By: Mitchell Fox
A large shot differential was not enough to power the Mississauga Steelheads past the Saginaw Spirit on Monday afternoon, as they were defeated 3-1 for their second-straight loss.
The storyline coming into the game was a potential first matchup between brothers Luke Misa and Michael Misa on Paramount Fine Foods Centre ice, but with Michael out of the lineup due to a lower-body injury, the spotlight instead fell on a different member of the Spirit: goaltender Andrew Oke.
Here are some takeaways from an underwhelming Family Day result for the Steelheads.
Steelheads run into another solid goaltending performance
The story of the game on Monday had to be the play of Saginaw goaltender Andrew Oke, who made 31 saves en route to a 3-1 victory. The 18-year-old got the start ahead of New York Islanders prospect Tristan Lennox, who had played three times in the last five days, and took advantage of the opportunity.
The Steelheads have been a team all season that has thrown a lot of pucks at goalies, regularly outshooting their opponents even when they lose. In this case, even high-danger chances were not enough to make 32-15 advantage in shots on goal count on the scoreboard.
Oke made a few noteworthy game-saving saves, including a flashy glove save on Chas Sharpe in the second period and a barrage of chances for James Hardie and Luke Misa. Still, his best quality might have been his clean and consistent play in the goal crease, rarely looking out of position and stopping second and third chances when he had to.
Steelheads head coach James Richmond was complimentary of Oke, and not too worried about his own team.
“The sun's not falling out of the sky for us,” Richmond said after the game. “We played OK, we lost a hockey game. Their goalie played really well. So, let's get back at it tomorrow.”
Mississauga lacked “killer instinct” against a tough opponent
Though Oke can be credited with keeping the puck out of the Spirit net and driving them to victory, Richmond still hopes for more out of his own team, especially when it comes to scoring goals.
Though they had more chances and shots than their opponents, the Steelheads were unable to take advantage of strong five-on-five play. Richmond said he did not think his team got as frustrated or as selfish as they did against the Niagara IceDogs on Friday, but he wanted more drive.
“We missed some rebounds, we missed a breakaway, then we missed a penalty shot,” Richmond said.
“I think we lacked the killer instinct in the offensive zone today. We lacked sharpness there,” he added. “We’ve got to work on that.”
In the third period, though they kept the Spirit offence quiet, the Steelheads’ own scoring prowess was not to be seen. Even after James Hardie got a penalty shot, the team was not able to find a level of desperation and hunger down by one on the scoreboard.
Richmond said they discussed this on the bench.
“At the TV timeout we talked about it. ‘We gotta get desperate here. We gotta go to the net front more hungry,’” he said. “The rebounds were there. I just think we lacked that drive to the net.”
Defensive zone turnovers prove a problem for the Steelheads
Against a team like the Saginaw Spirit, who sit fourth in the OHL’s western conference, it is a dangerous proposition to give them more time in the offensive zone than they create for themselves. The Steelheads learned this the hard way on Monday, as turnovers in their own zone were a challenge.
As the first period reached its second half, Mississauga had trouble clearing the puck out of their own zone. This led to the Spirit gaining control and spending long shifts cycling the puck, showing off an impressive mix of strength, skill and teamwork.
The trout did a good job of recovering, keeping the Spirit to the boards and not allowing too many shots against Ryerson Leenders, but not having the puck in their own offensive zone meant not generating the quantity or quality of chances they needed to beat Oke.
For Richmond, there were positives to take out of the game, and things to work on.
“I thought our d-zone was pretty good,” Richmond said. “A lot of their shots were from the outside, so that was good.”
However, he also said he did not like the way his team managed the puck, as the team’s analytics seemed to suggest the Spirit might have had more possession time.
He did point out, however, that the Steelheads also had a lot of their own time with the puck.
Angus MacDonell can’t stop scoring
One clear bright spot for the Steelheads came in the play of Angus MacDonell, who added another goal to his growing collection since joining the Steelheads. MacDonell now has seven goals in his last seven games, with Saturday’s loss to the Windsor Spitfires being his first game without a goal since Feb. 3.
Apparently, he did not like the idea of back-to-back games without a goal (something he has not done in February), as he made no mistake beating Oke with a wrist shot just after the end of a Steelheads powerplay.
MacDonell is eligible for the NHL Draft this year and was ranked #172 on NHL Central Scouting’s North American skaters ranking in January. One can only guess he has risen on that list, given he has 14 points (11 goals) in 18 games since coming to Mississauga at the OHL trade deadline.
Steelheads special teams still looking for more
Though MacDonell’s goal came just after a Spirit player hopped out of the penalty box, it was not marked as a powerplay goal. So, despite their lone goal coming as a result of the man advantage, the Steelheads were officially 0/3 on the poweprlay on Monday (in addition to a missed penalty shot by James Hardie).
That result meant the team fell to 2/12 on the powerplay for the extended weekend (combining Friday’s victory over Niagara, Saturday’s loss to Windsor and today’s loss to Saginaw).
Richmond was not overly concerned but did say the team does need to work on its powerplay, as players just are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.
“[It’s] just young guys being a little too jittery with the puck,” he added. “We’ve got to keep practicing.”
At the other end of the ice, the Steelheads gave up one powerplay goal against. It was Saginaw’s first powerplay, and they wasted little time taking advantage, setting up a pretty passing play that ended on Hunter Haight’s stick.
Richmond pointed out the goal came as a Steelheads player missed cutting off a seam pass, an example of the team needing to clean up mistakes on the penalty kill.
“The PK part is understanding what's being shown to you, what they're going to try to do, and then having guys do it,” he said. “Today, one guy didn't do what he's supposed to do.”
Nonetheless, Richmond was not too worried.
“Those things happen,” he added.
The Steelheads will hope to keep the mistakes to a minimum at all strengths during next week’s Eastern road trip, taking on the Kingston Frontenacs on Friday, followed by the Ottawa 67’s on Saturday. Their next home game will be March 1, when they host the Guelph Storm for a rare Wednesday morning game (puck drop is at 11 a.m.).