67’s Shut Down and Shut Out Against Steelheads

The Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) continue to be a pain in the backside for the Ottawa 67’s who were shut out for the second time in three games against the trout. In their three meetings, the 67’s have registered just two goals and what was a high-flying offensive team to open the season has slowly become one of the quietest in the OHL. With the losses in the past few weeks piling up, there are some concerning trends, but as always, there are a couple of positives to build on.

Max Donoso Stellar in Second Game

Starting with something positive, Max Donoso was really good on Friday night, allowing just one goal on 32 shots despite not being named one of the game’s three stars. Donoso was recalled from the Hawkesbury Hawks of the Central Canada Hockey League just a few weeks ago after backup goaltender Colin MacKenzie was injured in a collision in front of the net. This wasn’t Donoso’s first OHL game, but to do what he was able to do in just his second game was certainly impressive.

Max Donoso Ottawa 67's
Max Donoso Ottawa 67’s (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

You can’t ask too much more from your goaltender than making the key saves and giving your team a chance to win. That’s exactly what Donoso did for the 67’s in his second start. He was not perfect on the night and there were certain aspects of his game that he will look to continue to grow when he eventually returns to Hawkesbury. That includes his rebound control, but if you remember back to training camp, I often mentioned that he looked pretty good in that department, so he can certainly make it happen.

Donoso did just as well as you could imagine for a call-up and rookie goaltender. It’s unfortunate for him that this effort came in a game where the goaltender at the other end was every bit his equal and his team couldn’t manage a goal. It goes down as a loss on his record, but not every loss is created equal.

67’s Concerning Lack of Goals

When the 67’s were healthy, they were scoring goals in bunches. Jack Beck and Cam Tolnai were the team’s primary options and then players like Thomas Johnston, Dylan Robinson, Vinzenz Rohrer, Vsevolod Gaidamak, and Brenden Sirizzotti provided that secondary scoring bump that made them a deep roster and constant offensive threat. Now with some injuries, the secondary scoring options have been asked to step up into that primary role, something they haven’t been able to do with too much success.

Vinzenz Rohrer Ottawa 67's
Vinzenz Rohrer, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

However, this breakdown in offense isn’t for a lack of effort from those guys. It’s likely stemming from a lack of experience from those players and a general lack of secondary scoring from players playing minimal roles when the team was healthy. The asks from players such as Will Gerrior, Brad Gardiner, and Steven Laforme have been astronomical in the past couple of weeks. They have been playing a lot of minutes, but it’s not by design for head coach Dave Cameron. He’s been forced to play them, and to be fair to those guys, they have done about everything you could have expected from them.

It has even gotten to the point where they have been down so many forwards that they recalled Jack Dever and Cooper Foster and they were forced to play solid minutes. You wouldn’t have mistaken them for superstars, but they got the job done. But the issue has really been asking so much from these young players. Asking these guys to score and provide secondary scoring is a little unrealistic, but so is asking those inexperienced secondary options to replace a player like Beck.

How does this get fixed? How can you take what you have and start scoring goals again? Well, the unfortunate answer to that is you probably don’t until you get some of the injured players back or until you get someone going in a big way. This was always a risk coming into the season. The 67’s are an exceptionally young team this season, and when you lose as many veterans as they have, you can’t expect their young players to suddenly replace them. They just have to find a way to keep their heads above water until they get some bodies back.

67’s Played a Decent Game

Outside of the inability to score, the 67’s played a relatively solid game. Some of those younger players had their chances to score, and guys like Luca Pinelli and Chris Barlas are looking a little more confident after representing Canada at the Capital City Challenge last weekend. They had their chances to score, including a breakaway chance for Gerrior, where he was hauled down from behind with no call. There was a lot to like in nearly every other aspect of the game outside of scoring.

Will Gerrior, Ottawa 67's
Will Gerrior, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

The 67’s did a better job at getting the puck to the middle of the ice than they have against the Steelheads in the past, but they still weren’t perfect on the game plan. Cameron has preached about getting to the front of the net, and while they did do that towards the end of the game, they could have done with doing that from the start.

In contrast to their game against the Niagara IceDogs on Thursday night, this was much better. They competed, they had their chances, and had they gotten a couple of goals, this could have been different. If they can somehow find a way to get those goals, they are in a good place. They need to stick to the game plan and play a good all-around team game (like they did for the most part on Friday night) and they should be fine. No one should be pounding the panic button right now.

Tough Test on Sunday

The issue with the 67’s schedule is not playing anyone in the Western Conference this season. The Eastern Conference has been filled with parity this season and there haven’t been too many easy games. That stretch will continue on Sunday afternoon when the 67’s travel to Kingston to take on Shane Wright and the Frontenacs. It will be their sixth matchup of the season, marking the first half of their 12 game series this season. Against the Frontenacs this season, the 67’s have a record of 2-2-0-1. If you told them they would hold their own against them this season, they would have taken it. On paper, this isn’t a game the 67’s should win, but don’t expect anything but a good effort.

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