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

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