The Windsor Spitfires are quickly finding out that when you’re near the top of the standings, you can’t take any shifts off. Rated #6 in the CHL Top-10 this week, they’re slowly becoming the hunted. A weekend on the road saw the team in two tight battles, giving them plenty to think about with a busy stretch approaching.
Coming into the weekend, the Spitfires sat in a three-way tie for first in the OHL’s Western Conference. The parity has been outstanding so the old cliche of “every shift matters” almost has to apply. While they were undefeated in regulation in their last 10 games, nothing has come easy.
With two difficult barns on the schedule and a busy weekend on the horizon, it was time to show that the hunted were happy to play that game.
Eerie Win Against Otters
Friday night, the Spitfires travelled to Erie, PA in hopes of stealing a couple of points from the Otters, who had lost just three times at home in regulation this season.
After the Otters took a 6-3 win a month ago, and with only a few points separating the clubs, neither team was eager to let this one slip away.
Xavier Medina took the net for the Spitfires while the Otters countered with Daniel Murphy. It wasn’t long before the Otters got on the board, thanks to Brendan Sellan’s first-period tally. However, that lead didn’t last long. Jean-Luc Foudy and Will Cuylle each scored before the period ended and Daniel D’Amico added a third, giving the Spitfires a 3-1 lead at the halfway mark.
That’s when the fun really began. The Otters tied it at three before the Spitfires grabbed a 5-3 lead. That was followed by three more Otters’ goals for a 6-5 lead as time was running out. What else was in store?
Dallas Stars prospect Curtis Douglas banged home a rebound on the powerplay with 22 seconds left to tie it at six and forcing overtime. That’s where Connor Corcoran scored less than a minute in, giving the Spitfires the 7-6 win.
While the win was nice, giving up a 5-3 lead in the third wasn’t in the game plan. It’s a rough way to grab two points. The Spitfires would have to be better on Saturday night in St Catharines.
Falling in Niagara
Playing the Niagara IceDogs on the road has become a bit of a daunting task. The Spitfires had lost eight straight in St Catharines (home of the IceDogs) dating back to 2010-11. Do you remember former defensive star Ryan Ellis? He had the game-winner back then!
After a high-scoring tilt, sometimes you need a really good goaltenders’ battle to see the other side. That’s what we got. Kari Piiroinen took the net for the Spitfires, countered by Tucker Tynan for the IceDogs.
The two goaltenders were stellar, allowing just one goal apiece through 40. While the IceDogs grabbed a 2-1 lead early in the third, Cole Purboo tied it up for the Spitfires with under a minute to go. Another overtime was on the menu.
This time, though, the Spitfires couldn’t find that final push. Minnesota Wild prospect Ivan Lodnia broke in all alone on Piiroinen, deked, and lit the lamp with one second left in the extra frame. The IceDogs take it 3-2, sending the fans home happy and the visitors back to Windsor with a three-point weekend.
While it wasn’t the result the Spitfires wanted, there was a lot to be positive about.
Chaotic Western Conference Weekend
Losing in overtime means building on the good. Piiroinen stood on his head against the IceDogs and the team is still in first place in the Western Conference. Both are building blocks.
Now, the Spitfires get ready for a packed weekend.
On Thursday, they welcome the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the WFCU Centre. Just three weeks ago, the Spitfires took a convincing 10-2 win up north where tempers flared and gloves went flying. It’s a classic rival that shouldn’t be missed.
Saturday night, the Spitfires head into Michigan to take on Cole Perfetti and the Saginaw Spirit.
Two weeks ago, the Spirit took an overtime win against the Spitfires and one point separates the clubs.
Finally, the Spitfires welcome the Owen Sound Attack to town on Sunday for a matinee, a club with a history of success at the WFCU Centre.
It has been a month since the Spitfires played a three-game weekend. While they have capitalized on their games, this will be a big test. They have the offence, but allowing 16 goals in their last three games isn’t acceptable.
Piiroinen was a wall against the IceDogs and that will need to be his benchmark moving forward. We know he has the talent. The same goes for rookie Xavier Medina. After a quick start, he’s levelled off, which was expected. He’ll get a start this weekend and the Spitfires need to see strong confidence from both goaltenders.
That’s done by limiting the opposition’s chances and putting the goaltenders in a position to make the saves. Fix the issues, stick to the systems that got you here, and press forward knowing you’re the hunted. Can head coach Trevor Letowski and his staff find the answers? We’re about to find out.
Puck drop on Thursday is 7:05 p.m.