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Steelheads Takeaways: Mississauga earns five points over high-scoring week

BY: MITCHELL FOX


RESULTS:

Thursday, Feb. 8 – 5-3 W @ Peterborough Petes

Friday, Feb. 9 – 5-4 W VS Barrie Colts

Sunday, Feb. 11 – 8-7 L VS Sudbury Wolves 


The Mississauga Steelheads earned five of six possible points this week, winning two of three close, high-scoring affairs. 


On Thursday, the Steelheads took down the Peterborough Petes with an explosive offensive performance, winning 5-3 to close out a four-game road trip.


Friday saw Mississauga continue elements of Thursday’s success, namely on the powerplay, as they put up five goals against another team near the bottom of the standings, the Barrie Colts. 


To close out the week, the trout had to fight off an onslaught from the Sudbury Wolves to reach overtime thanks to a late goal from Angus MacDonell. They would lose the game 8-7 in overtime.


Here are some takeaways from a goal-fest of a week for the blue-and-white.


The Steelheads may have found their powerplay guy

Last week, I wrote about Mississauga’s troubles on the powerplay, indicated by 25-straight powerplay opportunities without a goal over 10 games. This week, they likely found some answers to questions that slump raised.


A new(ish) first unit featuring Luke Misa, Porter Martone and Dean Loukus with Finn Harding and Parker von Richter found not only chemistry but a working formula.


After breaking the slump early on Thursday, Loukus scored four powerplay goals in two games across Thursday and Friday. Misa took on his expected role of set-up guy, while the Harding and von Richter showed quarterbacking prowess. 


The big story is Loukus, who is a bit of a surprise to see alongside Martone and Misa instead of Angus MacDonell, given he was not always a powerplay guy in Saginaw. Nevertheless, he proved to bring the experience and goal-scoring ability Steelheads head coach and general manager James Richmond hoped to add with his last overage slot ahead of the trade deadline.


“He didn't play that type of powerplay where he was. Now he's playing it, so it [was] gonna take a while to figure it out,” Richmond said after the game on Friday. “Looks like he's figured it out.”


Most of Loukus’ goals came off a set play to move the puck to the point, to the goal line, and into the slot, where he would slide from the front of the net. After a couple of weeks of trouble on the powerplay, the Steelheads seemingly found a formula that could help them secure wins.


After the game on Friday, Loukus said for his unit, it is about sticking to what they want to do.


“Misa and [Martone] are high-end players, so I just try to find soft ice and it's been working lately,” he said.


Richmond said the team has two powerplay units that rotate and can each be the number one in a particular game.


“We have a little bit of competition. Because I don't want the same guys going out every time thinking that they're the number one guys all the time,” he said, pointing out MacDonell, Jack Van Volsen and Lucas Karmiris have had their own success. 


“Who's the number one? They’re going to tell me each game.”


Early game discipline puts Mississauga behind 

Friday started oppositely to how the Steelheads would have desired to return to home ice, with penalty trouble putting them behind from the get-go. Sunday saw a similar story unfold, with an early powerplay goal against powering a disastrous start to the game.


The Colts scored two goals on two powerplays in the first five minutes on Friday, both coming on quick shots in the slot. The Steelheads did answer with a powerplay goal of their own – one of Loukus’ – and managed to turn that game in their favour the rest of the way, but ended up allowing another powerplay goal against in the third period. 


Friday against the Colts was the first time the Steelheads allowed multiple powerplay goals in a game since Dec. 28. They did it again on Sunday.


Richmond was not too pleased with the fact the Steelheads took five penalties in the first period on Friday, including multiple offensive zone penalties and a couple of careless high-sticks.


“That’s not getting caught, it’s being lazy,” he summarized. “We’ve got to be better.” 


On Sunday, once again, an early penalty put an unprepared penalty-killing unit up against a fresh powerplay looking to get their team on the board first. The Steelheads paid the price, as Quentin Musty scored just over three minutes into the game.


Sudbury would score again just three minutes later on the rush, then twice more on two separate four-on-four opportunities, grabbing a 4-0 lead. Quick goals from Karmiris and Martone on the same four-on-four kept the game in reach, but the first period ended 5-2 for Sudbury.  


Though the Steelheads were able to come back from the deficits they allowed early in both games, they made things difficult for themselves in a week where winning two games felt like a necessity. They were the better team against Barrie on Friday but had to battle to the last minute, while on Sunday they made a matchup with a serious contender in the Wolves harder than it needed to be by creating more open ice for a potent offence. 


Still, Loukus found a positive in the fact they found a way to win on Friday and can build from there, especially after a few tough weeks.


“We gave up three PK goals, you don't usually don't win those games,” he said. “It's nice to get back-to-back wins.”


Steelheads prove capable of playing offence-first game

The Steelheads scored 17 goals in three games this week, a mark they have only beaten once this year, back in October when they were scoring at a four-goal-per-game pace. 


Mississauga went through some scoring struggles in January, as their goals per game rate dropped to 2.36 from 3.27 in December, also down from 3.6 in November. Through six games in February, they sit at 4.33 goals per game. They have also allowed 4.5 goals-against per game in February, highlighting the need to score in bunches to win right now.


Sunday showed how the Steelheads can battle in a game where scoring five was a necessity, which was clear not only after the first period but from the drop of the puck. The Wolves, as Richmond phrased it, “don’t care about winning games 9-7, 9-8.”


Though he did not like the way his team started down five goals early thanks to multiple defensive zone turnovers, Richmond was impressed by the comeback to get to overtime.


“I love the way we fought back. We didn't give up,” he said. “That's a team that's trying to make a run for the Memorial Cup right now. We're younger, but we showed a ton of character to stay in there.”


The Steelheads have a dynamic offence, which is led by Misa, Martone and MacDonell. Each of those three players made a notable impact as play-drivers and goal-scorers this week, with seven, six and five points respectively. 


Martone made the most impressive mark with this between-the-legs goal.

Though the week saw room for improvement defensively and in terms of discipline, it was noteworthy to see the offence fill in the gaps and the team mount a few serious comebacks within each game.


Von Richter and Harding stepping up offensively and defensively

The Steelheads’ two best defencemen this week were almost undoubtedly Parker von Richter and Finn Harding, who have both taken steps up as the season has progressed.  


Von Richter scored the game-winning goal on Friday against the Colts, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. He contributed to quite a few goals this week, including three assists and one on a skilled play on Lucas Karmiris’ goal on Friday to narrowly keep the puck in and fire a shot-pass to the net. The weekend marked his first three-game point streak this season. 


Von Richter’s goal showcased his partnership with Harding and his shooting ability. 

The hometown kid was also strong on the defensive side of the puck, breaking up plays with his stick and well-timed body checks and almost always being the last player back to defend the rush. Von Richter’s puck-moving could play a part in his draft stock this year, but his defensive IQ will likely play an even bigger part.


Harding had a similar weekend to von Richter, showing his prowess with and without the puck. He had a goal of his own, an important one early in the third period on Sunday, and added two assists in each game. He is now on a four-game points streak, the first of more than two games in his career. At 27 points, he is now the Steelheads’ second-highest-scoring defenceman and sixth-highest-scoring player. 


Harding’s goal on Sunday started with a strong team defensive play, as he and von Richter closed a gap at four-on-four to allow Dean Loukus to strip the Wolves player of the puck and start a rush that ended with Harding’s seventh goal of the season.

It also felt necessary to include this assist from Harding, a feathery pass through some sticks for Karmiris to tap home.

Along with looking like the Steelheads’ best powerplay quarterback with his ability to walk the blue line, make clean passes and fit shots through for deflections, Harding has been a strong puck protector. He can appear to be caught by aggressive forecheckers, but he finds ways to create space and move the puck. He has also continued to be one of the Steelheads’ better rush defenders, which proved necessary on occasions when his partners were caught up-ice.


The biggest difference for both von Richter and Harding, if you ask Richmond, is their improved defensive play. Namely, he said, they are closing the gap on attacking players more quickly, enabling a timely stick check to turn the play around.


“The harder we defend, the better we defend, the more we're going to have the puck up-ice,” Richmond said. “Those two guys in particular are defending great right now. So when they're defending great, we end up with the puck going up-ice. And they're the second layer, von Richter the previous game and then Harding today.”


This Week’s Three Standouts

1. Lucas Karmiris

With Loukus, von Richter and Harding already highlighted, there was little doubt Lucas Karmiris was getting the top standout spot this week. The Brantford product has continued a good string of play since the holiday break, playing with more speed and finesse and displaying more of his already noticeable vision and hockey IQ. 


Karmiris had three goals and two assists over the three-game week, along with a whopping 16 shots on goal.  


Though Richmond pointed out Karmiris did not backcheck hard enough on the Wolves’ goal in overtime, he was positive about the forward’s improvement throughout the season. He said every player wants to be a star right away, but it is a difficult league to play in, so it comes down to gaining experience, which Karmiris is.


“He's going through the process and getting better and better. That's why we took him in the first round,” he said.


2. Luke Misa

Though the Steelheads’ top scorer and one of the top-scoring draft-eligibles in the OHL was not as noticeable as usual a week or two ago, Misa’s hat trick on Thursday was only part of the reason he stood out this week.

The speedy forward has put up points both at center and on the wing this season and looked good moving in and out of those roles this week. After a four-game slump, Misa suddenly has points in five straight.


Misa created a lot of space with his speed on the rush and was the Steelheads’ best forechecker on Sunday, using his speed to pressure defenders relentlessly. Though he is a cerebral player and does well when he can flip a switch on opposing defenders with his speed, the Oakville product made his mark on a track-meet-style weekend with his playmaking ability, earning four assists over the week. 


3. Angus MacDonell

It was tempting to give this spot to Stevie Leskovar for scoring his first goal of the season while playing with a hand injury on Sunday, but MacDonell scored the second-most important goal of the week for the Steelheads, tying the game on Sunday with just over a minute left and the goalie pulled. It earned the Steelheads a point, keeping them just a bit closer to the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference standings.

According to Richmond, MacDonell’s contribution on Sunday was even more impressive considering he was ill and probably should not have played the game.


“There's no keeping him out,” he said of the team’s alternate captain.


NEXT: 

The Steelheads next play on the road against the Kitchener Rangers on Friday, Dec. 16. They have 17 games left to go, and Richmond says he is letting his team know they need to keep things going in the right direction.


“We can't wait until there are 10 games left. We can't wait for seven games left. We’ve got to turn and go now,” he said. “It's a young team, so it's frustrating sometimes, but it looks like we're turning the corner a little bit.”


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