Monday, 11 February 2013

Dog Fight in Round 1?

A potential first round matchup for the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs would be the Niagara Ice Dogs.
This is a team that is extremely dangerous, despite their struggles of late.
Since losing defenceman Dougie Hamilton, this has not been the same team as it was for the first few months of the season, but there is no question they are talented, skilled and a team that shouldn't be overlooked.
Their skill up front is almost second to none, led by Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie. The two are arguably in the top five of the entire league and are as dangerous around the net as players can be.
On the blueline, they took a big hit losing Hamilton, but they are still pretty solid. Jesse Graham anchors the blueline and provides offence and stability back on the point.
In net, Christopher Festarini can win a game on his own, but like the entire team, has struggled since Christmas.
Steven Shipley is another player, who, along with Brendan Perlini have the potential to give the Ice Dogs a dangerous second line, or even third, which shows the team's depth.
The Dogs have some grit, but overall aren't a tough team and while they can't be pushed around, they don't play the physical game that can catch up with them.
Their style, which has seen better days, is quick puck movement and good transition play, but without Hamilton, that first breakout pass hasn't been as smooth as it was early in the season, and the past few seasons.
Two trains of thought come out of a playoff matchup with the Dogs.
The first, is that the team, who will lose a lot of talent in the off-season, will make one last go of things looking for an OHL title.
They'll come together, get everything working in the playoffs and show what they can do and end up in the finals, if not winning the championship. There's no doubt it can be done and no one would be surprised if it happened.
On the other hand, there is the possibility that the players who are destined for pro hockey and who have suffered through a bad second half may want the season to end as quick as possible so they can move on to the AHL and NHL. Seems less likely, but there is that thinking, too.
How they would beat the the Wolves, if the two matchup, would be with their offence.
After the Wolves made the big trade with Kitchener, the quick strike offence diminished. Not that it isn't there, but it took a hit with losing Josh Leivo and Frank Corrado.
The Ice Dogs can still wheel and are dangerous on the rush, so that ability still exists and if it clicks at the right time, they won't be easy to beat in a seven game series,
On the Wolves' side, the key to beat the Ice Dogs would be to get the puck in deep, get a good forecheck going and crash and bang the Dogs defence.
The Wolves can roll four lines that can contribute in all ways – offensively, defensively and physically – and they will need that to happen if they were to face the Ice Dogs.
Goaltending also comes into play and as of right now, the Wolves have the advantage, which, as everyone knows, can be the difference in a series.
Niagara is a team nobody wants to play in the playoffs for the above reasons, as well as others.
They are beatable, as is everyone, but they have some individual skill that could make beating the, very, very difficult.
High end talent definitely goes to the Ice Dogs, but a total team effort and the ability to execute systems and make changes is the Wolves advantage, and the way things have gone lately, a big advantage.
The Wolves would likely beat the Ice Dogs in a playoff matchup, but it wouldn't be easy and very few people would bet lots of money on it.
Goaltending – Advantage Wolves
Defence – Even, slight edge Ice Dogs due to more experience
Forwards – Ice Dogs top line vs. Wolves depth
The Mississauga Steelheads are up next for analysis as a potential matchup the Wolves will have in the first round of the playoffs.
Spoiler: It's their most favourable matchup.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Potential Playoff Matchup

There is a tonne to be decided in the final few weeks of the Ontario Hockey League regular season, but one thing that's for sure, is the first round of the playoffs is going to be intense.
Aside from Barrie, who will likely cruise into Round 2, there is no clear favourite to advance.
Sure there are teams that will likely win – Oshawa and Belleville – but they won't have an easy time, that's for sure.
Over the next few articles, we'll look at how the Sudbury Wolves match up with each possible opponent – and there are a few.
As of today, the Wolves would face the Brampton Battalion, so let's start there.

Round 1 – 4. Wolves vs. 5. Battaltion.

The Wolves and Battalion are evenly matched teams, but play a very different style.
The Battalion are similar to the New Jersey Devils – a defence first type of team that slows the game down, takes advantage of their chances and limits the oppositions. They are currently on a solid streak which has moved them into fourth place, going 5-0-2 in their past seven games, including a win over the Wolves this past Sunday afternoon.
Overall, the Battalion lead the Wolves 4-3-0 in their head-to-head meetings against each other, with their final matchup coming this Friday in Sudbury.
Just one point separates the two teams, so this game is huge for a number of reasons.
Let's begin with how the Wolves would win the series, if they match up.
The Wolves have a tonne of speed from all four lines and even their six defencemen. Being able to play different styles is huge for the Wolves, but it's their speed and creative nature that allow them to create offence, make key plays in the neutral zone and turn the puck over to head on the counter attack.
A perfect example of the speed and creative play they have is from their top six forward – Mathew Campagna, Nathan Pancel and Nick Baptiste on line one, and the Dominiks – Kahun and Kubalik, along with Brody Silk (usually), but lately, Matt Schmalz on line two.
These are six forwards that can play the game any way, but rely on their skill and speed. Kahun and Kubalik have proven to be impact players in their first season with the Wolves and in the OHL. They have contributed a lot, combining for 22 goals and 34 assists, providing huge second line numbers.
Silk, who was their linemate for a while, has 30 points this year and their current linemate, Schmalz, has five points in 10 games as a member of the Wolves since coming over in the deal with Kitchener.
And while those are just the Wolves' top two lines, their third and fourth line are huge to their success, along with the defencemen, who often jump in the rush, like Evan De Haan, Jeff Corbett and on occasion, Charlie Dodero.
The Wolves' skill and speed make them tough to deal with.
But not to be pushed around, the Wolves have proven they can play a rough game as well, standing up for one another on many occasions, including games against Oshawa and Windsor, where they had to respond physically.
The balance, as well as the willingness to play those different style make the Wolves a dangerous team.
And we haven't even mentioned goalie Franky Palazzese in goal, who can steal and a game and who will definitely have to at some point in the playoffs.
On the other side, the Battalion play a slower style, a grind it out style that doesn't rely on offence.
That is most noticeable in their goals for department, where they sit dead last in the OHL with just 145 goals scored.
But the key for them, is the fact that they've only given up 145 goals, which puts them sixth in the league.
With strong goaltending, big, tough, steady defenders and forwards who commit to playing in their own zone, the Battalion are a team that are built for the playoffs.
Brampton relies on scoring first, building a lead and then smothering the opposition’s attack and shutting them down.
And if they do break down, Matej Machovsky has proven to be one of the league's top goalies time and time again.
But because he isn't tested all that much, the key to beating him is lots of pucks to the net and traffic.
The Wolves power play is ranked fifth in the league, meaning it is deadly.
They scored basically once in every four times they have the man advantage, while the Battalion sit 12th, a decent spot, but they're a full five percentage points behind Sudbury.
But here's where it gets interesting.
The Battalion are fifth in penalty killing in the league and the Wolves are 13th. So what this amounts to is, the Wolves and their fifth best power play against the Battalion's fifth best penalty kill. And the Battalion's 12th best power play against the Wolves' 13th ranked penalty kill.
If it comes down to special teams, which if so often does in the playoffs, the two teams match up very well, it would seem.
On paper, the Wolves have the advantage due to their high speed offence and improved goaltending and defence, but the games aren't played on paper, so if these teams meet, like they did last season, anything could happen.
In terms of a direct matchup, these teams do seem very similar.
Goaltending – Even
Defence – Advantage Battalion
Offence – Advantage Wolves
All things considered, this is the kind of series that could go seven games, and with the Wolves hosting Games 7 due to sitting in fourth place, they have the advantage thanks to the fans and that home ice, so finishing fourth is a big deal for these teams.

Next Up, Wolves vs. Niagara Ice Dogs comparison

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Wolves' Deals Paying Off

On Jan. 8, 2012, the Sudbury Wolves made one of the biggest trades in recent memory, and maybe in the franchises' history.
Aside from acquiring Micheal Sgarbossa a few seasons ago, this was a big, big deal.
The Wolves sent captain Frank Corrado, leading scorer Josh Leivo and starting overage goalie Joel Viennuea to the Kitchener Rangers for goalie Franky Palazzese, defenceman Cory Genovese and rookie Matt Schmalz.
On paper, the Wolves were the losers of the trade, giving up three key players from their team that was the hottest in the Ontario Hockey League.
They surrendered a total of 25 goals, 46 assists, not to mention their starting goalie.
In another deal, the Wolves sent defenceman Justin Sefton to the London Knights for defender Kevin Raine.
At the time, it was a bit of a surprise sending a veteran defenceman who had spent his entire career with the Wolves to the Knights.
The Wolves had been climbing the Eastern Conference standings steadily thanks to all four players they dealt away and it appeared that they were on a path to rebuild and look to the future.
But since the trade, the Wolves haven't missed a beat and have actually continued their hot play.
The team is currently 6-2-3 since the trade and find themselves in fourth place in the conference.
The additions the Wolves have made have been absolutely integral to the success of the team.
Palazzese has been nothing short of spectacular since arriving on the scene, rookie Schmalz has provided size and skill, producing five points in nine games with the Wolves.
He's also a plus-7, compared to scoring just once in 25 games with the Rangers and piling up a minus-3.
Genovese hasn't been flashy, but has been a steady force on the blueline, helping the Wolves in their own end.
Palazzese is 5-2-3 since becoming the Wolves starter, earning a 2.71 goals against average and a .922 save percentage, as the Mississauga native picked up a shutout win in his debut with Sudbury.
While his stats are impressive, he has provided the Wolves with such stability in between the pipes, that the team is playing maybe better than ever.
They seem to have the confidence to play any style of hockey, knowing they have a reliable goalie behind them.
At first glance, the trade wasn't what everyone thought the Wolves needed, but since the deal, the team hasn't missed a beat, nor have they slid down the standings.
It truly was a win-win for both teams.
On the other side, the Rangers picked up key players to help in their battle in the Western Conference with powerhouse teams like the Knights and Owen Sound Attack.
Leivo has 14 points in 12 games with the Rangers, including the winner in overtime against the Wolves, in the team's only visit to Sudbury.
Corrado has five assists in 11 games and is an impressive plus-12.
Vienneau, who was inconsistent with the Wolves, despite playing very well lately, has been very good since becoming a Ranger.
He's 6-1-1 with a 2.41 goals against average and a .956 save percentage in eight starts.
All six players in the deal have been key to their team's success in the past few weeks.
In the other deal the Wolves made, they sent Sefton to the Knights – a player who despite his size and toughness, sometimes lacked a little intensity and grit on the blueline.
Sefton has two points and six penalty minutes in nine games with the Knights.
As for Raine, he has been a huge addition to the Wolves' blueline, providing a tonne of big body checks, stability in the team's own end, as well as making it tough for the opposition to play in the front of either one of the Wolves goalies.
He also has five points in 11 games with Sudbury, along with 10 penalty minutes and is a plus-5.
The trades also gave opportunities to other players, especially the Wolves current top line made up of Mathew Campagna, Nathan Pancel and Nick Baptiste.
That trio has been a dangerous line for Sudbury and have assumed the role of top offensive threat.
But it's not just those three who have excelled.
Dominik Kubalik and Dominik Kahun both have caught fire with the added ice time and roles, Brody Silk continues his strong play and Mike Kantor has been a force after being named the team's new captain.
Despite losing a goalie, defender and forward, the Wolves have had every sing player step up, both offensively, defensively and physically.
Many jumped all over general manager Blaine Smith for making this trade, but now the fans and city are jumping up and down that the deal was made.
The East is very competitive, with basically the top six spots up for grabs.
With the way the Wolves are playing, and with the lineup they now have after the trade deadline and heading into the final 15 games of the season, they are as dangerous as any team in the conference, maybe the league.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Talk About Parity

Who Will Be The Beast Of The East?

There's no doubt that games are becoming more and more important everyday as the Ontario Hockey League closes in on the post-season.
With less than 20 games to go before the playoffs start, there are still a lot of questions to be answered in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.
Currently, the only sure thing is that the London Knights will reach 40 wins. And the reason I am sure of that, is the fact they have 39 right now and have 17 games left.
Okay, so that wasn't much for analysis, but we'll get more into it from now on.
In the East, there isn't much certainty, other than the Ottawa 67s won't make the playoffs. While they're mathematically still alive, they're 13 points out of the final playoff spot, currently held by Kingston and while the Frontenacs have lost 11 in a row and only have three points in that span, chances of them continuing their poor play isn't like, especially not for the remaining month and a half of the season.
Between spots one and seven in the East, there's a 20-point difference, but between first and fifth place, there's just an 11-point difference, which means teams can still make jumps, and quite easily.
The Barrie Colts currently rank first, sitting with 68 points, just four up on second-place Belleville and 10 up on the fourth place Sudbury Wolves, are ranked second in the Central Division.
Barrie likely won't finish out of the top two, but after the top two places, which are basically a battle between three teams, there is absolutely no sure thing.
The Wolves have been the hottest team in the league since the start of December, having only three regulation losses in that time and producing a record of 14-3-6 which has moved them from eighth, all the way up to fourth.
But they're far from safe in that spot.
Mississauga is only 10 points behind the Wolves, and they are currently in seventh place, meaning there is a good chance the teams between four and seven move spots before the playoffs start.
And, on top of that, third place isn't out of the reach of any of those teams either. Oshawa currently holds down third place, but are only eight points ahead of sixth, so again, a bad weekend or a few losses in a row and things could change for any of these teams – and in a hurry.
With Scott Laughton being returned to the Oshawa Generals, to go along with Boone Jenner, Lucas Lessio and their in-your-face style, the Gens might be the team to beat in the East.
Barrie is an excellent team, but without Mark Scheifele, they aren't as dangerous and the Belleville Bulls, despite being ahead of the Gens right now, took one on the chin Sunday, losing 8-2 to Oshawa.
There's no debating whether the rest of the season will be exciting, but there is a tonne of debate as to where the teams will finish.

How Will The West Be Won?

The London Knights have been and most likely will be on top of the West when all is said and done, but they're not out of the woods.
The Owen Sound Attack are 13 points back, but with their potential, anything could happen.
There will be two key races in the West – one will be for the top four spots, especially third, fourth and fifth.
Right now, the Attack sit third, the Kitchener Rangers are fourth and the Guelph Storm are fifth, but there is only five points separating those teams, and that's not even mentioning the Soo Greyhounds who have been playing extremely well lately, and are just three points behind the Storm.
The other big race in the West will be in the West Division, which is, without a doubt, up for grabs.
The Plymouth Whalers currently hold a one point lead over the Greyhounds for first place, who are one point ahead of Sarnia.
One win, one loss and all of a sudden there is a new division leader, so for those teams, the best of which will finish no worse than second in the conference, winning the division is huge.
Home ice, a second place finish and a seventh-seeded opponent await the winner.
For the other two teams, it will be tough to crack the top four and will hit the road for the first round of the playoffs.
The Rangers and Attack made the biggest splashes at the trade deadline, adding a lot of talent.
The Attack added Cody Ceci and Steven Janes from Ottawa, while the Rangers acquired Frank Corrado, Josh Leivo and Joel Viennuea from the Wolves.
Every player added by the two Western Conference contenders has played a key role in the team's success lately, and will down the stretch.
Erie will not make the playoffs, but the Windsor Spitfires only sit five points back of Saginaw for the final playoff position and although they've been struggling lately, a push in the final 15 games could make all the difference.
This was the season the Knights were supposed to win the OHL title and while they still might, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if they don't.
For a lot of the teams in both conferences, this is their last shot to win because of the player turnover that is going to happen after this season ends.
Many teams will lose key players, so going for it now is their best and maybe only shot at a title