I've been pretty busy lately, but I managed to catch this one on t.v. tonight. I hadn't seen the Otters much at all this year and I never run from a chance to catch Windsor, which made this game ideal for me to watch. It was kind of disappointing though. Not the most exciting OHL game you'll see, at least in my opinion. Windsor came out on top by a score of 3-1, a minimal spread considering their dominance of the game's pace.
Erie was largely kept in the game by the play of their star netminder, Jaroslav Janus. Since his return from the AHL, the team has been playing better hockey (above .500), and with good reason. I'm not sure there's much doubt in the minds of OHL followers about whether Janus is a top 3 netminder in this league. Erie's defense had a lot of trouble containing the speed and physicality of Windsor's forwards, especially down low in the offensive zone, and Janus bailed out his team on numerous occasions. Even with Janus in net, I'm still not sure this team is anything but a bottom seed in the Western Conference playoffs. That is...if they keep Janus. Although trading him could be quite the conundrum because of his unique status in the league (an import and overager).
The Spitfires again showed why they're such a dangerous team. While I felt like a large portion of their forwards tonight did not have their best games (Nemisz, Ryan, Timmins, to name a few), the depth, and quality of depth on this team ensures that they will always be dangerous. If a couple key players aren't performing, need not to worry since there will be about 5-6 others to pick up the slack. I'm really curious to see if this team makes a move before the deadline, especially to shore up their short term goaltending situation.
Some thoughts on individual performances. As always with Windsor, I'm not commenting on everyone because that task would be pretty tedious.
Mitch Gaulton (NYR)
Outside of a bad penalty in the first period, I thought Gaulton played a very solid defensive game tonight. In the first he got beat by Taylor Hall to the outside and was forced to trip him up. But he tightened things up the rest of the game. Had a couple nice plays on forwards as they tried to break in towards the net with the puck, playing the man and not the puck itself. Because of that, Windsor had a hard time creating off the rush when he and partner Tyler Hostetter were on the ice (but not when David Shields was...poor guy). Offensively though, he was absent. The only time I noticed him in the offensive zone was when he made a bad pinch and got caught up ice, leading to an odd man rush by Windsor. I'm wondering where the confident offensive defenseman I saw last year is, the one who looked poised bringing the puck up ice and who was dangerous with his shot from the point. Have injuries derailed his offensive development?
David Shields (STL)
Not to pick on Mr. Shields, but he did not have a good game at all. Windsor forwards ate him up and spit him out all night. In the first, he got beat by Eric Wellwood at the blueline, allowing Wellwood in on a breakaway (which was foiled by Janus). Later in the first, he failed to keep pace with Dale Mitchell as he took him wide and to the side of the net, leading to Eric Wellwood's goal to tie the game at 1. Mitchell picked the puck up near the boards and exploded past Shields as he failed to keep up laterally. This caused Shields to be removed from the play, leaving his partner Paul Cianfrini to cover two Spitfires in front of the net. A tough task and it led to Eric Wellwood's goal in the slot. Later in the game, he tried to keep the puck in at the blueline of the offensive zone, but fumbled it and gave it away to Taylor Hall, leading to another breakaway (again stymied by Janus). Not a bright spot for Shields who finished the game -2.
Tyler Hostetter (PHI)
Was happy to see him sign a contract with Philly after the entry draft, as I was surprised he went unselected. I thought he played a solid game at both ends of the ice and has rounded himself into a very capable two-way defender. Did make a mistake in defensive coverage in the second period though, getting caught in no mans land and leaving Richard Panik wide open for the one timer to the back of the net. Outside of that, he played a quietly effective game and is appeared to be Erie's premier puck rushing defenseman.
Andrew Yogan (2010)
I thought Yogan was OK in the game. While he didn't generate a whole lot offensively (save a nice pass on a 2 on 1 to Jordan Coccimiglio, who was stoned by Passingham), I was impressed by his ability to control the puck along the boards. He's big, he's strong and he's obviously got offensive talent, even if it didn't shine through tonight. I've seen him play better. That being said, I'm still not sure I see him as a top 60 talent for this year's draft.
Greg McKegg (2010)
McKegg was OK too. I thought he was good in the first period, but invisible in the second and third. In the first he was creating off the rush and was one of the few Erie forwards applying pressure to Windsor's defense. He opened the game's scoring with a nice shot from the slot, beating Passingham (who had been taken out of position). McKegg started the play off by getting a good low shot on Passingham through traffic, generating a rebound which Zack Torquato picked up, and then fed back to McKegg for the tap in. I'm still not quite sure where to place him among 2010 eligible players though. With so many talented options available, does he get lost in the shuffle?
Jaroslav Janus (TBL)
Janus, as expected, was outstanding. He kept his team in this game despite numerous defensive gaffs. Stopped two breakaways (one by Wellwood, one by Taylor Hall), showing good flexibility and mobility on both. Stopped a two on one attempt finished off by Scott Timmins by sliding across and getting his body in front of a one timer. Was solid the entire game, challenging the shooter and going down in his butterfly to take away a good portion of the net. Rebound control was solid. Really nothing bad to say. He stopped 46 of 49, but took the loss.
Taylor Hall (2010)
Hall had a good game tonight. His speed and skill in transition was just too much to handle for Erie's defense. Even though he didn't make a large contribution on the scoresheet (a secondary assist), I felt like he was one of the most dangerous players on the ice. On the downside though, he showcased sloppy puck/pass decisions that we were seeing from him last season, and less of this season. I felt like he had really improved his decision making with the puck so far this year, but tonight he looked like Taylor of last year. Dangerous, but also at times a liability as he tried to carry the puck into traffic and as he threw wild blind passes to the center of the ice. Those are the types of plays that turn into turnovers and goals at the NHL level, and it would appear he still needs to work on eliminating those from his game.
Kenny Ryan (TOR)
Still not impressed by Ryan at all. I thought he was completely invisible. If I hadn't have been looking for number 26, I might have forgotten him all together. I still don't think there is any reason to worry yet though. Quite often, in the history of players who've made the mid season leap from NCAA to the CHL, these guys struggle to start as they slowly become adjusted. I think the real test for Ryan will come with so many players away at the World Juniors for Windsor. He'll see a much larger portion of offensive responsibility and I'll be curious to see how he deals with it.
Richard Panik (TBL)
I thought he was excellent tonight. I've heard a lot of Windsor fans talk about their disappointment with him this season but every time I've seen him play, he's been tremendous. Maybe I just keep catching him on good nights. He scored a goal off a nice one timed shot from a bad angle (that he roofed on Janus). He threw a couple really big hits and was a physical force in the corners. I even saw him make a very nice defensive play, as he filled in for a Windsor defenseman who got caught up ice on a bad pinch. Like most Euro players in this league, I think we'll see him get better and more consistent as the season goes along. By the end of the season, I somehow don't think many Windsor fans will be complaining about him anymore.
Mark Cundari (STL)
Another solid game from Cundari. Truthfully, I'm not sure there is a better defensive player in the OHL. If you manage to catch a game where a forward beats him off the rush or out positions him for a puck, write the date down to remember it. Tonight was no different. On the downside tonight, I felt like he was a bit careless in his decisions to rush the puck or contribute offensively. He turned it over twice in his own zone as he tried to carry it up ice, but then got stripped. He had several other good rushes, but he needs to be careful about picking his spots and becoming a bit overconfident in his puck rushing ability. Still finished the game +3 and is still the far and away +/- leader of the OHL. Have I mentioned he's underrated?
Eric Wellwood (PHI)
While I don't think there's a top 6 forward role waiting for him in the NHL, I do think the Flyers were very wise to use a draft selection last year on him. Tremendous speed, and tremendous awareness on the ice. I think he'll end up developing into an excellent third line/penalty killing forward. He's having quite a good season and picked up two points tonight. An assist on Richard Panik's goal, feeding him with a nice pass for the one timer. And a goal off Dale Mitchell's nice feed in the first period, burying one from the slot. Wellwood was named the game's first star.
Dale Mitchell (TOR)
The best player on the ice for me tonight. I thought Mitchell was all over the place. Created off the rush, dominated in the corners, and was pesky in front of the net. It wasn't just David Shields who had trouble with him tonight, it was the entire Otters team. I still don't agree with the decision to send him back to the OHL (because I think he's proved and improved all he can at this level), there is no denying that the Spitfires have to be happy to have him back in the line up. Just another cog in the machine.
Anyone else have thoughts on the game, or questions on players not mentioned (Cam Fowler by the way sat this one out with an undisclosed minor injury).