Spitfires Weekly: Hallowe’en Home Split

The first month of the 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League season has been a valuable learning opportunity for the Windsor Spitfires. They entered October with high expectations and, after some ups-and-downs, leave the month looking for consistency. That’s not an easy task and they found that out this past weekend as Halloween showed they still have demons to overcome.

When the CHL Top-10 came out before the season, the Spitfires were ranked eighth on two separate occasions. It’s high praise from those who choose it, but it also means little until you’ve actually played. The club has all kinds of raw talent but, with nearly half of the roster new to the organization, and two new coaches, putting it all together is taking time. It’s that whole “marathon versus sprint” concept. With a pair of home games to end October, though, it was a good chance to work out some issues before the gales of November come calling.

Let’s dive into a rollercoaster weekend…

Downey Proves He Belongs

Coming into last weekend, the Spitfires had an issue starting to simmer – the dreaded goaltending controversy.

Their starter, 19-year-old Xavier Medina, was ready to show he could play 50-plus games. He’s struggled since the preseason, though, and that’s allowed 17-year-old rookie Kyle Downey to stick his skate in the door. One of the Spitfires’ second-round picks in 2020 just earned his first OHL win on Oct. 21 against the Owen Sound Attack and was eager for more.

Kyle Downey, Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ goaltender Kyle Downey during 2021-22 training camp. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Head coach Marc Savard gave Downey his second-straight start at home on Thursday night against the Guelph Storm and the rookie took full advantage. The Spitfires jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead and cruised to a convincing 7-4 win. However, the story was about the rookie goaltender. He made 36 saves, showing a calm and collected presence in goal. Nothing phased him and that bodes well for the future.

Related: Windsor Spitfires’ 2021-22 Season Preview

Saturday night, Savard went back to the rookie as they faced the Kitchener Rangers. Unfortunately, his defense didn’t help anything. While the Spitfires scored the opening goal, three quick goals to start the second gave the visitors the 3-1 lead and didn’t look back. Late in the third period, Dallas Stars’ prospect Wyatt Johnston scored on a penalty shot to cut the Rangers’ lead to 4-3. However, Downey was promptly pulled for the extra skater and the Rangers scored twice to finish the 6-3 win.

It’s not the way the club wanted to end October, but the split had some positives. The Spitfires showed improved offense and confidence in goal. Downey came into the season hoping to show why he was so highly touted before his draft. He’s earning more time and could push Medina into a 1A/1B scenario.

Spitfires Versus the USA

This week will be a big test with their first viewings of two American teams. On Wednesday, they’ll hop on the bus and head to Flint, MI, for a battle with the Firebirds. It’s the first time this season that an Ontario-based team will head stateside for a game. Before the season, the OHL decided that the three American-based teams – Firebirds, Erie Otters (Pennsylvania), and Saginaw Spirit (Michigan) – would only play each other for the first month due to border issues Covid-19.

On Saturday, the Spitfires head back to the WFCU Centre for a game against the Otters. The club will also be holding Remembrance Day ceremonies before the game.

What will help them get those much-needed four points? Improving their special teams. Their power-play sits at fourth-last in the conference (14.6 percent) and their penalty kill is last at 69 percent. Savard ran the power-play with the St. Louis Blues in 2019-20 and they converted at 24.26 percent, good for third in the NHL. He knows what he’s doing; it’s just getting the players to learn the systems.

Andy Delmore, Marc Savard, and Jerrod Smith
Windsor Spitfires’ coaches Andy Delmore (L), Marc Savard (C), and Jerrod Smith (R) are building for the long haul. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Fortunately, their offense is coming around and a handful of veterans are pushing the point-a-game pace, including forwards Matthew Maggio and Kyle McDonald (seven points in nine games each). With only a few players yet to get on the scoresheet, the club’s depth is starting to show, which will be needed over the long haul.

With the offense developing and their goaltending starting to find its way, the next steps are tightening up their defense and getting their special teams going. Getting the points now will help ease the stress down the stretch. Nobody wants to lose home ice or the division title by a point or two.

Game time on Saturday is 7:05 PM.

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