The Ottawa 67’s capped off a miserable week with a 5-1 loss Sunday afternoon to the Kingston Frontenacs in the Limestone City, extending their losing streak to four games and a goal-scoring drought that has seen them put up just seven markers in their last five games. The team has won just two of their last 10 games securing a spot for themselves firmly in the middle of the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Eastern Conference, but falling fast.
As was expected, the game was emotional and very physical, but the 67’s simply couldn’t solve Kingston goaltender Leevi Merilainen or contain Shane Wright and Martin Chromiak who put two goals each across Ottawa 67’s net minder Will Cranley’s crease.
The two teams don’t seem to like each other very much judging by the belligerence on display Sunday afternoon. Their’s is an old rivalry and this season they meet 12 times with the Frontenacs now holding a two-game edge in the six they’ve played so far.
67’s Must Fire Up Offense
The biggest takeaway from the loss to the Frontenacs is that the Barber Poles must get their offense going, and soon. Alternate captain Cam Tolnai, now the team’s leading points-getter with 25 points, said just that at the end of the first period with his team behind 2-0 on goals by Kingston forwards Maddox Callens and Wright. Putting the weight on himself he said, “the offense has got to pick it up, starting with myself.”
The 67’s fired 21 shots on Merilainen, but few were from high danger areas. To be fair, the Ottawa Senators’ prospect is tough to beat, but nevertheless, the 67’s were just not getting enough traffic in front of the young Finn who is projected to backstop the Finnish National Team in the 2022 World Junior Championship (WJC).
As Ottawa head coach Dave Cameron stresses, his team needs to get into the dirty areas in front of the net to score goals. That didn’t happen against the Frontenacs whose D-Corps kept Merilainen’s crease clear most of the afternoon.
67’s Struggle with Starts
One of the takeaways from the game is that the first period matters. Ottawa came out with plenty of energy at the start of the first frame, but by the mid-point of the stanza, Kingston was outshooting them 10-to-1.
Ottawa then gave up two goals in quick succession near the end of the frame and only registered three shots on goal when the buzzer went off to end the period. They spent the rest of the afternoon chasing the game and never got out of the hole they dug for themselves.
67’s Need to Focus on Details
Sloppy turnovers and dumping the puck into areas that weren’t supported seemed to plague the Barber Poles all afternoon. A case in point was a drop pass by Luca Pinelli in his own zone to nobody in particular that Wright picked off to put himself on the scoresheet with just under five minutes to go in the first frame.
The lesson for Ottawa was that Wright, widely expected to go first in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft is the last player around whom any OHL team should become careless. 67’s fans will get another look at Wright at the end of this month when he dons the maple leaf for Team Canada at the WJC.
Ottawa gave up too many odd-man rushes, starting by handing Kingston their first goal on a 3-on-1 rush. Not only that, but Ottawa’s defense let the Frontenacs get behind them too often. If that wasn’t bad enough, they rewarded Kingston with too many shots from the slot because they were not picking up trailers coming into their zone. That forced Cranley to make some big saves on point blank shots.
If that wasn’t hard enough on Cranley, the defense corps was loading up on one side in front of his crease, leaving snipers all alone to bang home loose pucks. That’s how Chromiak notched his first of two goals.
67’s Leaders Need to Step Up
As Tolnai goes, so too do the 67’s. He has appeared on the score sheet just twice in the team’s current four-game losing streak. Yet other veterans on the team like Jack Matier, Adam Varga, Jack Beck and Thomas Johnston are also struggling and Cameron looks to all of them to set the tone of a game.
Beck is injured at that has certainly hurt Ottawa’s offence. Even so, the others have struggled with Varga and Matier putting up only four points in their last 10 starts and Johnston just a goal and three assists. Tolnai is still on pace for a point-per-game, but his pace lately has dropped off.
Against the Frontenacs, none of the veterans registered a point leaving it to rookies Derek Smyth and Brad Gardiner to make Ottawa’s presence known in Kingston. In what looked like the start of a second period Ottawa rally, Smyth potted a goal off a point shot that Merilainen didn’t see because of all the Ottawa bodies in front of him. Gardiner led the 67’s with four shots on goal –almost a fifth of the team’s total in the game.
Still, just over five minutes after Smyth lit the goal light, Martin Chromiak snuffed out hope for a 67’s rally with the first of his two markers on the afternoon. The second year Frontenacs veteran will suit up for his native Czech Republic in the WJC.
67’s Have Opportunity End Slump Next Week
The week ahead features games with the Peterborough Petes on Wednesday night assuming Covid-19 protocols do not force a cancellation. The Oshawa Generals visit the nation’s capital on Friday night followed by the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.
The Barber Poles need to turn things around and match ups with the Petes and Generals, two teams with their own challenges of late, could present an opportunity to earn much needed wins. The Bulldogs, vying for top spot in the Eastern Conference, won’t be so easy.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney