Just how much do the Peterborough Petes miss Ryan Spooner? Since suffering a broken clavicle at the end of January, the Petes are 2-15 without him. Prior to the injury, the Petes were still in the hunt for the coveted East Division title. Now they are clinging to their playoff lives as their losing streak was stretched to 10 games tonight against Ottawa in a 6-4 loss. The Petes had ample opportunity to pull ahead in this game, with several 5 on 3 powerplays, but they just couldn't score with the man advantage and finished the night 1 for 7. With only 4 games left for the Petes, they are only 5 points ahead of Oshawa (who sit 9th), and the Generals have two games in hand. Peterborough really has to pull up their socks.
Now in fairness, when the Petes lost Spooner, they also lost Austin Watson for several weeks to a broken ankle. Watson has since returned, but the Petes continue their losing ways. Having watched tonight's game, it's obvious as to how much the Petes miss Spooner. Not only is he the team's most dynamic offensive player, but he's also very good on the powerplay and five on five he helps to spread out the offensive production; giving Peterborough better depth. With Spooner not expected to return this season, it's completely likely that Peterborough could miss the playoffs all together. However, with Oshawa struggling just as much, I don't see them making up the 5 points at this point. That being said, the likelihood that the Petes finish 8th and earn a date with Barrie in the first round appears very high. And we can assume that would mean a real quick exit and a disappointing finish to what appeared to be a promising season.
As for Ottawa, I'm still not convinced they're going to do much damage in the playoffs. I worry about their goaltending a lot. I worry about their team speed. And I worry about their special teams play (even if it was good tonight). The defense just hasn't been as strong as many had thought it would be and neither Chris Perugini or Petr Mrazek are currently capable of carrying a team in a playoff series...at least in my opinion. Team speed was something that was abused last year against Niagara as the Dogs outskated and outworked the 67's in a first round upset. And everybody knows Scotty Bowman's theory on special teams play and its correlation with a strong playoff performance. A date with Niagara again this year could mean a repeat of last year. And even if the 67's do get out of the first round, I don't see them getting past the second round against (likely) Mississauga, Kingston, or Brampton.
Here are some individual thoughts...
Tyler Toffoli (2010)
This was the best game I've ever seen Toffoli play. I still have some question marks about his game and its transition to the next level, but you can't deny his goal scoring instincts. The puck was magnetically drawn to him tonight. He scored a third period hat trick and added a first period assist too. First goal was off a board ricochet to the front of the net that he buried top shelf over Jason Missiaen. Second goal was generated by a great forecheck from Dalton Smith as he stole the puck, fed it to Cody Lindsay who then threw it over to Toffoli in the slot for the one timer to the back of the net. Hat trick goal was a softie, but the eventual game winner. Toffoli took a puck to the net, threw down a weak backhand that squeaked through Missiaen's five hole. Even in the first two periods when he wasn't scoring, Toffoli was making things happen was constantly dangerous. On the negative side, I still think there has to be some concern over his skating, but being such a smart player certainly helps alleviate those concerns. I'd also like to see him build on his aggressive play. Occasionally he'll throw a big check and look like a pest, but it's not a consistent effort to play in such a manner. I'm starting to see a lot of similarities between Toffoli's and Corey Perry's game at the same age. Both had similar concerns about skating and the transition of their offensive skills to the NHL level. Perry certainly developed well and if Toffoli could harness that aggressive nature in a more consistent way, he'd be just as an effective junior player too.
Anthony Nigro (STL)
Nigro had a quiet game. Wasn't really noticeable save a nice pass to a streaking Ryan Martindale for the first Ottawa goal. The Martindale, Nigro, Cowick line was pretty quiet all night.
Julien Demers (SJ)
Demers was Demers. Not really the type of defenseman you notice unless you're strictly watching for his number. He makes generally smart decisions with the puck and is pretty solid defensively (although I still wonder what happened to the hard hitting Demers we once knew). My concern is that he hasn't really progressed over his OHL career. His mobility is still a concern defensively as faster players can get around him one on one. At the next level, I'm just not sure what role he plays either. Is he good enough offensively to carry production over to the next level? Is his defensive game good enough should the offensive production not carry over? Questions, and I'm sure the same ones San Jose are asking themselves as they decide whether or not to sign Julien.
Corey Cowick (OTT)
Cowick was probably the least visible of his line (Martindale, Nigro) and really didn't have a stand out game.
Dalton Smith (2010)
Smith is just a really solid hockey player. He's the type of player NHL scouts love and I'm sure he'll have a very strong playoffs for Ottawa. He had an excellent game tonight. Smith finished with a goal and an assist, but was all over the ice all night; forechecking and playing at both ends of the ice. His goal gave Ottawa a 2-1 lead in the first period, as he took a long rebound off a Tyler Cuma shot and buried it past Jason Missiaen on a bad angle. His assist was more impressive as he beat Jeff Braithwaite to a loose puck dump in, used one hand to keep Braithwaite from the puck, and the other hand to make a pass to Cody Lindsay who in turn gave it Toffoli for the goal in the slot. The skating, I think, has improved over the course of the season and will only continue to get better. Smith is a player and deserves to be receiving more attention than he is for the 2010 Draft.
Tyler Cuma (MIN)
Cuma didn't play a bad game. He was relatively solid defensively, save a couple dumb penalties. He looks improved offensively since the beginning of the season, making a few nice rushes into the offensive zone and doing a good job of running the point in the zone, getting pucks on net. But I still can't help but feel underwhelmed. As a first rounder, the expectation needs to be higher. I also just can't help but remember the Cuma previous to his knee injury, the one who was developing into a dynamic player at both ends of the ice. Maybe that comes back, maybe it doesn't. Either way, I think he's further away from NHL duty than Minnesota might like to admit.
Ryan Martindale (2010)
Had the strongest game of his line (Nigro, Cowick), as he looked poised to take the puck to the net and does a good job of using his size to his advantage offensively. Scored a nice goal by accepting a pass full stride from Anthony Nigro, cutting toward the middle of the ice and throwing it over Jason Missiaen's shoulder, not on the first try, but on the second as he whacked the puck out of the air as he skated by his own slight rebound. Like Toffoli and Smith, skating is a concern, in particular his ability to accelerate and play in transition, but I too think it can be improved to the point where it will no longer be a flaw.
Jeff Braithwaite (2010)
He kind of had a difficult game, but I see aspects of his game that make me think he's capable of more than he's giving this season. He made two bad plays on back to back shifts that just killed Peterborough. First was miscommunication with his goaltender as he got the puck caught under his skates as the two met behind the net to determine who would play it. Instead a turnover occurred that ended with a Tyler Toffoli goal. Seconds later, Braithwaite was beaten to a dump in by Dalton Smith and muscled off the puck as Smith partially set up Toffoli's second goal. Even though Braithwaite ended up finishing -4, I felt like he didn't play THAT poorly (save those two boneheaded moves). There is a lot to like. He's got decent size. He can skate quite well and has generally good mobility. He ran the point pretty well on the second powerplay unit and was doing a good job of getting his shot through to the net. He made a nice defensive play on Toffoli's 3rd goal, but a bit of bad luck cost his team the victory. He used his stick to deflect a cross ice pass that would have resulted in the game winning goal anyway, but instead tapped the puck to a wide open Toffoli who beat Jason Missiaen on the backhand. I think Braithwaite is capable of more.
Austin Watson (2010)
I think Watson played a pretty good game. As the game went along, he got better and better. It'll be interesting to see where he goes in this year's draft. He's already a tremendous player without the puck. He is very good defensively, in the corners and on the forecheck. He blocks shots and does all those little things that are so important. Just back from a broken ankle (due to blocking a shot at the Prospects Game), Watson had a couple big shot blocks in the third period to keep his team in the game. Offensively, he's inconsistent. One shift, he looks confident with the puck and in finding offensive space. The next he looks almost lost. Scored his goal by going hard to the net and finishing off a pass from Pat Daley from behind the net. Watson added an assist on Daley's powerplay goal earlier in the game too. As a good skater and an offensive project, is Watson the OHL's version of Colton Gillies, the former Wild first rounder?
Matt Puempel (2011)
The first thing I need to learn how to do is spell his last name correctly every time I write about him (which is only going to be increasingly more often). Puempel was Peterborough's best forward tonight and is a tremendous contributor for a 1993. He's producing offensively, despite clearly lacking the strength to as dominating as he could be. He wants to take the puck hard to the net and win battles in the corners, but he's just not strong enough to do that at a consistent rate. Instead, he utilizes open space and capitalizes quickly before the defense can react. Scored a nice goal after taking a drop pass from Jamie Doornbosch, waiting out Chris Perugini and then going high over his right shoulder with a powerful wrist shot. Puempel is not only going to be the only 1993 to score 30 goals (one off the mark), but he could very well be the only 16 year old to score 20 (with Boone Jenner and Michael Curtis at 18). No offense to Jenner, but the Rookie of the Year is going to come down to Puempel or Kitchener's Ryan Murphy.
David Quesnele (2010)
Not sure what happened to the guy I was so impressed with earlier in the year, but Quesnele hasn't even registered a point in like 25 games. Bad luck or just poor play? He looked half decent tonight and generated a few scoring chances by bringing speed into the offensive zone, but NHL scouts look at production too.
Adam Sedlak (2010)
Such an inconsistent and frustrating player. Sedlak clearly has talent. He can skate the puck out of the zone, he can make a good play defensively and he's got a big shot from the point. But something is missing; something preventing him from putting it all together as a late birthday 1991. He had a terrible turnover that lead to Ottawa's first goal by Ryan Martindale, as he skated the puck right into coverage with his head down and got stripped by Anthony Nigro. But he also made a strong defensive play by breaking up a 2 on 1 by sliding to prevent a pass for the open net goal. On the downside, he seems to get outworked in the corners and had trouble in defensive zone coverage. For a more offensive defenseman, he also struggles with the outlet pass. He seems much more comfortable skating the puck out of the zone and is prone to turnovers when attempting to pass out. Depending on whether he can find an NHL team who believes in his tools, he may or may not get drafted.
Jason Missiaen (MTL)
To sign Jason Missiaen or not to sign him, that is the question the Montreal Canadiens are asking themselves. On one hand, Missiaen can take away the bottom of the net quite well because he's so large and has shown an ability to steal games in the past. But on the other hand, he continues to struggle with his positioning in the net and is prone to over committing or reading the angle poorly. Two of tonight's goals against fall into those categories; the Dalton Smith 2-1 goal, and the Tyler Toffoli game winner. However, even though his numbers haven't been sparkling, he's been one of the busiest goalies in the league. If they have the room under the 50 contract limit, I think they'd be smart to sign him still. He's still a project, but if they can get a goaltender coach to work on some of the more technical aspects of the game, they could have a solid goalie on their hands...which I think was the plan all along for Missiaen. He made 32 of 37 saves and took the loss.
Thoughts on tonight's East Division rivalry game?