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.

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