Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thoughts on Kitchener and Mississauga from November 11

Happy Remembrance Day everyone. Was great to see a solid tribute put on by the Majors staff and the Hershey Centre before the game. An 11 a.m. start for this match between two of the best clubs in the Ontario Hockey League. The early start was part of the "School Day" promotion that most OHL teams are now using once or twice a year in order to attract youth to the OHL.

This game had two faces. The first face occurred in the first 10 minutes of the hockey game when the Kitchener Rangers dominated play and looked poised to run away with this one. The second face occurred throughout the rest of the game where the Majors completely dominated play and held the Rangers to under 20 shots in the game.

This was a great victory for Mississauga, as their defense was tested against one of the premier offenses in the OHL. They were up to the challenge as they kept the Rangers largely to the perimeter and prevented them from gaining any energy in the offensive zone. The Majors forward unit played a great game too, as they did their job in keeping play in the Kitchener zone, winning puck battles and keeping possession. I'm not sure about time of possession numbers, but this one was largely dominated by the Missy.

Kitchener really fell flat. Not sure if it was the early start time that through them off, but they didn't have much energy in this one. Their defense had trouble starting the attack, and really fell victim to the forecheck of the Majors. This prevented anything resembling a quick transition game, which in my experience watching this Rangers squad, is something they need to do to be successful.

Thoughts on individual players...

Kitchener Rangers

John Moore (CBJ)
Second time I've seen Moore this season, and second time I've come away less than inspired. He hasn't scored a goal since his first game in the league. The skating and mobility is definitely his biggest asset. Majors forwards had a hard time getting around him on the attack, and he always appeared to be a step ahead (or a step closer to the net) than the rushing forward. But his coverage in the zone seems to need work. On a few occasions he seemed lost in his own zone, failing to pick up his man or communicate with his defensive partner (mostly Jonathan Jasper). In the second period, his pairing gave up a breakaway to Majors forward Riley Brace as he got behind them. Offensively, to be bluntly honest, he was a non factor. The Majors forecheck was all over him and really prevented him from skating with the puck up ice. I can't remember him making any rushes that resulted in access to the Majors zone. For a player billed as an elite rushing defenseman, this area of his game has less than dazzled me in two viewings. On the powerplay, he failed to get his point shot through to the net either, and even had trouble 5 on 4 with bringing the puck up ice and eluding the forecheck. I'm not saying he's a terrible player, but if anything I expected to see a guy (as a first round pick and someone who nearly made an NHL roster) to be head and shoulders above the competition...which he hasn't been.

Tyler Randell (BOS)
He had a pretty solid game overall. His line with Alex Aleardi and Ben Thomson was one of the few actually working hard in the offensive zone. However, there does appear to be some consistency issues at work here. For every shift he was a factor, there were two where he was completely invisible. For a player of his ilk, that's unacceptable. He needs to find a way to get involved on every shift, whether it be making a big hit, or doing a good job on the cycle. When he did have a good shift, he was very noticeable as a tough object to move in front of the net and in the corners. He scored a nice goal off a beautiful feed from Alex Aleardi. Aleardi had the puck behind the net, fed it to Randell in front of the net for the one timer over Anderson's shoulder. He clearly has good hands in close, he just needs to put himself in more situations to capitalize from them.

Ryan Murphy (2011)
Continue to be impressed by this young defenseman. His skating ability and eagerness to bring the puck up ice is refreshing. He too was affected by the forecheck of the Majors, but he did manage to get away on a few occasions and bring the puck up ice to advancing forwards. Defensively, he needs to get stronger in order to handle forwards in front of the net, but the intelligence is there. This guy could be one of the best offensive defenseman in the league by next season.

Alex Aleardi (2010)
Aleardi reminds me a lot of Niagara's Alex Friesen last season. Tons of speed to burn, great on the forecheck and the cycle, but ultimately missing something that's preventing him from capitalizing more often from hard work. He seems to have a really hard time keeping the puck on his stick at full speed, and as such very little came from his attacks deep into Mississauga territory. He did do well in the cycle and managed to make a very nice pass to Tyler Randell for his goal. At this point I'm not sure he's an NHL draft selection, but if you look at the progression of Friesen this season, with added strength and confidence, perhaps Aleardi can still become a top quality player in this league.

Jeff Skinner (2010)
Thought he was Kitchener's best forward today, although I'm not sure that's saying much. Seemed to be one of the few Kitchener players still moving their feet and giving it all in the second and third periods. Had two nice rushes where he managed to breakthrough the Majors defensive pairing for a chance in close on J.P. Anderson...although both times he was turned away by the goaltender. He showed some chippyness in the game too and was in a few little after the whistle skirmishes. While his motor is running at full speed in the offensive end, I do wish he was able to translate that at the other end of the ice consistently. It would definitely make him a more valuable prospect to NHL scouts.

Jeremy Morin (ATL)
Morin was invisible in this one. Completely blanketed by the Majors defense. He threw a couple nice hits though, one in particular near the Rangers bench. Haven't seen that side of his game yet. But not much else to say here.

Gabriel Landeskog (2011)
Had some good shifts in the first period where he used his speed to disrupt the Majors transition game. In particular, took the puck off Cameron Gaunce on one occasion and was able to create a scoring chance off of it. I like his drive to the net too, and his fearlessness. But he was invisible in the second and third periods much like the rest of his teammates.

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors

Stuart Percy (2011)
Really starting to like the way he plays the game more and more. Seems like he's getting better (and gaining more confidence) every time I see him play. Defensively he was excellent today. He shows great anticipation of the play and is aware of how to cut off scoring lanes to forwards. On one occasion he saved a breakaway by being aware of the Majors player stepping out of the box, and instead of pinching to keep the puck in, he peeled off the blueline and positioned himself between the passing lane and the player, intercepting the pass and putting it back into the zone. It was a little thing, but something that shouldn't go unnoticed. Offensively, he's bringing the puck up ice more, playing well on the powerplay, and doing a very good job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Made a really nice slap pass to Jordan Mayer in the slot on the powerplay, forcing Mavric Parks to make a big save. Percy is getting better and better and seems to be one of the best 1993 defenseman in the league this season.

Tim Billingsley (PHX)
Had a rough first period, but settled down in the second and third. In the first he made a couple really sloppy passes that resulted in scoring chances for the Rangers. But he got better and was unnoticeable the rest of the game, which means Billingsley did his job defensively. But this isn't the first game I've seen where he started off poorly, before settling in. I'm starting to wonder if this is a habit...

Brett Flemming (WSH)
After starting the season off pretty cold, Flemming really seems to be settling in this month, with 6 points in 5 games thus far. He's back to playing in all situations for the Majors and seems to be playing with a lot more confidence than when I last saw him. He's rushing the puck up ice, he's playing solid defense, and he's doing a very good job on the powerplay. One thing I'd like to see him do is shoot the puck more. He gets opportunities from the point, but continues to elect to pass. Sometimes if you're open, you gotta get the puck to the net from the blueline.

Casey Cizikas (NYI)
Cizikas is transforming himself into one of the better two way players in the league. He's got 9 points in 5 November games thus far and is really starting to gain confidence offensively. He was all over the ice today. Caused a lot of trouble for the opposing defense on the forecheck and forced quite a few turnovers. He seems to anticipate the play very well. He's taking the puck to the net with authority and made a very nice pass to Devante Smith-Pelly for a one time shot in the slot. He was hitting players too and doing a good job of trying to get under the skin of the Rangers. On the penalty kill, he's one of the best in the business. Disrupts play so well and forces bad passes with his anticipation. He did take a very undisciplined penalty towards the end of the game though, giving the Rangers a 6 on 4 with the net empty.

Devante Smith-Pelly (2010)
The best player for the Majors today, IMO. He may not have the height of your prototypical power forward, but he plays like one. He finishes his checks, he takes the puck hard to the net, he's defensively responsible, he skates well, he's strong in the corners. Not much he can't do right now. His speed and acceleration is quite good. He blew by a Ranger defenseman (I believe Dodero) and managed to get a shot on goal from a bad angle coming down the wing. He had that aforementioned chance in the slot set up by Cizikas, but was turned away by Parks again. Defensively, he was outstanding. First forward back in his zone, winning the battles in the corners, and really pushing people around. On the forecheck, he was very active. Caused one turnover with a big hit along the boards that got the puck free for a scoring chance to Casey Cizikas. This guy is a HUGE riser on the draft board if he continues to play this way.

Gregg Sutch (2010)
Recently returned from an ankle injury and still seems to be going through he feeling out process. Playing on a line with Jordan Mayer and William Wallen, so he is getting an opportunity. Had a few nice hits and appears eager to throw his body around and go hard to the front of the net. Unfortunately he wasn't able to finish off any plays in front of the net, with his best opportunity coming on a rebound, but his stick broke. We'll see if he can start finishing off some of those chances a month from now when he should be fully rehabilitated.

Cameron Gaunce (COL)
Did not have a good first period at all. Was sloppy with the puck, failed to tie up his man in front of the net on the Tyler Randell goal, and became a victim of the Rangers forecheck. He really does seem to have a hard time with teams who have forwards with speed on the forecheck. Simply needs to get that puck out of his zone quicker. But it's as if a light went on in the second period and he began playing much better. Had a few nice rushes with the puck (something I haven't seen with much consistency from Gaunce this year). Made a beautiful pass to spring Riley Brace on a breakaway in the second. Spun away from the forecheck, waited patiently and hit Brace right down the middle of the ice; a beautiful pass. Defensively, he became much better, was taking the body and taking no prisoners. Finished with an assist on Dustin Ekelman's goal, after he put a weak shot on net that generated a big rebound. I am starting to slowly wonder about his ability to transfer him game to the NHL level though.

J.P. Anderson (2010)
Anderson got the start in this game and wasn't tested all that much. Did a very nice job in the first period, keeping his team in the game, but wasn't tested at all really in the second and third (save the last 2 minutes of the 3rd). He reacts very well to the play and takes away the bottom of the net very well. His rebounds were either collected or kicked out to the corners, so he did a great job in that area. The shot that beat him was high, and for an undersized butterfly goalie, this will be a concern for him going forward (just the way it was for Mike Murphy). It'll be interesting to see how things play out for him this season. He made 16 of 17 saves for the win.

Thoughts? Comments?

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