Welcome to the month of November folks. Hope you remembered to set your clocks back an hour! Otherwise you could have missed part of a close game between the Brampton Battalion and Plymouth Whalers. The Battalion came into the game on a four game losing streak and are fighting to stay out of the Eastern Conference cellar. Meanwhile, the Whalers are one of the better teams in the Western Conference. One might have pegged this one to get ugly, but the Battalion played very solid. Their top defensive pairing of Matt Clark and Ken Peroff did an extraordinary job against Tyler Seguin and the Whalers top line today, holding Seguin pointless.
Brampton definitely is not the most skilled team in the league, look no further than their second worst goal per game rate in the league. But they work hard and they are incredibly disciplined (least penalized team in the league). Just because they don't take penalties, doesn't mean they aren't physical and in your face either. They hit you hard, they forecheck you hard and they do an excellent job of taking away space from offensive players in the defensive end. Brampton was also without defenseman Cameron Wind (flu), which really hurt their transition game and their powerplay, but they persevered through it and came out with a 3-2 victory over Plymouth. This was in thanks to two third period goals from Sam Carrick and Barclay Goodrow.
Plymouth just couldn't get anything going today. The Battalion defense smothered them. Getting talented overager Ryan Hayes back recently is a huge boost to this club offensively, as is the addition of Josh Brittain. But the Whalers are still missing R.J. Mahalak (shoulder injury) and can now A.J. Jenks to the injury list as he broke his hand in a fight last week. Once the Whalers get both of these guys back (probably by December), they should become a really tough team to beat because they'll be able to ice multiple, veteran scoring lines. Right now, their offense really seems to rely on Tyler Seguin and whatever line he ends up playing with. If he gets shutdown, they seem to really struggle. When Seguin is held to one point or less, they are 2-6 this year. The rest of the offense needs to step up if the opposing defensive unit smothers the Seguin line like it did today in Brampton. Part of the loss can be attributed to goaltending for the Whalers today too, as back up Scott Wedgewood was shaky. Gave up a weak goal, and a ton of bad rebounds. The Whalers defense actually did a good job of bailing Wedgewood out on many occasions by preventing rebounds from being scooped up by Battalion forwards.
Enough rambling, on to some individual performance thoughts...
Colin MacDonald (2010)
Never really noticed him in my previous viewing of the Whalers this season, but tonight he stood out. Big defender, good reach and seems to play a really smart defensive game. He did a good job of getting the puck out of the corners and up ice and he seems to have fairly good mobility for a big defender. Wasn't really a factor offensively, but did a good job with the puck in his own zone and made smart passes. I also liked his willingness to clear the front of the net, although he wasn't as physical in the open ice or in the corners as I like to see from my 6'3 defenseman. Austin Levi may be getting all the attention right now, but perhaps MacDonald is the guy we should be paying attention to. Finished the night +2 (only Plymouth defender to finish with a plus rating).
Austin Levi (2010)
When I saw him earlier this season, I came away very impressed. But today he was not good. Got caught standing around watching the play too many times and was not able to win the puck battles in the corner. He was also really soft on the puck in his own zone and became a victim of the Brampton forecheck a few times. While his mobility is fairly good for a guy his size, he needs to keep his feet moving. Got blown by at the blueline by Stephon Thorne, leading to a 2 on 1 chance for Brampton. He did see some time quarterbacking the powerplay though and looked OK doing it, although his passes need to be crisper. A lot of times I saw him trying to pass the puck with one hand firmly on his stick. Those soft push passes won't cut it in the OHL, let alone the NHL. He finished a team worst -3, however I will say that he wasn't really at fault on any of the goals. Is Levi an NHL prospect, or just your average OHL defender? I'm not going to base my judgment on two viewings this season, but I'd be curious on your opinion.
Tyler Seguin (2010)
Didn't have all that great of a game. He was trying, but he just couldn't get things to click, partly because of the great job Clark and Peroff did on him. He tried to get by Clark a few times, but each time Clark did a great job to stay with him and keep him to the perimeter. On the first Brampton goal by Thomas Stajan, Seguin was to blame. Turnover in the offensive end thanks to a bad pass by Seguin to the middle of the ice, then a breakout the other way finished by Stajan after Seguin failed to get back in time to check him. This lapse is a rarity for Seguin and is the type of play that happens to the best of offensive players as they try to make something happen in the offensive zone. On a few occasions when the Clark duo didn't get out against him, he actually made some things happen and had a few nice rushes towards the net. But he didn't get a lot of help from his linemates, Josh Brittain and Garrett Meurs. Didn't appear to be a lot of chemistry between the trio. All in all, nothing to get worked up about. Tyler Seguin is a great player, although I'm not ready to name him the top draft player yet (over Hall) like some scouting agencies appear to be doing.
Beau Schmitz (2010, but 1991 born)
Was Plymouth's most effective defender today IMO. Played a tremendous defensive game. Brampton forwards continuously tried to get by him on the rush, failing every time. He's not afraid to get physical either, rubbing out a few of those aforementioned rushers, or pushing them hard into the end boards. Even though he's not the biggest defender, his positioning helps him win battles against bigger players. I'd really like to see him take more chances offensively though, as he's a capable puck rusher, but seems to rarely do it. I was really surprised he went undrafted last year, and I'll be equally surprised if someone doesn't take him this year, or at least sign him to a contract at training camp.
Jamie Devane (TOR)
I don't want to say he was completely useless today, because he did some good work on the penalty kill. But he certainly wasn't much of a factor otherwise. For a big guy, he seems really weak on the puck. Whenever the puck hit his stick, he seemed hesitant to carry it. Made a couple bad dumps where he tried to deflect the puck to a teammate and ended up icing it. Also had a delay of game penalty for chipping it over the glass. Really seems to struggle with receiving the puck at his top speed. When he did have the puck in the offensive zone, he was very soft on it and he didn't use his size to protect it. Even some of the better enforcer/pest prospects like Zac Rinaldo have the ability to take the puck to the net at this level. He did make one nice finesse play, where he eluded a stick check of a defender at the side of the net and ended up with a scoring chance, but he couldn't get much on the shot. Also on the downside, he wasn't physical at all really. If you're not going to be a factor offensively, I'd like to see him aggressive on the forecheck and in the corners. But he wasn't. I didn't see what Brian Burke and the Leafs were seeing last year when they drafted him high, and I still don't. But then again, he is a "project" pick. Maybe he just needs more time.
Michal Jordan (CAR)
Was not strong in this game at all. His terrible give away to Sam Carrick leading to the third period tying goal was a huge mistake. He cut out from behind the net and skated right into Carrick. Clearly didn't have his head up looking for the forecheck. Carrick stole the puck and roofed it on Wedgewood. This was one of several turnovers with the puck for Jordan today. It's almost as if he doesn't look ahead to where he's putting the puck or carrying it. Defensively, he's way too soft too. While he can be an effective positional defender at this level, his inability to win battles in the corners or tie up bigger forwards in front of the net spells trouble for the next level. I'm just not sure what his role would be at the NHL/professional level. Is he good enough offensively (in terms of instinct) to be an offensive puck rusher? Is he good enough defensively to be a capable two way blueliner? I just don't know.
Josh Brittain (ANA)
Different team, same Josh Brittain. A handful of great shifts where he uses his size, takes the puck hard to the net, creates scoring chances and is a huge factor. And then the rest of his shifts he's invisible. Good to see that the change of scenery hasn't helped him be more disciplined either. I'd say he's pretty close to being nicknamed "The King of the Offensive Zone Penalty." Not exactly something you want to be known for, as nothing kills momentum for your team more. Today's was a retaliation cross check in front of the net. If someone could ever harness his ability and get him to play with more consistency and desire, he'd be a heck of a player. Otherwise, he's destined to play out his ELC (if he's lucky enough to get one) and fade off into minor league obscurity.
Matt Clark (ANA)
As I stated, Clark was simply outstanding today. Completely shut down Tyler Seguin. Showed great mobility in staying with him and keeping him to the outside on his rushes. He has the ability and size to play the man hard and he does a good job of pushing around opposing forwards in the crease. And although he didn't today, he's always a candidate to lay a big open ice hit. He's very underrated offensively too. He'll never be a big time point producer, but he's smart with the puck and has the ability to run the powerplay effectively because of this. I think with time and confidence, he could actually become an effective puck carrier too, even though I think he's pretty OK with being more of a stay at home defender. He did have a tough time getting his shot on net from the point though...missing three times in a row wide on one powerplay. I'm hoping he gets an invite to the Team Canada WJC camp. His mobility and defensive ability would be a huge asset to the team in a third pairing role.
Philip Lane (2010)
Had a really tough game offensively. The puck would not settle down on his stick. Had a number of good opportunities, but just couldn't hold on to the puck. BUT, the promising thing for me was that as frustrating as his offensive inabilities had to be for him, he didn't let it affect his game. He continued to put pressure on the puck carrier as a forechecker; he continued to try and take the puck hard to the net (drew two penalties); and he continued to battle hard in the corners. I think that really shows a high level of maturity on his part. I continue to believe that once he adds more strength, he's going to be an absolute beast at this level.
Sam Carrick (2010)
I think Carrick has a lot of skill, more so than he's getting credit for. Originally I saw him as another Jay McClement/Ryan Oulahen Battalion two way center, but I think there is a lot more natural offensive talent there than perhaps we're seeing. If he had some other naturally talented offensive players (instead of the hard working, persevering types he's surrounded be) to work with, I think we'd be seeing a lot more from him. He seems to have a real nose for the puck and I really like his solid two way game. His strip of Michal Jordan and subsequent roof job on Wedgewood showed great offensive talent. Quickly becoming somewhat a favourite of mine for 2010.
Patrick Killeen (PIT)
Killeen has kind of changed his goaltending style a bit this season. He's playing less of the traditional butterfly and more of a stand up style in order to use his size more. But he's still vulnerable to the top half of the net because his reaction time and aggressiveness in challenging shooters is still a work in progress. First Plymouth goal was a bang-bang play, as Stefan Noesen stole the puck from behind the net and passed it to Joe Gaynor who roofed it on Killeen. The second goal was off a broken play that found Myles McCauley who put it past Killeen as he tried to react and get over to the other side of the net. He does have good mobility for a big goaltender and his rebound control is improving (even if it's a bit of a weakness in itself). I still wonder if he gets a contract from Pittsburgh though, although the Pens lack of depth in the professional pipeline could work in his favor. He made 18 of 20 saves and picked up the victory.
That's it for tonight, anyone else with thoughts or question?