67’s Friday Night Struggles Continue With Loss to Steelheads

The Ottawa 67’s made the trip to Mississauga to take on the Steelheads in an Ontario Hockey League matchup on Friday night, a clash that left the 67’s battered and bruised after a 5-2 defeat. James Hardie of the Steelheads scored a hat trick in what was the team’s home opener. With the loss, the 67’s fall to 3-3-0-0 on the young season. showing that there is still work to be done. Here is what you need to know about Ottawa’s loss on Friday night.

67’s Turnovers Breed Goals

Turning the puck over is nothing new to the 67’s this season. It has been one of the only constants in their season early on, and it’s something that finds a way to bite them in the backside seemingly every night. Friday night in Mississauga that was no different. Early in the first period, the 67’s looked in control of the game, although they hadn’t been able to find the back of the net. Just over halfway through the period, they went to the power play, a chance that went just about as poorly as you could possibly imagine.

On an attempted break-out pass, Vsevolod Gaidamak threw the puck onto the stick of Hardie, just about the last player on the Steelheads that you would want to have headed in on a breakaway. Of course, he made no mistake and buried the puck behind 67’s goaltender, Will Cranley. The somewhat lackadaisical play from the 67’s forward stole the momentum right from underneath them, putting them right behind the eight ball when they probably didn’t otherwise deserve to be.

Vsevolod Gaidamak, Ottawa 67's
Vsevolod Gaidamak, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

When the 67’s have been scored on this season, it has come after a turnover springs the opposition with a poorly-timed turnover, oftentimes leading to an odd-man rush. It has also now happened multiple times where the 67’s have allowed a breakaway that ended up with a goal on their power play. It ultimately comes down to being too casual with the puck, and not expecting the opposing penalty killers to do anything but sit back and defend.

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The 67’s are a young team, and they won’t be able to completely eradicate this issue this season due to that, but as Dave Cameron said last week, the only thing that is going to help this young team get better is practice. Unfortunately, this is something that has been happening all season, and it’s not something that should be happening in major junior hockey, to begin with. Only time will tell, but the sooner the 67’s can cut the bad turnovers out of their game, the better chance they stand at being in contention for a playoff spot at the end of the season.

67’s Starting the Week Slow

For the third consecutive week, the 67’s have lost the opening game of their weekend series. All three weekends, the 67’s have played better and better as the games go on, but for whatever reason, they don’t seem to come to their first game of the weekend ready to go. Perhaps this comes down to a group of young players who aren’t used to the pace of the game and need a workup before they are ready. Perhaps it’s just the yips. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that will zero itself out by the end of the season. Regardless of what it may or may not be, it’s not a trend that you want to see continue if you are the 67’s.

The best teams in the OHL will frequently pick up at least four of the six available points on three games in three days weekend swing, but when you lose the first of the set, you put yourself in a spot where you need to win the next two in order to reach that four points. So far this season, the 67’s have done a good job at capitalizing on their chances later in the weekend, but it would be nice to have some of those games on Friday night’s end with two points. There’s no obvious answer for why this is happening, but Cameron is going to need to diagnose the problem and cure it much faster than scientists and doctors made the COVID-19 vaccine if he hopes his team can be a contender this season.

More Good Goaltending

It’s becoming apparent that we’re not going to need to say the goaltending was good every time either Will Cranley or Colin MacKenzie have a good game. Outside of the blowout loss to Kingston in the season opener, the 67’s have gotten fantastic goaltending from whoever was in the net. That happened once again on Friday night even though the scoreboard had a five-spot on it.

Will Cranley Ottawa 67's
Will Cranley of the Ottawa 67’s. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

If not for Cranley in this game, the 67’s would have likely lost by a lot more than they did. He made key stop after key stop, only being beat on chances that he didn’t have much of a chance at. Twice by Hardie on breakaways and then a couple of times on other plays where he wasn’t given too much help, the 67’s couldn’t have asked for too much more out of their veteran goaltender.

With the number of turnovers the 67’s have been making, solid goaltending is one of the only things keeping them in the games on some occasions, and they are quite lucky to have two goalies who can bail them out. For now, it’s holding the 67’s in games, but if/when they can get things going, it could be the thing that wins them games. In the net, the 67’s are in a very good spot.

Not for a Lack of Effort

Despite the lopsided score, and the Steelheads pouncing on some key chances, the 67’s showed positive signs. They certainly didn’t lose the game for a lack of effort. Throughout the game, they had grade ‘A’ chances to put the puck in the net, but time and time again, the Steelheads were bailed out by either the player fanning on the puck or a great save from Roman Basran. Had the 67’s been able to capitalize on just a small amount of these chances, we could have been looking at a completely different hockey game.

Cameron Tolnai, Ottawa 67's
Cameron Tolnai, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti, The Hockey Writers)

Sometimes that’s just how it goes. The Steelheads scored on their chances, and Ottawa didn’t. Looking at who did the damage for Mississauga, it was Hardie, the veteran OHL player that is a known goal-scorer. Those chances for the 67’s came to the sticks of players like Luca Pinelli, Cam Tolnai, and Brady Stonehouse. The inexperience shows sometimes, and those chances to score can highlight them even more.

Back at It on Saturday

There’s no rest for the wicked when you have a road trip in the OHL, and for the first time this season, the 67’s young players will get to experience a stretch of three games in three days with all the bus rides and hotel stays in between. Saturday afternoon sees the 67’s getting a look at the Barrie Colts who have struggled to start the season despite being projected as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Will the late weekend legs kick in? How will the 67’s rebound? All to be found out at 3 p.m. when the puck is dropped from Sadlon Arena in Barrie.

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