Defence, Where Art Thou: Windsor Spitfires’ Red Lamp Weekend

Through the first 20 games, the challenge for the Windsor Spitfires has been getting consistent offence. They found it on the weekend but struggled to find the rest of their game. After winning four-of-five over the last two weekends, the Spits ended their homestand on Thursday night before hitting I-75 in Detroit for a pair of intra-divisional games.

The road hasn’t been kind to the team as they entered the weekend 3-5-0-1 away from the WFCU Centre. Their home record was better, though, with seven wins in 12 games. Could they continue the success?

No Stopping Noel

The Oshawa Generals have one of the best offences in the OHL this season (62 goals in 19 games) and veteran forward Serron Noel has been a big reason. Noel came into Thursday night’s game in Windsor on a four-game point streak (one goal, five assists), giving him 12 goals and nine assists through 19 games. He’s showing why the Florida Panthers drafted him in the second round in 2018.

Scoring the first two goals of the game, including a short-handed goal, Noel made his mark early for the Generals. Spitfires rookie Will Cuylle tried to spoil the party, though, as he cut the lead in half for a 2-1 Oshawa lead after 20 min. The teams exchanged goals in the second – Tyler Tullio for the Generals and Daniel D’Amico for the Spitfires – and the Generals kept their one-goal cushion heading into the third period.

Despite the Spitfires outshooting the Generals 11-8 in the final frame, Noel was at it again. He assisted on goals from Allan McShane and Nando Eggenberger late in the period as the Generals skated away with a 5-2 win.

Serron Noel Oshawa Generals
Serron Noel of the Oshawa Generals. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Noel’s four-point night wasn’t the only highlight for the Generals as goaltender Kyle Keyser stopped 33 of 35 shots for his eighth win of the season. At the other end, Spitfires’ goaltender Michael DiPietro stopped 24 of 28 Generals shots in the loss. It was a rare performance by DiPietro who allowed four goals for the first time since Oct. 7 against the Hamilton Bulldogs; he had allowed just one goal in four of his last five games.

Saginaw Spiritless Against DiPietro

DiPietro has been a rock for the Spitfires all season and the team was counting him, and themselves, to bounce back as they headed up I-75 for a Saturday night tilt against the Saginaw Spirit. DiPietro didn’t see a lot of work in the opening 20 minutes, however, as the Spirit were held to six shots. The Spitfires fared worse with only three of their own. They managed to get the only goal of the frame, though, when Cody Morgan put one high on goaltender Ivan Prosvetov for a 1-0 lead.

What started as a defensive game quickly changed, as the teams combined for 27 shots in the second period. Spitfires’ veteran Cole Purboo scored his eighth of the season 3:26 into the frame to put the Spitfires up a pair. Would a Jake Goldowski goal right after Purboo give the Spirit some momentum? No. Purboo added his second of the game 46 seconds later for a 3-1 lead. Chris Playfair and Curtis Douglas added singles in the third as the Spitfires walked onto the bus with a 5-1 win.

Windsor Spitfires Superhero Night
Cole Purboo (center) leads the Windsor Spitfires with 16 points in 23 games. (Dave Jewell/THW )

The final two goals were no surprise as the Spitfires outshot the Spirit 17-5 in the third period and 32-26 overall. DiPietro made 25 saves in the victory and the Spitfires are now 3-0 against the Spirit this season, outscoring them 19-7.

Following the game, the Spirit relieved head coach Troy Smith of his coaching duties. He was replaced by Chris Lazary.

There was one more game for the Spitfires, as they crossed the mighty Mackinac Bridge towards Sault Ste. Marie for a Sunday matinee against the West Division-leading Greyhounds.

Hound Power Runs Wild

Winning games in Sault Ste. Marie is one of the toughest tasks in the OHL for visiting clubs. The Hounds came into the weekend with no regulation losses at home in 10 games (8-0-1-1). That streak ended on Friday night as the Ottawa 67s handed the Hounds an 8-2 defeat.

Part of that was because the Hounds lost veteran goaltender Matthew Villalta to an injury on Nov. 4 during the pregame warmup. While he could return soon, the Hounds had newly-acquired Mario Peccia in net for the 67s game and Sunday’s game against the Spitfires.

After the 8-2 loss to the 67s, the Hounds were in no mood for playing around as they fired 14 first-period shots at Spitfires’ goaltender Kari Piiroinen. Despite that, they could only get one past the rookie and they took a 1-0 lead into the room. Hounds forwards Cole MacKay and Barrett Hayton continued the offence in the second period, giving the home side a 3-0 lead just seven minutes in. Piiroinen settled in, though, and his teammates found their legs.

Barrett Hayton
Barrett Hayton of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Less than three minutes after the Hayton goal, D’Amico cut the lead to 3-1, starting a flood of Spitfires goals in the period. In total, they put four past Peccia in the second period and outshot the Hounds 15-13. What started as a quiet game, became a 4-4 match heading into the third period.

Spitfires’ rookie Kyle McDonald gave his team a 5-4 lead with 17 minutes remaining, but the Hounds found a way to put a damper on the Spitfires’ offensive outburst. Keeghan Howdeshell scored his 14th of the season midway through the period to force overtime. Just 15 seconds into the extra frame, Morgan Frost sent the crowd of 3,807 home happy with his 14th as the Hounds beat the Spitfires 6-5.

A 6-5 score isn’t normal in the OHL. It’s even rarer when the first six goals involve special teams. Both clubs scored twice while short-handed and the Hounds added two power-play goals. The Spitfires failed to score on the power play and they have given up six short-handed goals on the season, ranked 17th in the league.

Boys Back, Work Needed

Thursday night saw the return of rookies Cuylle, McDonald and Jean-Luc Foudy to the Spitfires’ lineup. The trio had represented Canada at the 2018 World Under-17 Challenge. Their return meant lineup decisions had to be made. Head coach Trevor Letowski had to sit multiple players before the trio left and, upon their return, that continued.

On the plus side, Cuylle, Foudy and McDonald had incredible chemistry together this weekend. That can only benefit the Spitfires as long as Letowski keeps them on the same line. When your forwards are scoring 12 goals in a weekend, something is going right.

Windsor Spitfires Jean-Luc Foudy
Jean-Luc Foudy Windsor Spitfires. (Dave Jewell/THW)

On the other hand, the weekend showed there’s work to be done. Allowing 12 goals, including two short-handed goals, isn’t a smart recipe. You won’t score four or five goals every night so allowing an average of four-per-game isn’t acceptable. There’s plenty to work on in practice this week before the team heads to Flint on Friday night for a match with the Firebirds. After that, the Spitfires return home on Saturday for a rematch with the Firebirds and then finish the weekend at home against the London Knights on Sunday.