As is the annual practice, it's time for my playoff previews to begin. The OHL regular season wrapped up yesterday and the match-ups are set. Round one is set to kick off Thursday.
Last year I went 10-5 (which is somewhat disappointing to me, coming off a 12-3 record the year prior). Maybe this is the year I go a perfect 15-0?
Here are my thoughts on the opening round:
1. Oshawa Generals vs. 8. Peterborough Petes
Season Series: 6-2 (Oshawa)
Analysis: Division rivals, these two teams are incredibly familiar with each other. As you might have expected, the Generals largely dominated the season series between the two. With their stockpiling at the trade deadline, the Generals are such a deep team offensively. The Petes, a talented young team in their own right, just aren't ready or equipped for this type of test. Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Generals this year has been how good they are defensively. They gave up the fewest goals in the league by a pretty wide margin. Oshawa is just too big, too strong and too deep for Peterborough to handle. Unfortunately, I don't even see Peterborough winning a game here.
Prediction: Oshawa in 4
2. Barrie Colts vs. 7. Belleville Bulls
Season Series: 2-0 (Barrie)
Analysis: These two teams haven't played each other in the new calendar year, if that means anything. On paper, Barrie should probably have little difficulty with Belleville. But, I think this one could be a bit closer than people are suggesting for a couple of reasons. 1. The "hype" factor of this being Belleville's last series. They are going to be amped up to put on (perhaps) a final show for their crowd. 2. Barrie hasn't been playing terrific hockey the last few months. Ultimately, I do see Barrie taking this series though. The Colts' first line is too skilled/quick and I think Mackenzie Blackwood will really step up his game. But don't expect the Bulls to roll over and play dead.
Prediction: Barrie in 6
3. North Bay Battalion vs. 6. Kingston Frontenacs
Season Series: 3-1 (North Bay)
Analysis: No offense to the other series, but I expect this to be the crown jewel of the first round. The reigning Eastern Conference champs take on one of the hottest teams in the entire Canadian Hockey League. The Frontenacs have been a different team since the return of Sam Bennett. Defensively, the Battalion get the edge (especially when you consider Stan Butler's system). In goal, I give the edge to the Fronts with Peressini, who has been sensational this year. Up front, Sam Bennett can obviously be a massive difference maker and he's obviously the best player in the series. But I think the Battalion are a deeper team who's second/third lines are going to be able to score more consistently. This one truly could be a coin flip. My gut says Kingston because of how hot they are. But I'm going with logic and North Bay. I think their deadline acquisitions (Moutrey/Kujawinski) really become critical.
Prediction: North Bay in 7
4. Ottawa 67's vs. 5. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: 3-1 (Ottawa)
Analysis: Ottawa took the season series, but that's skewed because the majority of those games were played in 2014, before the "real" Niagara IceDogs showed up. The only game played in the new calendar year was dominated by Niagara. The real question mark heading into the series is the health of Travis Konecny. He's going to play, but just how effective will he be? I expect this to be a very high scoring series; goaltending fans beware. Ultimately, I think Niagara's depth gives them an edge here. And I think between one of Brandon Hope or Brent Moran, they'll have one netminder elevate their game. Niagara keeps their hot streak going and moves on.
Prediction: Niagara in 6
1. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 8. Saginaw Spirit
Season Series: 5-3 (Sault Set. Marie)
Analysis: Similar to the 1 versus 8 matchup in the East, I don't see this one being much of a contest. The Hounds are fully healthy again and as they proved in their last two meetings, Sault Set. Marie's offence is too much for Saginaw to handle (19 goals in those 2 games). In particular, Nick Ritchie has been on fire lately (goals in 4 straight games) and his presence at the top of his game is critical for the Soo's run through this year's playoffs. Like Peterborough, I don't think Saginaw has the ability to get a single victory here.
Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 4
2. Erie Otters vs. 7. Sarnia Sting
Season Series: 3-1 (Erie)
Analysis: I'm so excited to see how Connor McDavid elevates his game during this year's playoffs. He has answered the bell in every way this year, so you'd have to assume he'll meet his next challenge head on. The Sting will be his unfortunate victim in the first round. In the later rounds, the Otters are going to need Devin Williams to step up, but I don't think Sarnia has the firepower to put a ton of pressure on him this series. Defensively, the Sting will need Jakob Chychrun at full power, but he's been nursing a shoulder injury and won't likely be at the top of his game. For as hard as the Sting battle, they don't have the depth or skill to compete with Erie. I can see the Sting surprising the Otters in one game though.
Prediction: Erie in 5
3. London Knights vs. 6. Kitchener Rangers
Season Series: 3-3 (TIE)
Analysis: This is the reason the Rangers brought in Jake Paterson. To help them steal a series against a somewhat superior opponent. Since coming to Kitchener, Paterson has been sensational (.929 save percentage) and he'll have to continue to be that for the Rangers to have a chance here. For the Knights, they NEED secondary scoring options to step up. It just can't be the Dvorak/Domi/Marner show. If they can get some production from their other lines, they should eventually wear down the Rangers defence and increase the number of quality scoring chances they get on Paterson. Regardless of the outcome, Kitchener's '96-'98 core is going to get the necessary experience to make them a better team next year. Ultimately, I do like London's chances in a seven game series. Their overall skill level should prevail.
Prediction: London in 7
4. Guelph Storm vs. 5. Owen Sound Attack
Season Series: 5-3 (Guelph)
Analysis: I see this one being just as much of a toss up as the North Bay/Kingston series in the East. Two very evenly matched teams duking it out. For Guelph to win, they will need their defence to step up against a hard pressing Attack forecheck/cycle game. The loss of Zac Leslie still seems to be hurting the consistency of the backend's performance. The key to Owen Sound's victory will be in net. Whether it's the gigantic Jack Flinn or the inexperienced Michael McNiven, one will need to be at the top of their game. Otherwise both forward groups possess two quality scoring lines who work hard to wear down the opposition. I'm going with the Attack based on the fact that they are a riding a hot streak into the playoffs and have a better overall defensive unit to fall back on.
Prediction: Owen Sound in 7
So...what do you think? How do you see round one shaking down?