Dropping a 5-2 decision to the Barrie Colts Saturday afternoon in the nation’s capital on Anthony Tabak’s winning goal mid-way through the second frame was not the way the Ottawa 67’s wanted to start their Christmas break. Yet they did, despite playing a game that Ottawa interim head coach Norm Milley said, “could have gone either way.”
Still, the disappointment in Milley’s voice in the post-game presser was unmistakable with the bench boss summing up the tilt, perhaps glibly, as “a hockey game,” explaining that, “the (Christmas) break couldn’t come at a better time. It’s nice to just shut the mind down and get away from hockey and come back recharged, refreshed, and ready to go.”
No doubt he’ll kick back and watch his boss, Ottawa 67’s head coach Dave Cameron, shepherd Team Canada through the World Junior Championship.
To be fair to the 67’s, the game against the Colts was their third in three days. What’s more, the team has played 31 games – more than any other team in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Against the Colts, they were facing a team with fresh legs because their last two games had been canceled due to Covid-19 concerns.
Even so, when they get back to Ottawa on Boxing Day, the Barber Poles are going to have to address several problems.
The Ottawa 67’s Need More Offense
There is no denying fact. The Barber Poles have won just two games in their last 15. At the risk of sounding trite, the team can’t score. To this point in the season, they have notched 2.8 goals per game and allowed opponents to score almost four against them every time they lace up their skates. Over Christmas, they need to figure out a way to turn that around.
As Milley acknowledged after Friday night’s loss to the Oshawa Generals, “most of the team’s offense has generated from the D-zone and the rush.” The talk among hockey pundits, however, is that the team needs to see more puck cycling and possession in the offensive zone.
Against the Colts Saturday, they were not able to mount sustained pressure in the offensive zone. As Milley himself put it, “we gave them a lot of O-zone time”, even if his team, as he explained, “kept them (the Colts) to the outside for the most part.” Even so, it’s when they didn’t that the Colts notched goals.
The 67’s need to ratchet up their forecheck. Without that, this weekend’s matchups against the Generals and Colts underlined that it’s just too easy for other teams to break out of their defensive zone and take the play to Ottawa. Unless the team can gain possession of their opponents’ zone and work an effective cycle, their goal production will remain anemic.
Ottawa 67’s Leaders Need to Step Up
This weekend, Ottawa’s on-ice leadership was missing. Except for Cam Tolnai, who notched two assists in Friday’s game against Oshawa, none of the 67’s big guns made an appearance.
Of the 11-points Ottawa players notched this weekend, it’s true that seven were registered by skaters ranked among the top-ten points getters on the team. Yet only four goals were scored. There aren’t many hockey leagues where an average of two goals a game will result in a winning track record. With a .419 points percentage after this weekend, Ottawa is a poster child for that proposition.
It has been the 67’s younger players who have stepped up in the last few games. Singling out Luca Pinelli and Brady Stonehouse, two standouts on the weekend, Milley said, “these two guys are coming out of their shell a little bit. They’re playing with more confidence. Stonehouse is a guy who, if he sticks to his game, gets pucks deep and uses his speed, he’s a very effective player for us.”
Of Pinelli, a rookie with the club this year, Milley said, “it was just a matter of time for him to gain his confidence with the puck. With him staying reliable defensively we can put him out there in more situations.”
Ottawa 67’s Starts Are Weak
The Barber Poles chased both of this weekend’s games after falling behind in the first period. On Saturday, they spent much of the first stanza running around in their own zone chasing Colts forwards. It was only because of twine minder, Will Cranley, that they headed to the first intermission down only one goal.
Asked whether he thought the team had a problem with their starts, Milley sighed, admitting, “Yeah, more times than not”, saying that, “I don’t know why we come out a little bit slow. To be honest I can’t put my finger on it. I think it’s more of a mindset.”
Whatever the explanation, Ottawa is going to have to solve their slow start problem when they return to play after Christmas.
Ottawa 67’s Selfish Penalties
While he wasn’t named in the post-game press conference, everyone knew that Milley was talking about Dylan Robinson when he said that the 67’s have had “penalty trouble”. Against the Colts on Saturday, the left-winger took three penalties and was ejected from the game late in the third period for abusing an official.
Of the team’s penalty trouble, Milley said that “it’s something definitely we have to address. We have to learn to control our emotions. We can’t be selfish. One of our mottos is that we are unselfish and taking those penalties puts us behind.”
Advice for Christmas Break
Asked what advice he had for his players over the Christmas break, Milley said he, “told them to go home and not talk hockey to anybody. They’ve talked enough hockey with us coaches over the last while and they need to just get away from the game. Enjoy your Mom’s food and come back recharged and ready to go.”
That sounds like good advice for anyone. Fans will see whether it works when the team returns to Ottawa on Boxing Day.
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