Finding ways to bounce back after a loss is a difficult aspect in sports. The mental game can be just as frustrating as the physical one. The Windsor Spitfires are learning that a loss isn’t a mountain if you don’t want it to be and they proved that last weekend with a pair of dramatic wins. Now, they use that momentum to prepare for what will be a busy few weeks.
While the 2021-22 training camp started in early September, you can’t blame the Spitfires for taking a while to get everything into place. With plenty of roster turnover, two new coaches, and late-arrivals from the pros, this was a process they had to accept. It has seen plenty of highs, just as many lows, and a fans base that’s eager for consistency. After a frustrating loss at home against the Kitchener Rangers to end October, the club was looking to start November with the proper mindset. They’re going to lose games but it’s how you respond that will matter come March and April.
Let’s dive into last weekend and explore the near future…
Party Against the U.S.A.
The Spitfires started the week with a rare Wednesday night game as they headed to Michigan to face the Flint Firebirds. It marked the first time any Ontario-based team has played an American-based team this season because of Covid-19. The OHL created a unique schedule so the three American teams – Firebirds, Erie Otters, and Saginaw Spirit – only played each other during October. The result was a classic Western Division game that sets up their future matches for chaos.
Spitfires’ rookie Ethan Miedema opened the scoring just three minutes in and the momentum opened the flood gates. The visitors scored three in the first and cruised to a 6-2 win. Matthew Maggio led the way with the hat-trick while New York Rangers’ prospect Brennan Othmann scored his fifth of the season in the loss. Strangely, the Firebirds out-shot the Spitfires 38-34 but were met by veteran goaltender Xavier Medina.
Saturday night saw the Spitfires return to the WFCU Centre for an evening tilt with the Otters. Despite the offensive storm against the Firebirds, the club couldn’t solve Otters’ goaltender Nolan Lalonde. The 17-year-old rookie made 25 saves in the opening 40 minutes while his team scored two power-play goals to take a 2-0 lead into the final frame. However, there were still 20 minutes left.
Midway through the third period, the Spitfires got a pair of goals just 12-seconds apart. Rangers’ prospect Will Cuylle started it off and was promptly followed by rookie Ryan Abraham. It was tied at two before anyone knew what happened. As the stands roared, the teams headed to overtime. It didn’t take long there, either. Dallas Stars’ prospect Wyatt Johnston scored an incredible coast-to-coast tally 33-seconds in to give the Spitfires the 3-2 win and weekend sweep.
Spitfires’ Face Division Foes
Momentum can be a beautiful thing and the Spitfires need to capitalize on it. This weekend sees a pair of games against divisional rivals. They sit sixth in a tight Western Conference so any points now could mean the upper hand come the playoffs.
On Friday night, they head up to the Bluewater area to take on the Sarnia Sting, who have just eight points in 10 games this season but have won two straight. The last time these clubs met in Sarnia, Cuylle scored his first of the season on a beautiful pass from Johnston in overtime.
Getting two points on the road against the Sting is never easy but the Spitfires need to find a way to do it.
Right after the game, the club heads home for a Saturday night tilt with the division-leading Soo Greyhounds. It’s the first match between the teams since Feb. 27, 2020. The Hounds are averaging nearly five goals per game, led by Calgary Flames’ prospect Rory Kerins’ 23 points in 14 games. This is the test the Spitfires’ defence and goaltending could really use.
Struggling Special Teams
While the Spitfires won both of their games last weekend and saw plenty of positives, they continue to struggle on special teams.
They went just 1-for-7 on the power play over the weekend and were inconsistent on the penalty kill (4-for-4 and 1-for-3). It’s been the theme all season. Head coach Marc Savard did wonders with the St. Louis Blues’ power play in 2019-20, ranking third in the league at over 24-percent, but this crop of players seem to be struggling to put it all together.
With just 14.7 percent conversion, they rank third last in the Western Conference. Just to compare – the Greyhounds are a well-oiled machine at nearly 32-percent. Penalty killing hasn’t been any better as the Spitfires have allowed 11 goals on 36 chances for 69.4 percent – last in the league. Something has to give as the club is too talented to let this fester.
With just two games this weekend, Savard and his assistant coaches have time to find a way to fix the problems. It’ll be necessary as the club will soon enter a stretch of six games in 10 days, starting next week.
We know what the Spitfires are capable of; it’s been on display numerous times this season. However, the calendar isn’t slowing down and teams are starting to find their groove. A good marker for evaluation is 20 games and they’ll hit that mark on Dec. 2. The season is still fairly young but it’s definitely not getting any younger.
Puck drop on Saturday is 7:05 p.m.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.