By: Mitchell Fox
All videos are screen recordings from RogersTV via CHLTV.
Friday, Nov. 17: 6-3 W @ Kingston Frontenacs
Saturday, Nov. 18: 5-2 L @ Ottawa 67's
The Mississauga Steelheads played two completely opposite games this weekend as they finished a trip to Eastern Ontario with two of four possible points.
The Steelheads got their offence rolling on Friday night, with six different goal-scorers getting on the board in a 6-1 victory over the Kingston Frontenacs. Jack Ivankovic also made a triumphant return to the Steelheads’ crease.
On Saturday, though Max Denoso was strong in goal for Ottawa 67’s, the Steelheads looked flat and found themselves in penalty trouble. The second half of a road trip caught up to the boys in blue-and-white as they fell behind early and never recovered, losing 5-2.
The Steelheads now sit second in the Eastern Conference with a 12-7 record, with Ottawa right behind them.
Here are five takeaways for the Steelheads after a give-and-take Eastern road trip.
Dominant start on Friday, not so much on Saturday
On Friday, the Steelheads opened the scoring halfway through the first period and never looked back.
The Steelheads’ big names – Porter Martone, Luke Misa and Angus MacDonell – scored their first three goals, putting the Frontenacs on the ropes. Zander Veccia then added to the lead to cap off four unanswered goals for the Steelheads through 25 minutes.
With MacDonell's goal as the best example, the Steelheads took advantage of opportunities when they arose, turning Frontenacs errors and space in front of goaltender Mason Vaccari into goals.
The Steelheads’ strong start won them the game but their ability to score down the stretch was important too. Before the second period ended, William Eggleton stopped the Frontenac’s momentum towards a comeback in its tracks with a powerplay goal. Later, Mississauga’s advantageous goalscoring returned when Lucas Karmiris scored on just their second shot of the third period over 11 minutes in.
By taking advantage of turnovers like Eggleton did, the Steelheads were able to do serious damage against the Frontenacs. The next day, though, the turnover problem went the other way, putting a swift end to a chance for a perfect weekend.
Ottawa not only opened the scoring but took control early on Saturday, with a 3-0 score after 20 minutes reflecting the difference in high-danger opportunities for the two teams. Probably the biggest factor in that difference was turnovers.
The first two 67's goals were tough ones to give up but not of obvious concern for the Steelheads. Caden Kelly scored his first goal of the season just 1:18 into the game with a deflection in the high slot, then Luca Pinelli scored a one-timer on the powerplay. Ryerson Leenders had little chance at stopping either puck, though both plays could have benefited from sticks and bodies of defenders in shooting lanes.
The third goal was a real indicator of Pinelli’s dominance and of trouble for Mississauga. The goal itself is set up after a defensive zone turnover by Porter Martone, just one of many in about a minute (Pinelli and Henry Mews were on for the whole clip below).
Three unsuccessful attempts to clear earlier had the Steelheads scrambling and when they did clear, the puck came right back the other way. Then Martone made the blind pass, another case of Mississauga trying just a little too hard to make a nice play, rather than a clean one, to clear their zone.
A crushing hit by Stevie Leskovar just moments later almost turned the tide as the Steelheads did have a better finish to the first period, but the score remained unchanged. Ottawa kept the pressure up all game and found the back of the net two more times, making two late Mississauga goals obsolete.
Jack Ivankovic makes an impressive return
James Richmond kept his promise to Mississauga media by starting Jack Ivankovic as soon as he was available on Friday. Less than a week after winning a gold medal at the IIHF Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, the youngster awarded his coach by proving he can be just as dominant against 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds too.
Ivankovic made 38 saves on 41 shots, including a game-high 16 in the second period. He also stood tall as the Steelheads left some room for Kingston in the third period, allowing just one goal despite his team being outshot 12-5.
Ivankovic has not been defeated since his first OHL start, a 4-1 loss to the Oshawa Generals on Oct. 6. He has made 30 saves or more in all three starts since and played a key part in a 7-6 comeback win over the North Bay Battalion after Leenders left with an injury (though Leenders got credit for the win). The low sample size is worth mentioning, but the first-round pick is showing the hype to be worth it with a .915 save percentage through five games.
Avoidable penalties still an issue for Mississauga
The Steelheads have had a problem with penalties all season, a symptom of a young and fiery team. I’ve written about that too much as it is. But some of the penalties on Saturday exemplify why they have been shorthanded more than anyone else this season, 102 times (in actual penalty minutes they now sit second with 315, two behind the London Knights).
Let's have a look at two examples from Saturday.
Here, Adam Zidlicky starts out with a strong play to the net and an even better backcheck, stopping an Ottawa counter-attack before it could get over the blue line. The extra play after, however, stopped Mississauga’s own chance to counter-attack.
Later, a good shift for the Steelheads and an offensive zone start ends with a penalty in their own zone. Luke Dragusica made a late step up in the neutral zone then got caught chasing Jack Dever into the endboards. He takes an awkward route in behind Dever and hits his back.
One other thing for the Steelheads is they tend to get caught up in a lot of extracurriculars after the play. Part of that is their youth coming out and part of that is other teams doing the same or trying to get into the heads of younger players, but making sure they do not take penalties on those plays will be important going forward.
Penalty kill remains strong… but not perfect
The Steelheads have been fortunate to make up for their penalty troubles with strong penalty killing so far this season, with their 81.4% penalty-killing percentage standing seventh in the league. Their ability to shut teams down before they enter the zone is key to stopping any kind of set-up but they have also proven to be able to block passes and shots once trapped in.
However, as was demonstrated on Saturday, their penalty kill often takes on a go-big-or-go-home style. They put a lot of pressure on opponents’ entries, on puck carriers on the boards and shooters at the blue line and in the offensive zone once they clear the puck (Misa, Lucas Karmiris and Mason Zebeski have been particularly strong in that last area).
The Steelheads’ penalty kill did find its way at times in the game. Their aggressive style paid off as they broke up entries and shut down enough passing lanes to keep the 67's from getting any high-danger chances. As seen in the clip below, pressure from both the forwards and defencemen forces the 67's to settle for a relatively routine shot for Leenders to stop.
However, when that pressure does not work, they can get caught.
On Saturday, though good playmaking and well-placed one-timers by the 67's were a factor, they got caught on both powerplay goals they allowed.
Pinelli’s powerplay goal to make the game 2-0 was an example of how the Steelheads’ 2-1-1 penalty kill setup can bite them if not executed with sticks in passing lanes.
Pinelli, the 67's’ captain and leading scorer, is wide open in any sharpshooter’s favourite one-time zone after Zidlicky is caught with his stick late to the lane.
A similar thing happened again on the 67's’ fifth goal when William Gerrior managed to get a pass across the slot to Brady Stonehouse.
The Steelheads’ heavy push toward the blue line almost cleared the puck, but they got caught running around and Stonehouse found open space. Here, Luke Dragusica is probably too low to the net, though the forwards are not able to get where they want to be either.
At the end of the day, a penalty kill can never be perfect and shutting down nine of 11 chances over the course of the weekend is something they should be pretty happy with, especially on the road. Still, if they are going to take a lot of penalties as they have all season, calming things down when their opponents get set up in the offensive zone will help mitigate their losses.
A couple of OHL firsts provide optimism on Saturday
Two Steelheads rookies, Kieran Witkowski and Gabriel Chiarot, each scored their first OHL goals on Saturday. The 67's staved off the Steelheads’ stars but their young guns were the ones able to bounce back in the last half of the third period, as Luke Dragusica had the Steelheads' only other point, his first assist since Oct. 13.
In his fourth OHL game, Chiarot was the first goal scorer for the Steelheads on Saturday. He found the back of the net halfway through the third period on a surprising show of skill, driving out of the corner and tucking the puck around the pad of Denoso.
So far, Chiarot has looked like more of a two-way, bang-and-crash player. That showed on Saturday when he was able to generate chances on minimal minutes by using his high motor to force turnovers on the forecheck. But if more opportunities could spark a scoring touch, Richmond would have to be happy.
Witkowski’s goal was another example of catching the 67's off-guard. The Steelheads applied enough pressure to force a turnover and Luke Dragusica proved the benefit of throwing the puck at the net. Witkowski’s deflection was a nifty one in the high slot, his first point since his first appearance in blue-and-white back on Oct. 6.
Witkowski has shown flashes of skill all season long, contributing about as expected for a 16-year-old. He has two points in 11 games and has taken just four shots, more a sample of low playing time than anything, but still something the Steelheads will hope to see rise.
On Friday, though the big names led the way from the star, it was two other depth players who made a mark. William Haley had his first point of the season with an assist to Zander Veccia’s game-winning goal and William Eggleton had his second goal – fourth point – of the season as an insurance marker. Eggleton also had a good game on Saturday, earning some minutes alongside Misa.
If the Steelheads’ depth can continue to improve with each game they play and put pucks in the back of the net, Richmond will likely start to dish out more playing time. Injuries can be a factor – as the Steelheads know with Parker von Richter’s injury and with Jack Van Volsen playing only a shift or two on Saturday – and the Steelheads have traded away older options like Kai Schwindt and Justin DeZoete (and Ryan Del Monte through waivers) so it will be up to Witkowski, Chiarot, Eggleton and MacGregor Richmond to fill in gaps on forward.