to Justin Shugg for the second Windsor goal was excellent. He recognized the wide open Shugg in front of the net and hit him perfectly with the puck between the London defense. He earned another assist on the Panik goal. I obviously really like him as a player. On the slightly negative side, he does have to watch the undisciplined penalties though.
Harry Young (NJ)
Truthfully, if he hadn't of mixed things up with Zac Rinaldo at the end of the second period, I'm not sure I would have noticed him on the ice at all. Perhaps that's a good thing for Young though. Playing that quietly solid defensive game.
Austin Watson (2010)
Offensively, he didn't do a lot for me. In all other areas, he was an absolute stand out. Was absolutely tremendous on the penalty kill. He anticipates the play really well and did a great job of disrupting the London rush into the zone. He was also very physical, eager to throw his weight around. I love to see that in players his size. Had a few nice attempts to take the puck hard to the net and made a really nice play to keep the puck in the zone on the Panik goal (earning a secondary assist). But I like the intangibles.
Greg Nemisz (CGY)
I like Nemisz as a player. He was good tonight. Controls play in the offensive zone by using the cycle, obviously has soft hands (especially for a big man). He's not afraid to take the puck to the net, often using his size to shield the puck. Just a solid all around offensive game. I also liked what I saw in terms of using his size more. I've never really seen him be a physical presence before, but he laid a few nice hits tonight. Perhaps it's the start of a good new habit. My only concern is to what role he plays at the NHL level, since I don't see him taking the physicality to the next level. Could he be the next Eric Daze, and will Calgary fans forgive him for having size, but being more of a finesse player?
Eric Wellwood (PHI)
Liked what I saw from Wellwood tonight. He really is the opposite of his brother Kyle. He skates well, he's an excellent two way player and he has a level of grit to his game. Seems to be one of those guys who's always got his motor running and who skates hard. This allows him to excel on the forecheck and on the penalty kill. I'm not sure he has a whole lot of offensive potential at the NHL level, but he could definitely develop into a quality role player.
Jesse Blacker (TOR)
Outside of a few nice rushes with the puck, he wasn't noticeable tonight. He's gotten off to a bit of a slow start offensively this year. I definitely expected him to explode a little bit, since I really liked what I saw last year. Perhaps he's still feeling a little trapped by the fact he's surrounded by so many talented offensive defenseman. The fact that he was quiet though, tells you he didn't make any glaring mistakes defensively.
Scott Timmins (FLA)
Timmins plays a quietly effective game. Smart with the puck, solid at both ends of the ice, wins battles in the corners. He's definitely not flashy, but he has a certain calmness to his game. I'm still not sure what the future holds for him at the next level though.
Troy Passingham (2010, but 1990 born)
Boy, if this kid keeps playing like this, Windsor won't need to go out and get another goalie. He was outstanding tonight. It's funny, but because of his size, he looks kind of unorthodox in his movements. His saves weren't necessarily pretty, but he got the job done. His breakaway save on Phil Varone with 2 minutes left in the game was huge. Stuck the pad out after flashing the low corner to him. He did a very good job of controlling his rebounds too. Colour me impressed! Passingham made 33 saves for the shutout victory.
Well that's it. Some of the reports were a little short winded, so if you have any other questions, feel free to post them. And as always, if you've got any additional comments, I welcome them.