Even with the Canadian Juniors playing today, I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see the best team in the Western Conference for the first time (live) this year. Just so happens it was a match-up between the top team in the East and the top team in the West. This should have been a battle for the ages...but it wasn't.
I have to say, this was one of the worst OHL games I've been to in my life. No flow to the game what so ever, thanks in part to a total of 17 powerplays (9 for Saginaw, 8 for Mississauga). Just sloppy play, little end to end action and a game where the Saginaw Spirit looked like the much better hockey team.
Granted, the Majors were without captain Casey Cizikas and head coach Dave Cameron, but they looked pretty terrible out there against the best team in the West. While I didn't watch it, I can't imagine their 5-2 loss against Guelph the other night looked a whole lot better. On the powerplay, they couldn't generate anything and were kept completely to the perimeter. In fact, on many of the Majors' 8 powerplays, they were unable to gain possession of the puck in the offensive zone. It was downright ugly. So ugly that frustration caused star forward Justin Shugg to destroy his stick while on the bench after yet another blown opportunity with the man advantage.
The Majors were also unable to generate much in the way of offense 5 on 5. Despite an advantage in shots, I felt like the Majors were vastly outplayed by the Spirit who were able to generate offense from speed and from turnovers that they caused in the offensive zone. Mississauga had few solid scoring chances in the game (a Mika Partanen slapshot down the wing that went off the post, and a couple of chances in the slot), with the majority of shots coming from the perimeter. It was clear, the game plan was just to get pucks on net, but when your opposing goaltender doesn't give up any rebounds (Mavric Parks), that's just not going to cut it. At least get some bodies in front of the net to try and make it more difficult for Parks.
Meanwhile, Saginaw looked pretty good. With the acquisition of John McFarland, they've clearly got a more balanced scoring attack and can roll three lines that can take the puck to the net. The McFarland, Saad, Trocheck line in particular, is incredibly fast and the Majors had trouble preventing them from entering the zone with possession of the puck. And if they couldn't carry the puck across the line, they'd dump it in and use their speed to gain possession.
If I was a Majors fan, I'd be pretty worried (in all honesty). The rest of the league's top teams are either making moves to get better (Saginaw, Niagara, Oshawa), or are looking sharper as the season moves on (Ottawa, Owen Sound, Kitchener, Windsor). Meanwhile, the Majors look to have stagnated a bit. This team needs help. It needs a true powerplay quarterback to improve the team's average at best powerplay. It also needs a few more dynamic offensive forwards that can help push the pace of play and provide a change of pace from some of the team's grinding offensive lines. With an overage spot open, there should definitely be at least one acquisition. And honestly, the team should also jettison Anthony Peters for another overage skater. Yes, he's been a great teammate and provides a veteran presence in case J.P. Anderson gets injured. But it makes no sense to be using a vital overage spot on a back up goaltender who'll see ZERO time in the playoffs when other needs should be addressed.
On to some individual player reports:
#6 - John McFarland (Drafted by Florida in 2010)
I thought he was the best player on the ice for either team today. He looks really good (and comfortable) on the wing with Trocheck and Saad. The ankle looks fully healed now as he was explosive coming down the wing with speed. He had a couple of really nice rushes as he flew down the wing, beat his defender to the outside and went hard to the net. He was also very physical (most physical game I've seen him play) and was very active on the forecheck and in the corners. He scored a goal off a turnover forced by Ivan Telegin. He took the puck, cut to the slot on his backhand, and slid the puck through Anthony Peters fivehole. It's definitely refreshing to see him playing so well in Saginaw, where he can hopefully re-invigorate his promising OHL career.
#10 - Jordan Szwarz (Drafted by Phoenix in 2009)
Szwarz had a very solid game and was named the game's second star. He opened the scoring by deflecting a Ryan O'Connor point shot in front of Anthony Peters. His biggest strength has always been his elusiveness on the ice, as he's a bit like a waterbug out there. He's everywhere and active in all three zones. His speed and ability to create turnovers on the forecheck are definitely strengths. He earned a secondary assist on the powerplay goal by Josh Shalla later in the game, off a nice passing play in the slot. I do question the type of role he'll take on in the NHL though. I'm not sure if he's big enough or skilled enough to take on a top six role in the NHL, which means he might have to add a physical element to his game to succeed in a bottom six, energy role.
#15 - Anthony Camara (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Started the game on a line with Jordan Szwarz and Josh Shalla, but saw some action on other lines too. He wasn't really noticeable, save for a few nice hits and a fight with Gregg Sutch at the end of the game, that left Sutch bleeding (thanks to I believe an inadvertent headbutt).
#22 - Brandon Saad (Draft Eligible in 2011)
The man I was most looking forward to seeing, as this was my first viewing of him live. His performance left me somewhat split. On one hand, I was impressed with his skating ability, which is excellent for a big guy. He nearly broke through the defense twice, but just couldn't get by the last defender after beating the rest of the team. He also clearly is an intelligent goal scorer who knows where to go on the ice and isn't afraid of going hard to the net for a goal. He scored after finding a loose puck in the slot on the powerplay in the second period. But on the other hand, I was left underwhelmed by a prospect whom is getting consideration for the top 5 of the NHL draft. When comparing him to Gabriel Landeskog or even Ryan Strome, he's just not as dynamic of a player, nor does he make as big of an impact on the ice. I stick by my midterm ranking of Saad behind those two guys. Is Saad really not just a bigger, and better skating version of Matt Puempel? Definitely a great prospect, but I'm not sure I'm buying the top 5 or even top 10 hype.
#89 - Vincent Trocheck (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Continues to be a favourite of mine. He's not the biggest, but he's an incredibly effective player. He plays in all situations for the Spirit, including seeing the majority of the penalty killing time for Saginaw. His speed and tenacity away from the puck, make him a very dangerous player despite his lack of size, which is what you want to see from an undersized forward (especially a center). He finished with a secondary assist on Saad's powerplay goal, but he could have had a beautiful primary assist on a John McFarland goal, had John not fanned on it in front of the net. On the powerplay, he deked out a Major defender and feathered a pass to McFarland cross crease for the one timer. He's just a good little player.
#49 - Mavric Parks (Overage Free Agent)
I have to think that this guy is going to get serious pro consideration this offseason. He's not the biggest goaltender (pushing 6 feet), which is probably a strike against him when it comes to NHL interest, but he plays big and comes up with big saves. He's very aggressive in challenging shooters and sees the puck very well through traffic. He's also very good at controlling rebounds and has excellent awareness of the game. The Majors were peppering him with shots from the outside, in hopes of getting a big rebound. But he just wouldn't give any up. He's having his second excellent season in a row for a quality team and deserves to get a pro contract (IMO). He made 33 saves for the shutout victory.
#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Draft Eligible in 2011)
DeMelo has been a rock for the Majors this season and plays with overager Marc Cantin on arguably, the team's shutdown line. He saw a ton of action against John McFarland's line and these two were going at it hard all night. DeMelo put McFarland down hard along the boards in the first. McFarland did the same later in the game. But he didn't have the best of games in the defensive end. His pairing got exposed for three goals against today (two ES, one PP), of which DeMelo looked to be a little overmatched against the speed and creativity of the Spirit forwards. He made a really nice play offensively though, and generated one of the Majors best scoring chances in the game. He kept the puck in at the line by jumping to glove down a lob pass, then deked around a Spirit defender to get himself into shooting position in the slot, but was stymied by Parks.
#4 - Justin Shugg (Drafted by Carolina in 2010)
Shugg was clearly frustrated by his team's lack of drive and ability to produce offensively today. He was trying to do too much out there on the ice, and if he got around the first defender, he'd just keep going with his head down to the net and turned the puck over. He took a couple of tripping penalties in the game too, just being a little too aggressive on the attack. He took his frustration out on his stick after a failed powerplay, destroying it on the bench. The passion is refreshing though, on a day where the Majors looked as flat as a pancake.
#5 - Stuart Percy (Draft Eligible in 2o11)
Percy had a quiet game. I truthfully never really noticed him for the good or the bad. As a defender in a 4-0 loss, that's perhaps a good thing.
#23 - Devante Smith-Pelly (Drafted by Anaheim in 2010)
He's got his entry level contract now, and earned a third star today, but I thought he had a pretty quiet game. I've actually been a little bit underwhelmed by his progression this year as I don't think he's taken his game to that next level yet. He needs to become a more consistent physical threat, and still needs to improve his skating.
#26 - Rob Flick (Drafted by Chicago in 2010)
Flick's had a tremendous season thus far, proving that he's more than just scrappy third line center. He's already eclipsed his career high in goals with 18 (previously 15) and is third on the team in goals. His line with Joseph Cramarossa and Gregg Sutch has really good chemistry and he's done a dynamite job with the team's second powerplay unit. But he was pretty quiet this afternoon, minus a great fight with Ben Chiarot (after Chiarot tried to take off Brett Flemming's head with a forearm check).
#27 - Mika Partanen (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Fresh off being the last cut by Team Finland at the WJC's, Partanen started this game on the Major's first line with Justin Shugg and Devante Smith-Pelly. But like most of the games I've seen, Partanen didn't last until the end of the game on the top unit (getting replaced by Rob Flick in the third period). He did ring one off the post in the first period, firing a slapshot coming down the wing and getting it through Parks but not the far post. But his ice time was severely cut in the third period and the coaching staff doesn't seem to have the confidence to give him serious powerplay time.
Well that's it. Your thoughts?