Saturday, March 31, 2007

OHL Playoffs Update--Part 1

Several of the playoff series are finished, with some of the second round matchups already in place. Last night's games proved very exciting, and included one controversial goal that was critical to the Oshawa Generals defeating the Kingston Fronts to win the round.

Barrie v Brampton

Not surprisingly, Barrie defeated Brampton in 4 straight games in round 1 of the playoffs. However, this series, although short, was more exciting than expected. Two of the games needed overtime to decide, including the finale on Thursday night, which the Colts won 5-4, at 5:28 of the extra period.

Good things can be said about both teams, including the enormous effort that the Battalion put forth in the games. Netminder Bryan Pitton (EDM, 5th round, 2006) kept his team in every game, and for the first 3 games should have received a game star in each one. Offensively, it was John Hughes and Cody Hodgson that led the way for Brampton. Hodgson was in his first post-season and he showed why he is a top prospect for the 2008 NHL draft. A star in the making, he is expected to be a top player in the league next season.

For Barrie, except for a big hiccup on Thursday night, goaltender Andrew Perugini looked very solid between the pipes. It is the "except for" that could be the problem over the course of the playoffs though. No question that rookie Michael Hutchinson picked up the slack brilliantly when Perugini was pulled late in the late in the first period after letting in 3 of 11 shots, but goaltending is the question mark as the Colts move on. Can Perugini become the big game player that he needs to for Barrie to go all the way in the post-season? I doubt it, but only time will tell. Stay tuned.

Belleville v Ottawa

The Bulls lead this series 3-1, with the next game being played in Belleville's Yardman Arena tomorrow evening. The Bulls were expected to be dominant in this series and they have not disappointed. But this matchup really is about who is in better shape, as the first four games were played in 5 nights. No other series has this grueling schedule. The first game was Monday night and the fourth game last night (Friday). It makes it difficult for slightly injured players to get in there for every game. While I know that there are scheduling conflicts here, I really wish that the league would be more fair to the players (and the teams) and arrange things differently next season.

The Bulls just have too much firepower for the 67s to contend with and that was very obvious last night. Shawn Matthias (DET, 2006, rights traded to FLA) has really stepped up his game in this matchup. In 4 games, Matthias has 5 goals (including the game winner on Tuesday night) and 1 assist. But Matthias was pretty quiet last night, only 1 assist, so it was Eric Tangradi who took over. Those of you who read this column regularly know I think is a rising star, and the rookie did not disappoint last night; he had 2 goals and an assist in the game. I could go on and on about him, but I advise all of you to keep an eye on this future power forward. He has been slow in developing, but he will be a star in this league.

As for Ottawa, the team was not expected to show much against the Bulls, and yet, the first 2 games were very exciting. Defenceman Derek Joslin (SJS 5th round, 2005) is having a very good post-season, with a goal and 4 assists in the first 2 games. As has the other 67s San Jose Sharks prospect, Jamie McGinn. With 4 goals and an assist, McGinn is the player of the series for Ottawa thus far. Add to this mix, Logan Couture, an almost sure thing top 10 selection in the 2007 NHL draft, who just keeps on setting up those plays (6 assists in the 4 games played thus far), and another 2007 NHL-draft eligible, Arron Alphonso, who is currently ranked 97 by ISS for the upcoming draft. Although this series will probably be over tomorrow night, Ottawa is another young team in the rise, and like Brampton, expect the 67s to be really in the mix next season.

Mississauga v Sudbury

In a surprising turn of events, Sudbury leads this series 3 games to 1. Tomorrow night's game will be played in Mississauga, and if the Ice Dogs don't pick up their game, this series will be the first upset of the playoffs.

Two names are important here, only one of whom is playing. First Sudbury's Marc Staal (NYR, 1st round, 2005) who up until the playoffs had a disappointing year. And then there is Lucas Lobsinger, the Ice Dogs injured number 1 netminder, who will be out for the rest of the year. Sudbury has looked like a powerhouse offensively off the play of the aforementioned Staal (2 G, 3 A, +9), Andrew Self (4 G, 2 A), and overager Justin Donati (2 G, 4 A), who was acquired at the trade deadline just for this purpose. On the other side of the ice, Lobsinger was replaced in net for Mississauga in February by Andrew Loverock (expected to be a mid round pick in this year's NHL draft). However, Loverock has not played very well at all over the last week, and Mississauga is missing the steadier presence of Lobsinger between the pipes. This puts the team at a serious disadvantage.

While it certainly is possible for the Ice Dogs to come back and win this series, it will take some heavy duty offensive work by the likes of Chris Lawrence (TBL, 3rd round, 2005) and Jadran Beljo, as well as better defencive work by the recently returned from injury, top blueliner Alex Pietrangelo. My best guess at this point has this as an upset, as I just don't think that Loverock can settle down enough to stop the Wolves.

Oshawa v Kingston

First, to last night's craziness. Here's what happened for those of you who did not see the game. The score was tied 2-2 at about 10:40 in the third period, when the Generals got control of the puck. Oshawa's winger Cal Clutterbuck got the puck to Brett MacLean and then crashed the net. He knocked into Kingston's netminder Jason Guy, and while Guy was off balance from the hit, MacLean put the puck past him. Officials ruled it incidental contact, and allowed the goal. Oshawa went on to score an empty netter in the last minute of the period, and the game and the series were over for the Fronts. Ugly ending to what had become an exciting series.

As expected, after losing his mother Kingston's star player Chris Stewart was not himself early in the series. However, the Fronts took the first 2 games to overtime anyway, mostly on the fine play of overager Matt Auffrey and the Detroit Red Wings' prospect Cory Emmerton (2nd round, 2006). After the Fronts 7-4 defeat in Oshawa on Tuesday night, Stewart seemed to recover. The first time he looked like his old self was on Thursday, when Kingston romped to an 8-2 victory. Stewart had 2 goals and 2 assists in the game and was named first star. He was on his way to another fantastic showing again last night, scoring his first goal a little over half way though the first period, and then a second one to tie the score at 2 goals apiece just seconds into the second period. Then came the controversial Oshawa goal.

But Kingston's aborted rebound in this series cannot just be credited to Stewart. Veteran netminder Jason Guy was excellent between the pipes in the 3 games in which he appeared. Guy took over for Daryl Borden, who was less than stellar in his 2+ playoff games. This was Guy's best sustained performance since he played in Junior B.

For Oshawa, the triumverate of Cal Clultterbuck (MIN, 3rd round, 2006), Brett MacLean, and John Tavares, got the bulk of the scoring as expected in this matchup. But a surprise high performer in this series was the rookie defenceman Michael Del Zotto. With 1 goal and 6 assists in the 5 games, Del Zotto was much more of a factor than was predicted. As the Generals move on in the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how Del Zotto responds to the pressure. Continued good play could make Oshawa an interesting opponent as the post-season moves along. But in the end, the fate of the Generals will hinge on the performance of Loic Lacasse, the overage netminder, who has had an up and down CHL career. His uneven performance this season, and more importantly over the last 5 games, is worrisome to the Generals chances as the playoffs move along. It is another stay tuned.