The Ottawa 67’s deserved a better fate Friday night at TD Place in Ottawa, falling 4-2 to the Oshawa Generals, whose Ty Tullio shot the lights out with a three-goal performance. The loss extended Ottawa’s losing streak to four games. Even so, there are takeaways from the loss that should give Ottawa fans reason for optimism.
Ottawa 67’s #NoQuit Attitude on Full Display
Despite the score, Ottawa interim head coach Norm Milley gave credit to his squad saying, “I’m really happy with the team tonight. I’m proud of the guys. The boys should be proud of themselves as an effort and as a group. The coaching staff and the organization is happy with the effort, so we’ve just got to continue to go forward and really trust in the process.”
Ottawa’s grit was on display after they went down 3-1 late in the second frame on Tullio’s hat-trick marker. Thomas Johnston answered back with just over a minute to go in the period, tipping in a deflection from Cam Tolnai’s stick off a rebound Generals goaltender Zachary Paputsakis gave up off a shot from Ottawa’s blue line.
Following a long tradition among hockey players, Johnston downplayed the importance of his contribution in the post-game presser and said, “there’s a ton of positives to take away from tonight’s game. We played the right way as a team. We didn’t get the bounces we wanted, but our effort was there. We played from the first period to the third one. The outcome didn’t show how we played, but we’re going to build from that, because tonight was a good game as a team.”
Ottawa hasn’t had it easy in the last month dealing with a steady stream of injured players, including their biggest offensive weapon, Jack Beck, who is week to week. On top of that, there has been the added strain of Covid-19 protocols the team must observe.
The 67’s are also adjusting to coaching changes now that their head coach Dave Cameron is behind Team Canada’s bench at the World Junior Championship. That tournament is also keeping the team’s number two points-getter, Vinzenz Roher, out of the roster as he laces up for his native Austria’s entry in the contest.
If that wasn’t enough, the team has played 30 games to this point in the season – the most of any team in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Even so, Milley isn’t accepting any of this as an excuse, explaining that the number of games has “maybe taken a bit of a toll on the younger players, but it doesn’t matter how many games we play. I think the first two months of the season is a grind for our younger guys coming in because of our training and skating and the schedule we have. So, the amount of games we play won’t make a big difference for us because we’re a team that’s building up for something bigger. We’re building towards being in shape, being top quality in February and March.”
Ottawa 67’s Need More Offensive Zone Time
In the post-game presser, Milley acknowledged that “most of the team’s offense has generated from the D-zone and the rush,” leading many pundits to point out that the team needs to see more puck cycling and possession in the offensive zone.
Milley says he “agrees and disagrees” with that assessment going on to explain that, “I think we’ve had some looks, we had times in there where we grind it. We haven’t scored as much as other teams in the league, but if you look at the quality of the chances we’ve had in the last five or six games, we’ve had a lot of quality looks. But again, we can always grind the game a little bit more, and that’s the sign of a young team learning.”
There is no question the team is young, most nights dressing at least 10 rookies. With eight goals and 14 assists so far this season at right-wing, Rohrer has been the most impactful of the rookies in the offensive zone.
Yet other freshmen have proved themselves very dangerous on the cycle and in the dirty areas in front of the net where goals are scored, including Brady Stonehouse, who is in the top 10 for points, and Luca Pinelli, who is knocking on that door.
Pinelli made his presence felt on the power play, sniping three shots on goal on Ottawa’s first of three in the game. The 67’s came up empty on all three, but that’s not surprising given that the team has an 18.8% powerplay percentage – 13th in the league. Their weakness on the power play probably cost them the game in the final few minutes of the third frame when, after pulling goaltender Max Donoso for an extra attacker, they had a 6-on-4 advantage resulting from the Generals’ Stuart Rolof’s five-minute major for a slew-foot.
Max Donoso Needs to Play More
With 67’s regular backup goaltender Colin MacKenzie injured, Donoso has stepped in and proven his mettle. That’s good news for St. Louis draft pick Will Cranley, who has been relied on heavily by the team and needs a break.
Donoso stands tall in net. He reads the play well, is calm and doesn’t give up many rebounds. Still, Friday night’s game was just his third start, and he’ll need to play more if the 67’s want to see a solid tandem in goal.
Ottawa 67’s Must Avoid Needless Penalties
With a penalty kill percentage of just 75.4 percent, the 67’s are 16th in the OHL. They simply can’t afford to take unnecessary penalties. One of them put the team down 2-1 to close out the first stanza. Even when penalties don’t put them in a hole, they can be a needless distraction that takes their focus away from much-needed offense.
Dylan Robinson’s second of his two penalties in the game — one for holding in the neutral zone a few seconds into the second period — is an example. Robinson plays on the edge, for which he can’t be faulted. Still, he must know that he has a reputation in the league after his suspensions and that referees will be watching him closely. That’s probably a topic of conversation with the coaching staff.
Ottawa 67’s a Work in Progress
The 67’s are a young team, and it shows in some of the key aspects of their game. They can be sloppy in their own zone often running around chasing the puck because they lack structure. More often than not, they struggle gaining and controlling the offensive zone. Even so, Milley said of Friday night’s game that, “the effort was there and so when we look at the game tape we can start to build and get better.”
As it would turn out, however, the Barber Poles’ lackluster effort in Saturday afternoon’s 5-2 loss to the Barrie Colts might cast doubt on that hopeful outlook among the cynics in Ottawa. Fans will have to wait until after Christmas to see whether the team can build on its positives.
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