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Steelheads Takeaways: Mississauga takes 7 of 8 points for second straight week

Hockey players on two teams gather around a net toppled over with the posts and cross bar on the ice in the goaltender's crease.



Sunday, March 10 – 4-2 W @ Ottawa 67’s

Tuesday, March 12 – 2-1 OTL VS Oshawa Generals

Wednesday, March 13 – 6-3 W @ Sarnia Sting

Friday, March 15 – 3-2 W VS Niagara IceDogs

The Mississauga Steelheads kept their points streak and home-ice advantage hopes alive this week with seven of eight points for the second straight week.

With three games remaining in their regular season, the Steelheads have now lost just once in regulation in their last 17 games, a stretch in which they have scored 4.41 goals per game and allowed just 3.00.

A Sunday matinee in Ottawa saw the Steelheads come up big against the 67’s, a team neck-and-neck with them in the standings, with a 4-2 victory.

On Tuesday, Mississauga was struck with another case of overtime woes after a strong game against the Oshawa Generals, earning one point in a hard-hitting affair.

The next day, the Steelheads put up a six-spot on the faltering Sarnia Sting, winning the first of two must-win games in the week.

On Friday, the trout closed the week out with a close call against the last-place Niagara IceDogs with a two-goal contribution from William Eggleton and another staunch defensive effort.

Here are five takeaways (and three standouts) from a promising four-game stretch for the Mississauga Steelheads.

Mississauga get it done without Martone

Playing without their second and third top scorers – Porter Martone and Angus MacDonell – on Sunday, the Steelheads were in a tough position to beat a team tied with them in the standings. Nevertheless, they beat the 67’s with a gritty effort and a two-goal performance from Zebeski. 

While not bombarding 67’s goaltender Collin McKenzie with 40 shots, they found a way to take advantage of the opportunities they created for themselves.

Playing without the top two scorers – Luke Misa and Martone – against the Eastern Conference-leading Generals on Tuesday was an even tougher task. Still, the Steelheads were the better team for about 45 minutes, resulting in a well-earned though underwhelming point.

Misa and Martone were also out of the lineup against Sarnia, while Martone remained out against Niagara. The Peterborough product is out with a hand injury suffered about two weeks ago and is expected to return for the playoffs or just before.

The Steelheads overcame the injuries to their top players through offence by committee, as other top- and middle-six sources and even a couple of defencemen found the back of the net. 

Richmond said he liked the game his team played on Tuesday without Misa and Martone, pointing to Jack Van Volsen, Adam Zidlicky, Marc Boudreau and MacGregor Richmond in particular as guys who stepped up in different ways. 

“We need other guys stepping up,” he said. “There's not too much that I [didn’t] like about it. We made two mistakes.”

“It's detail hockey in the playoffs. That was like a playoff game,” he added. 

Though the Steelheads did not score a ton this week, their depth proved capable of scoring when it mattered. Zebeski and William Eggleton each finished the week with three goals and a line featuring Lucas Karmiris, Dean Loukus and MacDonell combined for nine points. Chas Sharpe had three goals and three assists, leading the offence from the blue line. 

The Steelheads bought into a team game and found ways to win this week, something they will need to do in the playoffs.

Steelheads’ defence carrying them toward home-ice advantage

Perhaps the biggest factor in the Steelheads’ improved play since February is likely their defensive game, which has kept pucks away from their goaltenders and helped them maintain control of games. 

The Ottawa game was the first time the Steelheads were outshot in seven games and only one of three times they have been outshot in their last 17 games. With just one regulation loss in those 17 games, they have secured 28 of 34 possible points during a crucial stretch at the end of the season.

The Steelheads have also kept their opponents to less than four goals in seven straight games, and 11 of their last 13. Through eight games in March, they have averaged just 2.25 goals against, while scoring 4.00 themselves.

Mississauga’s commitment to team defence was best emphasized in the two potential playoff matchups with Ottawa and Oshawa. While Jack Ivankovic did have to make 33 saves on Sunday, it was not like games in December where it felt like the Steelheads were being carried to wins by their goaltenders. 

Tuesday against the Generals, the trout held a highly skilled offence off the board until the third period, while the game-winner in three-on-three overtime was not emblematic of their five-on-five play all night.

Richmond attributed the loss to two mistakes, one on each goal against, but said he thought his team was “really good” against the top team in the Eastern Conference. 

“That’s a real high-end offensive team and we limited their inside chances a lot,” he said. “What we worked on, players bought into.”

Out of the gates on Tuesday, the Generals used their skill and strength to force their way to the net, whether with slick dekes or power moves to the slot, but the Steelheads’ defence shut them down with solid positioning, sticks and bodies. Richmond said the team prepared for how the Generals wanted to attack.

“You do certain things on the defensive side of the puck to put them in the spots where they're not normally and then they're not comfortable making plays,” Richmond explained.

The Steelheads also prevented odd-man rushes for the Generals until the third period. There were some one-on-ones, however, where all of the Steelheads' defencemen, but especially Finn Harding and Parker von Richter, stood out. 

“Von Richter and Harding were real good with their sticks. Good body position, good lines in the ice,” said Richmond.

Don’t forget about Mississauga’s goaltending

The Steelheads’ defence has been at the top of their game, but they have also had a lot of help from their goaltenders, Ryerson Leenders and Jack Ivankovic. This week, with two starts apiece, each netminder made his mark and helped the Steelheads to points.

On Sunday, Ivankovic made 33 saves and earned the third star of the game in an important win against the 67’s. His stat line of 23 saves against Sarnia on Wednesday does not stand out the same way, but he still had to hold the fort as the trout made a comeback from down 2-0. 

The Mississauga product now holds a 13-4-4 record and a .916 save percentage (sv%), while he has only allowed more than three goals five times this season.

For the Steelheads to be able to count on their rookie to not only make stellar saves but put together complete performances is a big deal.

Leenders was remarkable against Oshawa, with many of his 26 saves coming on dangerous opportunities that could have changed the game. In the third period, he made two standout saves: a sliding save across the crease on Rasmus Kumpulainen and a stack-the-pads save against his post on Connor Delisle.

“Leenders was dynamite tonight,” Richmond said after the game.

Leenders, who also held down the fort for Mississauga as Niagara pressed in the third period on Friday, has a 23-17-4 record and .907 sv% this season. He has played tougher matchups and some of the Steelheads’ less inspiring games lately but still has not lost in regulation since Feb. 4.

The only question is who gets the net in which games. Leenders will very likely start the playoffs, but having won six of his last seven games, Ivankovic could play a big role in the three remaining regular season games and the playoffs.

Richmond used his two goalies in rotating order this week, which resulted in one home and one away game each, as well as one playoff and one non-playoff opponent each. He said on Tuesday the idea is to keep both goalies fresh and sharp.

“We’re going to need two goalies,” he said. 

The Steelheads coach and GM admitted it is not normal to use two goalies but said he has seen the way goalies can be overused ahead of the playoffs in his career. He is sticking to what is working.

“I'll try it this way. We'll see if it works. If it doesn't work, then you can tell me I didn't know what I was doing,” said Richmond with a smile.

Powerplay needs to find groove ahead of playoffs

Though scoring three goals on seventeen power plays across the four games this week is not a necessarily bad stat line, the 0/8 showing on Tuesday says a lot about the Steelheads’ inconsistent powerplay.

“Our powerplay stunk tonight,” said Richmond after the game.

Without Martone or Misa, the power play did not seem comfortable in that game. They had trouble establishing their usual setup and had trouble opening up players in the slot or for cross-crease passes. 

Richmond said the power play’s issues in that game involved not getting to rebounds in front of the net, which he attributed in part to the Generals’ strong defencemen boxing them out of the slot. 

“[Oshawa’s penalty kill] was really good tonight. We had some good looks, but it hit the guy and we didn't get the rebound,” he said. “We gotta get inside.”

On the other hand, scoring two powerplay goals on three chances undoubtedly helped Mississauga win against Sarnia on Wednesday and showed how taking advantage of those opportunities can turn a game in their favour. However, that was against the second-worst penalty kill in the league at 71 per cent.

In comparison, the Steelheads are unlikely to get a playoff opponent with a penalty kill below 77 per cent, or frankly 80 per cent. Though their own penalty kill is among the league’s best at 81 per cent, they will also likely face a power play better than their own—which sits at 20.2 per cent. They will have to improve if they want power plays to work in their favour. 

Three games remaining, two against East rivals

After Tuesday’s game, Richmond said his team would have to play the Sting on Wednesday as if it was a playoff game. 

“Those teams that maybe aren't going to be in the playoffs are the most dangerous because they're just playing, just going out free-wheeling,” he said. “We've got to really buckle down when we get there, get dialled in and start ready to play.”

While that was not reflected in the 2-0 deficit the Steelheads faced after the first period in Sarnia, their play to come back and win 6-3 was more reflective of what they need to do heading into the playoffs. 

Richmond’s sentiment about playing non-playoff teams was very likely repeated ahead of playing Niagara on Friday. In that game, though, Mississauga managed the two points but made the game difficult for themselves—Richmond addressed this in the locker room after the game, as shown in a clip posted by the team.

The Steelheads’ last three games are against the Brantford Bulldogs on Sunday, the IceDogs again on Thursday and the North Bay Battalion on Friday. The Bulldogs and Battalion are in the same tight Eastern Conference race as the Steelheads and have games in hand, so winning those games could undoubtedly affect where they end up in playoff seeding. 

The Niagara game, however, is crucial because the Bulldogs and the Sudbury Wolves both get to play against Niagara this week as well, while the Battalion play the struggling Peterborough Petes in their last game. Being the only of those teams to lose such a must-win would be costly.

This Week’s Three Standouts 

1. Chas Sharpe

Chas Sharpe is one of the Steelheads’ leaders not only because he wears the ‘C’ but because he contributes in a big way on both sides of the puck, which he proved this week. 

Richmond has said several times this year the team needs Misa, Martone, MacDonell and Sharpe to lead the way, so for Sharpe to step up with each of the other three missing games was significant.

Sharpe had six points across the four games, giving himself a five-game points streak. He has gotten on the board in 13 of his last 15 games, with goals and a variety of assists.

His shot from the point is a serious weapon, both in scoring goals and allowing for re-directions in front, as he had two such assists this week.

Along with his offensive performance, Sharpe was staunch defensively. He defended the rush with an active stick and rarely got beaten in races, while his play in front of his net was strong as usual — it was difficult for opposing forwards to get in Ivankovic or Leenders’ way when Sharpe and Stevie Leskovar were on the ice.

2. William Eggleton

The end of this week saw William Eggleton set an example of the difference he can make for the Steelheads.

Eggleton scored to give Mississauga their first lead about halfway through Wednesday night’s game, using his sharp shot to beat Karsen Chartier from an unexpected angle. His first of two goals on Friday also featured his shot, as he fired one quickly to finish off a dynamic play by Marc Boudreau.

Eggleton’s third goal of the week was the game-winner on Friday, as he deflected Sharpe’s point-shot in the third period. He showed both shooting ability and hand-eye in his offensive performance this week, while also contributing as usual to a hard-working, forechecking line with Boudreau.

3. Mason Zebeski

Zebeski was the Steelheads’ best player against the 67’s, as his two-goal performance earned him the first star of the game. He also contributed on Wednesday against the Sting, potting the eventual game-winner.

As I wrote last week, the Oakville product's performance alongside Zidlicky and Misa has meant a lot to the Steelheads lately, both in generating chances and playing a hard-hitting 200-foot game.

He did similar this week when he needed to step up with Martone out and Misa and MacDonell missing games. 

Zebeski scored three different goals—one with a quick shot, another by jamming the puck in and a third with a deflection—showing off his mix of offensive abilities near the slot. 

If Martone is still out for the last three games of the season—which he is expected to be—, Zebeski and Eggleton will be just two of the forwards the Steelheads will count on to contribute and build themselves up ahead of the playoffs.


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