By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads could not get the result they wanted in a game with playoff implications on Friday, as they fell 3-2 at the hands of the Oshawa Generals.
It was the Steelheads’ second-straight loss to the Generals, after a 6-3 defeat on the road on March 19.
With the loss, the Steelheads fell to seventh place in the Eastern Conference of the Ontario Hockey league (OHL), thanks to a victory for the Sudbury Wolves shortly after the game in Mississauga ended. Meanwhile, the Generals clinched the eighth playoff spot with their victory and a Kingston Frontenacs loss.
Here are some takeaways from the Steelheads’ penultimate regular season game at Paramount Fine Foods Centre this season.
19 seconds makes all the difference
The Steelheads learned the hard way on Friday night that a short amount of time can mean a lot in a hockey game. A long-standing 1-1 tie would disappear in an instant mid-way through the third period, as the Generals struck twice in 19 seconds.
First, Cameron Butler scored his second goal of the night with a shot on the rush over the shoulder of Alessio Beglieri. The Steelheads’ Adam Zidlicky took a four-minute high-sticking penalty during the ensuing faceoff and the Generals wasted no time, with Ryan Gagnier scoring only eight seconds later.
Steelheads head coach James Richmond said after the game that the feeling on the bench following the goals was one of “it sucks” because they were two bad goals to allow.
“It's goals that, you know, we need saves there,” Richmond said. “One is from a bad angle and the other one slowly goes over the line.”
The Steelheads will want to work on discipline, special teams and their ability to bounce back after allowing a goal as they prepare for the playoffs. If two goals in 19 seconds can make a difference in a regular season game, they can surely mean a lot in the playoffs.
One down, two to go for the last weekend of the regular season
Friday's tilt with the Generals was the first of three games for the weekend for the Steelheads, who will host the Peterborough Petes tomorrow at home before heading to North Bay to challenge the Battalion to close out the regular season.
The Steelheads came into the weekend as the only team in the Eastern Conference that could have placed anywhere between fourth and seventh, with three games remaining featuring matchups against potential playoff opponents.
Richmond said the team wanted to win all three games and get fourth place, but now they will have to take things in stride.
“Whoever we're playing in the first round is going to be tough,” Richmond added.
The Steelheads will need to look better than they did on Friday to beat the Petes and Battalion, this weekend or in the playoffs. The Petes are only 4-5-1-0 in their last 10 games but have some serious offensive firepower and have had the Steelheads’ number this year, defeating them in all three contests this season, with a combined score of 17-6.
The Battalion, meanwhile, are in second place in the OHL and have a 9-1-0-0 record in their last 10 games. The Steelheads have fared better against them, however, having taken two of five games so far this year.
“We get a precursor of who they are,” Richmond said of playing two possible playoff opponents to close out the season.
The Steelheads will undoubtedly hope to take as many of the remaining four points as they can the rest of the weekend. There are no easy playoff matchups, but momentum and higher seeding can go a long way.
Special teams struggles continue for the Steelheads
The Steelheads have had troubles on special teams most of the season and Friday was no exception, with the Steelheads going 0/6 on the powerplay and 4/6 on the penalty kill.
Their first powerplay came less than a minute into the game, but they were unable to take advantage. Instead, an offensive zone penalty against Kai Schwindt and subsequent powerplay goal for the Generals put the trout behind early. This would set the precedent for the game – the Steelheads were unable to convert on four powerplays while down on the scoreboard, including a chance with 30 seconds left in a 3-2 game. A couple of faceoff losses and Generals’ possession meant the Steelheads did not even record a shot on that last chance.
Richmond and company will want to address the two-goal special teams disadvantage and a silent powerplay to be sure.
“It saps the life out of us when we don't score,” Richmond said. “We had some decent looks, but there's other times when we didn't get through the neutral zone.”
Richmond said the team worked tirelessly on the powerplay during their practice on Thursday. He said it takes patience to work with young players on those situations, but he understandably hopes for more.
The trout currently sit 16th in the league with a 20.2% powerplay percentage and last in the league with a 72.6% penalty kill.
They have scored just two goals in their last 18 powerplay attempts across their last five games, while allowing six powerplay goals against in 21 kills. The pure number of penalties is troubling, but the four-goal difference across five games is too – special teams will need to be at least even in the playoffs.
First line strikes, Sharpe-Gordon pairing makes their presence known
The Steelheads did have a few strong performances on Friday night, however.
Without Luke Misa in the lineup due to an injury, the wing pairing of James Hardie and Zander Veccia found chemistry with red-hot center Angus MacDonell, potting both of the Steelheads goals. Macdonell extended his points streak to four games with his fifth goal in his last eight games, while Veccia scored his fourth goal in his last six games late in the third period.
The line had 16 of the Steelheads’ 35 shots in the game, led by eight for Hardie.
On the blue line, it was the Steelheads’ third pairing of Chas Sharpe and Dylan Gordon that stood out. The duo put on a strong performance at both ends of the ice, shutting down rushes with their strong stickwork and moving the puck efficiently in transition. Their most noticeable contribution came on the offensive side of the puck, though, creating numerous chances in the second period with their D-to-D passing.
Sharpe would finish the game with two assists, his first points since Jan. 27. Gordon also had an assist, bringing his season total to nine points in 31 games.
Leenders, Misa still out, but set to return for playoffs
Richmond revealed to media after the game that goaltender Ryerson Leenders and forward Luke Misa, who have been dealing with injuries and did not play on Friday, are expected to return for the playoffs. Misa missed both games against the Generals but it sounds like he will test things out over the weekend, while Leenders will remain out until the playoffs.
Misa is a definite player to be missed for the Steelheads, as his play alongside Hardie and Veccia has been key since the trade deadline and he had seven points in his last five games before getting injured.
As for Leenders, his play in the crease in March has been exceptional, posting a .899 save percentage in the month while facing 40 shots three times in five games. Leenders and Alessio Beglieri have shared the goal for most of the season – both have missed time due to injuries – but Beglieri has been hot and cold this season and having some struggles of late, so the Steelheads will likely want their 16-year-old goaltender healthy in the playoffs, whether as their starter or as the tandem option he has been all year.
Richmond did not seem certain whether Beglieri would get both of the remaining starts or whether Chazz Nixon would get into games. Nixon has only played two games for Mississauga this season, the latest having come on Dec. 29. He has a .931 save percentage in 19 games with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens of the OJHL this season.
Another player out for the Steelheads on Friday was Stevie Leskovar, who Richmond said was simply out because six other defenseman had been playing better. It remains to be seen whether he will play his former team on Saturday when the Steelheads welcome the Petes.
The Steelheads will hope to get the most out of whoever is in the lineup the rest of the weekend as they take on two tough opponents.
The Intermission Sports will have you covered this weekend and during the playoffs.