Erie Otters Falling Way Short of Expectations

The Erie Otters have had a real rough time of late. But on Friday night at home against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, they may have reached a new low.

The Greyhounds scored a goal in the first four minutes of both the first and second periods to take a 2-0 lead. Those two goals were enough to walk out of Erie Insurance Arena with a regulation victory.

Jamie Drysdale scored a power-play goal in the second period to make it close. But that’s as close as the Otters would come in a listless 2-1 defeat.

Jamie Drysdale, OHL, Erie Otters
Jamie Drysdale’s PPG was not enough on Friday night. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

After an impressive 4-2 win in Oshawa, the Otters came home for five straight games looking to build off that momentum. Instead, they’ve lost the first four games of that stretch while being outscored 13-6. The game against Kitchener was lost in a shootout.

The Otters have one last home game coming up on Sunday before their holiday break. They don’t play at Erie Insurance Arena again until Dec 28 against the Niagara Icedogs. They have three games in four nights next weekend in northern Canada before they get to their break.

All along despite the poor results, head coach Chris Hartsburg has maintained two consistent themes. One, he’s generally liked what he’s seen of late from an overall standpoint. But two, there have been major consistency issues.

Friday night however, the tune of Hartsburg changed.

Inside the Otters’ Poor Play

Hartsburg was as animated as I’ve ever seen him in a postgame interview since he became the head coach. He was not happy. What was at the heart of the matter in his mind?

“There’s some selfishness creeping into our team,” Hartsburg said. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t like where we’re at right now.”

Nobody on the Otters should like where they’re at right now. One look at their performance indicates that for a team coming in with higher expectations, they have fallen way short of their goal overall. Look at some of these stats.

  • Current four-game losing streak all at home.
  • Six losses in their last seven outings.
  • Eight losses in their last 10 outings.
  • Since Oct 18, just five wins in their last 18 games.
  • In shootouts, the Otters have just one goal in 21 attempts.

Since Oct 18, the Otters have lost eight games in overtime or a shootout. EIGHT. It makes their place in the standings quite deceptive.

As of this writing, the Otters are in seventh place in the OHL’s Western Conference with 30 points in 28 games. But remember all those overtime games. If you look past that, you will see a team that has the fewest wins in the Western Conference with just 11.

Having 11 wins in 28 outings with a home-heavy schedule (17 home, 11 road) is completely unacceptable for this team. They’ll be the first to tell you that. Overall the Otters are 7-6-4 at home. But in their last 11 homes games, they have just three wins.

Erie Insurance Arena has always been known around the league as one of the toughest buildings in the OHL to play in for opponents. That hasn’t been the case this season.

What Gives?

The question on the minds of many is why? A couple of things stand out.

First, the Otters have been injured a bunch. They just got two defensemen back in Jacob Golden and Brendan Kischnick. But their injuries forced the Otters to play rookies Cam Morton and Christian Kyrou probably earlier than they anticipated. Then add in Luke Beamish’s retirement and you have a very young defense playing big minutes.

Second and more importantly, you have a team trying to be too cute in their approach. In Friday’s game, the Otters had a long 5-on-3 power play where they made it easy for the Greyhounds to kill the penalty. They weren’t even close. They kept trying to make perfect passes. You could easily see frustration in their play. Considering their best players play the power play, if they’re trying to be too cute, it will resonate through the team. The Otters are not doing enough to create offense. They are way underperforming.

Hartsburg shared some strong thoughts about his team beyond the selfishness.

Chris Hartsburg, OHL, Erie Otters
Chris Hartsburg was not happy with Friday’s performance. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

“We’re not willing to pay a price. We want it easy. We want it so easy it’s not even funny. We do not want to pay a price to get to the net, to score a hard goal. We need more guys that are showing they care through their effort, not through their speech. It’s more guys worrying about themselves than the team.”

One play in Friday night’s game illustrated this point. The score was 2-1 late in the third period. With about six minutes to go, captain Jack Duff had his stick knocked away. He thought there should have been a penalty against the Greyhounds. What does he do next? He goes back after the Greyhounds’ player and two-hand pushes him down with the puck nowhere near them. That’s textbook interference. That’s also a selfish and needless play.

The Otters need much more from their leaders. Hartsburg said as much.

“These guys have to lead the charge. They have to be the guys that are walking what we’re saying. And right now, the group is following them. I’m not saying it’s all on them. But we need to be better as a group.”

Now What?

Considering the current state of affairs for the Otters, it’s fair to wonder what could happen in the near future especially if this keeps up.

Last season when things went south, there was never a point where the Otters considered a coaching change. But with higher expectations and recent poor results, you have to wonder if there’s at least some thought about it now. We know the team isn’t happy. It’ll be curious to see how they choose to act upon it. If they lay an egg against Sarnia on Sunday on home ice, then we might need to sound the alarm.

But for now, we need to watch this situation closely. Will the leaders step up and respond? Will the group follow that lead? Can the coaching staff get their message across to the players?

Things are uneasy at this point. Let’s see now who rises up to the occasion and helps the team out of their funk. At the end of the day though, no matter if you’re a coach or a player, everyone has to be better. No one is excluded especially when they have the fewest number of wins in the conference.