Having only seen these teams a few times this year so far, I decided to catch this one on the Action Pack last night. The game saw the recent return of very important players for both clubs. Jordan Nolan was playing in his second game back after serving a 20 game suspension stemming from an incident involving Plymouth's R.J. Mahalak at the end of last season. Ryan Ellis played in his first game in over a month after suffering a wrist injury. Meanwhile the Hounds were still without the services of forward James Livingston (death in the family) and goaltender Robin Lehner (apparently has H1N1 virus).
After coming away with two wins last weekend, it was a big chance for the Hounds to get back on track and start off this week well. But they came up short. The Spitfires forwards were just too fast and too skilled, causing a lot of trouble for the Hounds defense. Bryce O'Hagan had a very good game in net for the Hounds, as he faced 45 shots, the majority of which were solid scoring chances. I still think that Sault Ste. Marie is a good team in the West and that they'll make the playoffs. But with a young defense (minus the two overagers) and a young roster in general, there will be some bumps along the way.
Some individual thoughts on the players...As always with a Windsor game, it's hard to keep up with the many NHL prospects they have.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Brandon Archibald (2010)
Of the Hounds younger defenseman, Archibald was the best last night. I know that's not saying a lot, but I felt he displayed some things that makes him an attractive NHL prospect. I know every time I've seen him play, I've come away impressed (to differing extents). He made a couple of nice defensive plays on Taylor Hall, staying with him on the rush and forcing him to go outside. For a big guy, he has pretty good mobility. He did get blown by once by Hall though on the powerplay, as he was caught standing still. That's more positionally related though and not necessarily mobility. Offensively, he had his ups and downs. I know he can handle the puck and make a good first pass out of his zone, but he needs more confidence doing it. Towards the end of the game he made a nice pinch and put a good hard shot on net. He's capable offensively, just needs more confidence. I think he's nearly a carbon copy to Matt Clark in Brampton, and we saw how high Clark was drafted in 2009. This leads me to believe Archibald is easily a top 60 selection at this point too.
Daniel Catenacci (2011)
All this kid needs is added strength. He's got all the offensive capabilities you look for. Killer speed, which he used to breakthrough the defense on a few occasions last night. Offensive instincts, he knows where to be on the ice. His all around game is maturing and he's not afraid to take a hit to make a play or go into the corners for a loose puck. He's just missing the strength and conditioning that would allow him to be a dominant offensive force in this league. Because he's not strong enough, he's relying strictly on his speed right now to generate offensive scoring chances. Any time the game slows down, he gets held up by the defense. His shot strength isn't where it needs to be at this point either. Had a few good opportunities coming down the wing, but put a weak shot right into the chest of Passingham both times. By the end of the season, you'll see, he'll be much better and more dynamic, as he gets stronger.
Jordan Nolan (LA)
Didn't take him long to get his game back. He was the Greyhounds best skater in the game. Really the only Greyhound player generating scoring chances (save a few nice plays from Catenacci). His acceleration and first step aren't great, but once he gets going, he's hard to stop. Took the puck to the outside and beat his defender along the wall a couple of times, both leading to eventual scoring chances. On the lone Hounds goal, he made a beautiful pass to a streaking Michael Quesnele on the powerplay. It was a beautiful and hard pass cross ice through two Spits defenders. The only thing he's missing right now is his timing. Had a few good opportunities to score but missed on them as he either failed to get a shot off, or shot it well wide.
Brock Beukeboom (2010)
I like Beukeboom, but he had a terrible game last night. Definitely the worst I've ever seen him play. To an extent, I almost feel like he was exposed a bit too. Greyhounds fans might be able to comment more, but after that hot start, he's really quieted down lately. His mobility and foot speed really got exposed in this game as a weakness. Richard Panik exploded by him twice, once hitting the post, the other time drawing a penalty. On a few other plays, his positioning got exposed as players went by him as he got caught standing around or turning around. He was terrible with the puck too, committing several bad passes. One was inside his own zone as he made a pass to partner Michael Quesnele. The pass was more like a slap shot and Quesnele was nowhere near ready for the speed or inaccuracy of the pass, this lead to a turnover and another post hit by Richard Panik. Towards the end of the 3rd period, he committed an atrocious turnover that lead to a Spitfires 3-0 break and a Taylor Hall goal. As the rest of his team was going off for a change, instead of dumping the puck in, he decided to make a drop pass...to no one. Just a complete brain fart. Definitely not the best game for this 2010 prospect.
Bryce O'Hagan (2010)
I thought he played exceptionally well last night. He has very good goaltending mechanics. Got himself square to the shooter on every play and reads and reacts well to the play, knowing when to challenge the shooter. His rebound control is very strong too and he did a good job of freezing that puck. He really couldn't be faulted on any of the Spitfires goals and did his best to keep his team in the game. After starting the season so well, he's struggled lately on the stat sheet. Hounds fans is this a reflection of his play or on the Hounds defense? On the negative side, he really needs to stop handling the puck. Every time he went out to try and make a play on the puck, he ended up giving it away to the Spitfires. And every time that caused a scoring chance. Stay in your net Bryce!...or keep working on those puck skills (or at least the timing of using them anyway). He made 41 of 45 saves and took the loss.
Taylor Hall (2010)
Just all over the place in this one. After some people criticized him for not really taking a step forward last season (perhaps merited), there is no doubt in my mind that he has this year. His speed and puck carrying ability is second to none in this league. His ability to make plays at his highest speed is his greatest quality. He's really cut down on the turnovers this year too, from what I've seen. In previous years, I found that he could be forced into turning the puck over around the neutral zone, but I haven't been seeing that this year. He's been much smarter with the puck. To open the game he had a highlight reel goal, an NHL quality goal on the powerplay. Cam Fowler hit him with a pass cross ice and Hall unleashed a howitzer on the one timer top shelf. Not even Roberto Luongo stops that one. Gained an assist after making a nice pass to Adam Henrique on a two on one in the third period. Finally, got a late third period goal after stealing Brock Beukeboom's terrible backpass and going in on a breakaway, going five hole on O'Hagan. I think Hall's defensive game has improved by leaps and bounds too, and he's playing effectively on the penalty kill. Not much he can't do right now. Finished the game with 2 goals and an assist.
Ryan Ellis (NSH)
Good to see Ellis back from that wrist injury. He was great in the game. Solid at both ends of the ice, is starting to become a very capable positional defender. Absolutely nailed Daniel Catenacci with a great hit as he tried to gain access over the blueline. Not many guys run a powerplay like this guy too, which everyone knows. His instincts are so strong. I've never seen a defenseman at this level with the ability to keep the puck in the zone that he has. Unless the puck is going 100mph out of the zone, this guy is stopping it at the line. He finished with an assist.
Adam Henrique (NJ)
Had a solid game as always. Brings speed, forechecking ability, hard work and two way play to the ice every game. Made a nice move in close for the 2 on 1 goal with Taylor Hall. Went to the backend and chipped it up over O'Hagan's shoulder. Not much else to say here other than he's turned into one of the more dependable players in the OHL and if I'm picking Team Canada for the WJC's, he's part of my shutdown line.
Cam Fowler (2010)
So much to like about Fowler. That pass to Hall on the powerplay for the one timer goal was a work of art. Hard, through the defense, right on the stick. As I said, that's an NHL play. Defensively, he's solid positionally and uses his mobility to prevent forwards from getting by him. His play along the boards and in front of the net is vastly improving too. On the downside, every time I see him play, he makes at least one boneheaded play with the puck in his own zone. Tonight was a bad pass straight up the middle of the ice from behind his net. It was picked off and created a good shot opportunity on Passingham. Those brain farts really have to improve. He finished with an assist.
Kenny Ryan (TOR)
My first look at Ryan in the OHL and didn't come away impressed. Only one viewing so by no means am I making a concrete assessment of Ryan's future. But he was very sluggish in this game. Hard to tell if it was effort/endurance or skating, but he had a really hard time in getting by the opposing defense (about the only Windsor play who did have trouble). He tried to be active on the forecheck, but was often too slow to reach the puck carrier. Outside of that, he was pretty much invisible. But I've heard some good things out of the folks in Windsor, so I'm obviously going to see him play again. He finished with an assist on the Hall/Henrique two on one goal.
Richard Panik (TBL)
To an extent, I think Panik has been receiving some criticism in Windsor this year. Fans expected more out of him offensively than he's been giving them. Every time I've seen him play, I have come away with something different. The true reflection of an enigma. But he was quite good last night. He hit two posts and had a very nice pass to Scott Timmins for his first period goal. I actually really like his on ice vision as every time I've seen him play, he makes a really nice pass finding a streaking player. Shows good awareness and anticipation of the play. His speed and size makes him difficult to contain too, when he shows the willingness to take the puck to the net. At this point of the season last year, guys like Loktionov and Grachev were enigma's too. For Euro players, it can take time for them to find consistency in the OHL.
Justin Shugg (2010)
Another guy who's been ice cold lately after a hot start. Not going to add much here. Was pretty invisible in the game.
Mark Cundari (STL)
Honestly, the most underrated player in the OHL (I think I say that every time I see Windsor). He's playing with so much confidence right now too. Offensively, he's making the smart play and he's taking good chances with the puck. He's not afraid to pinch in to make a play to keep possession in the offensive end. He does a great job of getting his shot through to the net, and unlike a guy like Cam Fowler, he doesn't feel the need to use a slapper all the time. Defensively, he's a rock. Not a single Greyhound player got by him tonight (OK that's a lie, one did and he took a holding penalty on the play, but it was as he was coming back into the zone on a rush, so technically, the player didn't get by him, he was returning on the backcheck). He's physical, he's smart and he's definitely an NHL caliber prospect. Don't be surprised if he gets an invite to the Team Canada WJC camp with the way he's playing right now.
Harry Young (NJ)
Harry was Harry tonight. Good defensive composure, good for a few hard slapshots on net from the point. Made a really nice defensive play on Jordan Nolan. Nolan got by him on his way to the net, but Young kept his feet moving, engaged physical contact and used his long reach to knock the puck away. If you're a big stay at home defenseman, that's all you can ask for.
Austin Watson (2010)
Had a good game even though he didn't get any points to show for it. I know I keep saying it, but when this guy adds more muscle to his frame, he's going to be an absolute beast. He's already hard for defenseman to contain down low. I like his willingness to take the puck to the net as soon as he gets it on his stick too. He doesn't mess around.
Greg Nemisz (CGY)
Had a very strong game despite not notching any points. In the first period, he had several quality scoring chances. I think his speed has really improved, and he's using his size more to take the puck to the net, rather than being satisfied with being a complimentary offensive player. I don't think he'll ever been a power forward at the NHL level, because he doesn't really hit people or use his size in that way, but as an offensive forward with size and soft hands, he still has a great future ahead of him. If not for a few nice saves from Bryce O'Hagan, Nemisz would have definitely hit the score sheet.
Eric Wellwood (PHI)
Really like him on the wing, where he was playing last night. Definitely one of the fastest players in the OHL, and that causes a lot of problems for opposing defenses. He had a couple of nice rushes with the puck, although nothing really came of them. He was also very good on the penalty kill, as he always is. Before being held pointless in his last two games, Wellwood was on a major tear with 16 points in 9 games. Looks like the Philadelphia Flyers were pretty smart in grabbing him with a draft pick in 2009.
Scott Timmins (FLA)
Timmins has 11 goals in his last 10 games and really seems to be playing with a lot of confidence right now. Showing no hesitation in shooting the puck. In a couple of occasions, he really rifled it just missing the net. Puck was on his stick one second, and to the net the next. No hesitation and that shows confidence. I'm still not sure he's an offensive player at the next level, but he's at least a very strong two way forward who hit the ice for you put in a solid effort. Scored his first period goal off a nice feed from Richard Panik, as he was found cutting to the net across the ice, beating his defender and going over O'Hagan's shoulder (and off the cross bar and then off a Greyhounds defenseman) and in.
Questions and comments are always welcome. Anyone else see the game?