The 2015 OHL Playoffs for the Erie Otters to this point has been the Connor McDavid show. On the same day that Jack Eichel won the Hobey Baker as a freshman, McDavid goes out and scores 5 goals in a game against the London Knights. It’s turned into a game of “Anything you can do, I can do better.”
It was the 1st time in McDavid’s OHL career that he notched 5 goals in a game. His memorable Game 2 performance helped lead the Otters to a sweep of the London Knights. The Otters have now won 8 games in a row, and 20 of their past 22 games.
The Otters should be able to breeze through the rest of the playoffs, right? Well, actually not. In fact, their next opponent, the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, finished ahead of them in the Western Conference and will have home ice advantage in their series. We now ask the question that many are wondering, has Connor McDavid finally met his match?
Reviewing Their Season Series
The Otters and Greyhounds met only twice during the regular season. Each team won once, in the other one’s building. Erie won 6-4 early in the season. When you consider that the Greyhounds finished an astounding 31-2-1 at home this season, what Erie did was impressive.
The other meeting in Erie was all Greyhounds. They dominated the Otters from start to finish, and posted a 6-1 victory. This was Erie’s most lopsided loss of the season. McDavid was limited to a single assist.
Now there is something that needs to be kept in mind about this season series. Both teams made trades at the deadline to improve their rosters. Erie acquired Nick Baptiste, Remi Elie, and Jake Marchment. Sault St. Marie acquired Justin Bailey, Nick Ritchie, and Anthony DeAngelo. The 1st game didn’t have any of these players in the game. The 2nd game had all of these players.
So Who Has The Advantage Now?
Unfortunately, Erie will not be at full strength in this series. They will be without 3 of their key players. Kyle Pettit has a broken hand, and is questionable at best for this series. Kurtis MacDermid has 5 more games left to serve on his 8 game suspension for his hit on Max Domi. Mason Marchment has 7 more games left to serve on his 10 game suspension for his hit on Mitchell Marner.
Pettit is a very solid 3rd line player who can play 2 ways and kill penalties. The Greyhounds power play is lethal, so Pettit’s absence is a huge void. MacDermid is the Otters most physical defenseman. His matchup with Nick Ritchie would have been fun to watch. Marchment has really improved his game as the season has gone on. He played on Dylan Strome’s wing for several games in the 2nd half of the season.
The Greyhounds do get the benefit of not having to face those players. But an even deeper look at the rosters shows that Sault St. Marie will be the favorite to win this series.
Reviewing The Rosters
The Otters are of course known for their star power. They are led by McDavid, Dylan Strome, and Alex DeBrincat. They each finished with over 100 points on the season. They’re not the only ones who contribute. In all, Erie has 14 different players with at least 20 points on the season, and 5 players who have at least 20 goals on the season.
The Greyhounds are known, especially after the trade deadline, for their incredible depth. They didn’t have anyone finish with 100 points. Sergei Tolchinsky finished with 95 points. But you don’t need a 100 point scorer when you have incredible depth.
They boast 19, yes 19, different players with at least 20 points. If that wasn’t enough, how about 10 different 20 goal scorers? Their 3rd line, of Blake Speers, Jean Dupuy, and Nick Ritchie, have a combined 71 regular season goals. I haven’t even mentioned noted Otters killers Justin Bailey and Anthony DeAngelo. They also have a shut down defender in Darnell Nurse to boot.
Has McDavid Met His Match?
Recall last season, the Otters had a similar playoffs to the one this season to this point. They got to the Western Finals in 9 games, before losing in 5 games to the Guelph Storm. McDavid was held in check during that series. Guelph had a 3rd line similar to what Sault St. Marie has now. Erie couldn’t handle that. This Greyhounds team appears to be better than the Storm team from last season.
As great as the Otters are and as McDavid is, there is only so much one can do. The Greyhounds have the talent and roster to make this a quick series. They are currently 8-0 in these playoffs, outscoring their opponents 47-15. Can Erie make this a series? Of course they can. If they want to make this a series, there’s 3 things that must happen.
The Otters must stay out of the box. A majority of this series must be played at 5 on 5. This means staying disciplined and keeping things simple. Give the Greyhounds too many power plays, and you’ll be down 3 before you can blink.
Devin Williams must be the Otters best player. His season has been up and down. As of late, he has been able to find a nice level of consistency in his game. He cannot let in anything soft. The Greyhounds are good enough as it is. William’s performance could give his Otters teammates momentum. As Williams goes, so will the Otters.
The Otters must keep the Greyhounds to the outside. Scoring opportunities must be limited. The Otters defense has been great of late. When it’s been bad though, it’s been really bad. Opponents are wide open in the slot. If the Otters want to win this series, they must control their own zone and avoid lapses in coverage.
So Who Wins?
These are clearly 2 of the best teams in the CHL. The talent in this series is off the charts. Either team can win when things go right for them. I just have a hard time seeing Erie being able to overcome losing those 3 players. And anytime a series is star power vs. depth, I tend to lean the team with depth, especially with a 3rd line who has 71 goals amongst them. McDavid will be great, the Otters will be good, I just think the Greyhounds will be better. Greyhounds will win in 5 games.