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OHL Playoffs Preview: Mississauga Steelheads VS Sudbury Wolves


After a long, winding 68-game season, the Mississauga Steelheads are set to go to battle with the Sudbury Wolves in the first round of the OHL Playoffs.

The Steelheads finished fourth in the East with a 38-22-8-0 record, earning a franchise-high 38 wins and 84 points. The Wolves finished fifth with a 38-23-4-3 record, for 83 points. While the Steelheads finished their season Friday, the Wolves controlled their own fate right to the end of the season—a loss to the Oshawa Generals on Sunday evening sealed their spot and the Steelheads’. 

The two teams split their season series 3-3, with Mississauga taking one game in shootout and Sudbury taking one in overtime. Only two games were separated by more than one goal, both Wolves regulation wins. 

Digging Deep – Some stats from the season series

The Steelheads have fared better against the Wolves than some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference—namely North Bay— but the underlying numbers are not in their favour.

The Wolves outscored the Steelheads 27-23 in their six games this season, not a surprising stat considering the Wolves’ offensive firepower. The Wolves had the advantage in shots in goal at 203-167, though two mismatched games contributed significantly to that—the Steelheads still won one of those games 2-1 thanks to a stellar performance by Ryerson Leenders. The Wolves can come out firing on all cylinders and get a win or two, but the Steelheads' goaltending and overall relentlessness can get them some wins.

One of the biggest differences has been in first-period shots, where the Wolves outshot the Steelheads in four of six games and they tied in another, culminating in a 67-53 shot total in Sudbury’s favour overall. The two big Wolves shot counts featured severely uneven second periods, while the two teams were about even in the third period. Mississauga will need to come out just as hungry as the Wolves or tame them early while continuing to be a strong third-period team in close games.

The two big shot-count games for Sudbury came on Jan. 10, when Mississauga won 2-1 despite being outshot 47-19, and on Feb. 4, when the Wolves’ 6-3 victory came from a 40-23 advantage in shots. Both of those games were in Sudbury, so the Steelheads will have to be ready for an onslaught of offence from the Wolves in games three, four and six. The road trip is a challenge already, but the Wolves have a lot of bite when they play there too.

Another interesting figure from the season series comes from the faceoff circle. The Wolves had the advantage at the dot in five of the six games, and won 207 faceoffs to the Steelheads’ 175 overall. A center core featuring Dalibor Dvorsky, Zacharie Giroux and Nathan Villeneuve is bound to play an important role for the Wolves in the series, so the Steelheads will hope for Luke Misa (or Angus MacDonell), Lucas Karmiris and Jack Van Volsen to be at the top of their game at the dot, with the puck and away from it.

Special Teams

Another difference in the series could come on special teams. 

The Steelheads’ power play was tenth in the league this year at 21.3 per cent, while the Wolves were fourth at 25.2 per cent. More concerning for the Steelheads is how they performed head-to-head. The Steelheads were 3/23 with the man advantage against the Wolves—whose 78.3 per cent penalty kill was 12th in the league—while the Wolves scored on 10 of 28 opportunities against the Steelheads’ 81.3 per cent penalty kill. 

The Steelheads’ power play turned inconsistent in February in part due to 0/4 and 0/6 performances against Sudbury, who had 2/2 and 3/5 games against Mississauga in that same month. 

Dalibor Dvorsky will be the biggest scoring threat to watch for the Steelheads’ penalty kill, as he finished the season tied for second in power play goals at 15. Quentin Musty had 13, while the best Steelheads in that category were Porter Martone and Chas Sharpe with 10. 

The Steelheads have proven able to win games on special teams but have more consistently counted on being the better team at five-on-five, so finding a rhythm or keeping games to even strength will be key for them in the series.

The battle in the crease

One area in which the Steelheads should have an advantage over the Wolves is in the goal crease. 

Ryerson Leenders posted a league-best .909 save percentage (sv%) for goalies who played over 30 games, while Jack Ivankovic led all rookies in goals against average (2.62) and goalies in sv% (.915) as a 16-year-old. They helped the Steelheads win games they would not have otherwise and provided a lot of confidence for the team to develop their transition game in the last two months.

The Wolves made an addition in goal before the trade deadline, acquiring Marcus Vandenburg from the Niagara IceDogs to beef up their goaltending situation. Vandenburg has posted a .878 sv% this season in 40 games between Niagara and Sudbury, while Jakub Vondras has a 0.861 sv% in 37 games. Nate Krawchuck has a .876 sv% in 16 games, which came mostly before the new year, though he did play in back-to-back games in March. The Wolves have had inconsistent goaltending to say the least but have mostly worked their way through it thanks to their ability to score a ton of goals. 

Leenders and Vandenburg are the most likely starters for game one, but either team could turn to other options between the pipes in the series.

Starpower and players to watch

The play of the Wolves’ experienced and drafted top six forwards compared to the Steelheads’ young stars will likely be the biggest deciding factor in who wins the series.

The Wolves’ top line of David Goyette, Dalibor Dvorsky, and Quinten Musty has been nearly unstoppable this season, as Goyette won the league scoring title with 117 points, Musty had 102 in just 53 games and Dvorsky had 88 points in his first OHL season. They also performed well against the Steelheads—Goyette and Musty had 13 and 10 points respectively in six games, while Dvorsky had eight points in five games. 

Other Wolves the Steelheads will pay attention to include Landon McCallum and Zacharie Giroux. McCallum had eight points—five goals— in six games against Mississauga this year,  while Giroux had six points in four games.

The Steelheads will count on their entire defence unit, led by Chas Sharpe, to shut down the Wolves’ top players. Stevie Leskovar’s physical presence and Jakub Fibigr’s neutral zone defence will likely be key factors as well against a top line, and a team, with a lot of speed and strength. 

The big four of Luke Misa, Porter Martone, Angus MacDonell and Chas Sharpe are integral to the Steelheads’ success. Misa, their top scorer, had nine points in six games against the Wolves this year and will play an important role in scoring and in keeping pace with the Wolves going both ways. Martone, their top goal-scorer, had eight points against Sudbury this year, while MacDonell, who had just one less goal than Martone, had five points in five games. Whether Mississauga stacks a line with those three or sticks to the Martone-Misa-Mason Zebeski line seen during the recent hot streak, they will count on them to match the offensive output of Goyette, Musty and Dvorsky. 

Sharpe, meanwhile, had five points in five games against the Wolves this year as a defenceman. A continuation of that and the way he has played offensively all season could help the Steelheads even things up.

Other Steelheads who had strong seasons against Sudbury this season include their next two highest-scoring defencemen, Jakub Fibigr and Finn Harding, and second-line center Lucas Karmiris. Fibigr had five points against Sudbury, Harding had seven including four goals and Karmiris had six. 

Karmiris’ improved offensive production has lined up almost perfectly with the team’s improved play in early February, while both Fibigr and Harding have shown a lot of improvement throughout the season, Fibigr in defensive play and Harding more so on offence. Without a doubt, they will be factors in the series.

The Steelheads will also count on Dean Loukus returning from injury. Richmond has said the overager is hopeful for game one, so he should be back at some point in the series and hopefully at top form—his high-IQ-style of play has played a big part in the Steelheads’ improvement since the trade deadline.

Offence will be the name of the game

The Wolves are unquestionably an offence-first team. They play a high-flying style that relies on the rush and on high shot quantity, which has led to scoring a lot of goals—they were the league’s top-scoring team with 328 goals. 

However, the Wolves also allowed 272 goals, third-most among playoff teams. They don’t mind playing with fire, which is evident in the fact one team—they or their opponent—has scored at least five goals in all of their last five games, and nine of their last 11.

The Steelheads have proven to be able to go toe-to-toe with the Woles’ offence, as they have scored four goals or more goals in three of six games against them this year. They have scored four or more goals 35 times this year, which is the type of offence they may have to tap into to beat the Wolves.

On the flip-side, the Steelheads are one of the lowest-scoring playoff teams at 248 total goals, but also have the third-least goals against in the league with 212. The key to their success will likely be continuing the strong defensive play they have found in March, which has seen improvement in defensive positioning overall and buy-in from forwards. 

Head coach James Richmond has spoken a lot about the importance of team defence in generating play and dominating possession, which the Steelheads should be able to do if they can slow down the Wolves’ offence—but that is going to be easier said than done.

Youth VS Experience

While both teams have the maximum three overage players, the Wolves have 12 2004-born players compared to the Steelheads’ one (Stevie Leskovar). 

Undoubtedly, there is a difference in experience level and recognizable names between the two teams, as the Wolves have six NHL-drafted players. In contrast, Angus MacDonell is the Steelheads’ only drafted player and their lineup is mostly draft-eligibles.

While the pressure is on them to demonstrate they should be where they are, the Steelheads can play comfortably knowing the stakes are not as high for them—all except the overagers will likely return next year on an even better and more developed team.

Rolling into the playoffs

The Steelheads are riding a 14-2-4 record in their last 20 games to end the regular season, including a stretch of 11 games without a regulation loss. 

In those last 20 games, the trout have scored 89 goals compared to 59 against, good for an average score of 4.45 to 2.95. They have averaged 37.9 shots on goal per game, compared to 30.15 for their opponents. 

There is no question the Steelheads have been playing better hockey in the last two months than they did in the months prior. Momentum can be a big thing on the ice, but the question is whether it can be a differentiating factor coming into a best-of-seven playoff series. 

The Wolves, for their part, enter the series with a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games, thanks to a few dominant victories as well as crushing losses to teams such as the Oshawa Generals. Sudbury’s run-and-gun style has been consistent all year making them an unpredictable team from one game to the next. Still, a 13-4 win over Barrie and a 9-2 victory over Niagara this past weekend showcase just how much they can score if they get rolling in a game.

Game one goes Thursday night at Paramount Fine Foods Centre. Puck drop will be at 7 p.m.


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