Wednesday, April 6, 2016

2016 OHL Playoff Predictions: Round Two

6-2 after the first round (was wrong on Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie), it's time to take a look at the match-ups for the second round.

Eastern Conference

1. Kingston Frontenacs vs. 4. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: 3-1, Kingston
Analysis: The Fronts have owned the Dogs, not just this year, but the last two years in the regular season (going 7-1). With the playoff series monkey off their back, Kingston should be a more relaxed team moving forward. Meanwhile Niagara was outplayed through many stretches of their series with Ottawa, but moved on thanks to the tremendous goaltending of Alex Nedeljkovic. The goaltending match-up should be a great one. Nedeljkovic will have to be even better in this series for Niagara to earn the win. And Jeremy Helvig is the likely starter after taking over the starting role in round one. He was sensational in the regular season versus Niagara (3 wins and a .967 SV%). When we breakdown the other components, they're also incredibly equal. Veteran talent at forward and on defence. I will say that Niagara is going to need more from their 2nd and 3rd lines in this series, because Kingston has both their 1st and 2nd lines rolling right now. I think one other major factor is the difference in the way both team's defences play. Niagara's defence takes chances offensively and play a higher risk game, where as Kingston uses a strong team defence approach and sees less mistakes from their backend. This is a tough one for me to predict. On one hand, I could see Nedeljkovic stealing another series. On the other hand, I look at the defensive lapses Niagara has been prone to this year and wonder if Kingston will be able to capitalize on that more than Ottawa was able to. I believe in what Kingston has done this year and the way they play as a unit. That's why I'm taking them in a long series.
Prediction: Kingston in 6

2. Barrie Colts vs. 3. North Bay Battalion
Season Series: 4-2, North Bay
Analysis: Two teams coming off Game 7 victories do battle for the right to move on to the Eastern Conference final. North Bay won the season series, but it was close. The top lines for both teams have been on absolute fire. Between Justin Scott and Mike Amadio, I don't know who is hotter (they combined for 19 goals in the 1st round). Here's my concern for Barrie though. Their secondary scoring pulled a complete disappearing act in round one. And in the regular season, that same unit (the 2nd and 3rd lines) had a VERY tough time scoring against the Battalion. They're coming in cold AND they're going up against a team that had their number this year. Now add in the fact that Dylan Sadowy is banged up (the organization remains mum on his status) and you've got a recipe for disaster. Barrie's goaltending was also not terrific in round one. They were able to win some pretty high scoring games against the Steelheads. But will they be able to force the Battalion to play their high tempo, high scoring game? I'm just not convinced. On paper, I think Barrie should be able to pull out this victory. But I'll be honest in saying that I just don't love the way the team is playing right now when it comes to being matched up against Stan Butler's Battalion. North Bay's getting consistent effort from three lines. Jake Smith is playing well. And as always, they function exceptionally well as a defensive unit.
Prediction: North Bay in 7 

Western Conference

1. Erie Otters vs. 7. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Season Series: 2-0, Erie
Analysis: These teams only met up twice this year with Erie coming out on top both times. But let's throw the regular season matchup out the window with the way this Greyhounds team is playing right now. They're young, but they're winning by simply outhustling the opposition. At this point, they've got nothing to lose and they know that. That's dangerous for Erie, especially when you look at the pressure on the Otters to try and come away with the OHL title after losing last year to Oshawa. Goaltending, like any playoff series, is critical here. Brandon Halverson was sensational in round one. But, which Halverson will show up this round? His inconsistency as a player this year makes him a wildcard. Devin Williams has consistently been one of the best goalies in the league this year at the other end of the ice. Both teams got balanced scoring in round one with 12 players combining to reach double digits in goals scored. So what's the difference maker going to be? For me, it's playoff experience. Sarnia succumbed to the attack of the Soo, but despite the additions that team made, they weren't incredibly experienced when it came to the playoffs (save Matt Mistele). Meanwhile, the Otters have a core that made a run to the OHL finals last year and a run to the Western Conference finals the year before that. That's a TON of experience and I think that helps them hold off a pesky Greyhounds team for the series victory.
Prediction: Erie in 5

3. London Knights vs. 4. Kitchener Rangers
Season Series: 4-2, London
Analysis: No offence meant to the other OHL teams, but this is the series that I'm most excited to watch, and to follow. Kitchener steamrolled Windsor (much to my surprise) and they seem to finally have everyone (or at least nearly everyone) healthy and playing well. Meanwhile, London has been so good in the last few months and they looked great against an underrated Owen Sound Attack team in round one. London and Kitchener have two veteran forward units who can really bury the puck. At that position, they're incredibly equal. Let me tell you where London has the advantage though. The first area is their ability to activate their defence offensively. With guys like Olli Juolevi and Victor Mete, the Knights transition up ice faster than Kitchener and I think they'll look to exploit their advantage in the team speed department. Second area is in net. For anyone who watched the first round, they'll know how absolutely, insanely good Tyler Parsons was. He's been playing out of his mind the last few months, not just the last week. Meanwhile Dawson Carty took over from Luke Opilka (who hasn't looked the same after returning from an unnamed illness), and while he was good, he didn't inspire confidence in his ability to steal games the way Parsons has in recent months. Don't get me wrong (and my apologies London fans), I would love to see Kitchener win this series, based on the fact that they've been built to make this final run the last few years. But I just like this matchup for London. I actually believe Erie would have been the better matchup for Kitchener (if Sarnia had avoided the upset).
Prediction: London in 6

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