By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads did not need the luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, earning a 4-3 overtime victory over the Erie Otters on Friday night thanks to a milestone goal, a strong third period and great goaltending.
With only four games remaining in the season, the Steelheads sit sixth in the Eastern Conference at 68 points. Only two points back of both the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Peterborough Petes (who have a game in hand) and four points ahead of the Sudbury Wolves, the Steelheads are going to want every win they can get.
Here are some takeaways from an entertaining inter-conference matchup at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
Beglieri stands tall in overtime
Alessio Beglieri was the most important player for the Steelheads’ victory on Friday, making 31 saves in a close game. The Swiss goaltender made high-quality saves throughout the game, but was a force in overtime, pulling off highlight-reel desperation saves with the glove and blocker about a minute apart and stopping a penalty shot attempt for Malcolm Spence.
Steelheads head coach James Richmond said Friday was a good bounce-back game for Begleiri, especially with his play in overtime.
The Steelheads would seal the deal for the game with a goal off the stick of Adam Zidlicky, who beat Nolan Lalonde through the five-hole on the rush. The goal came only seconds after Beglieri robbed Ondrej Molnar with a sprawling blocker save, a sign of just how important Beglieri’s play was on Friday.
It was Beglieri’s first game since allowing eight goals in a 10-3 loss to the Ottawa 67’s on March 10 and first victory since Feb. 24. The 34 shots he faced was also the second-highest shot count he has faced, with the other having come the last time the Otters visited Mississauga, way back on Oct. 7.
It will be interesting to see how Beglieri and Ryerson Leenders split the last four games of the season and who starts game one, but if Beglieri continues to play as he did on Friday, it might be him.
Back-and-forth game favours the Otters early, but Steelheads prevail late
A noticeable feature of the game from start-to-finish was its pace, as the puck seemed to switch ends of the ice like a tennis match. The Otters played a hard-driving style, using their play on the rush to generate chances and not giving the Steelheads a lot of time to set up in the offensive zone.
A key element for both teams was the forecheck. The Otters gave the Steelheads some trouble in their own end, though Richmond said his team also did not make some plays they should have, as they were waiting too long with the puck.
“It's like a quarterback. If the receiver's open, get him the ball. Don't look at him and say ‘let me see if something's better,’” Richmond explained. “I didn't think we did that very well in the first two periods.”
The Steelheads were not giving the Otters that same trouble early. They might have been stopping plays in their own zone for the most part, but the Otters were getting out of their own zone cleanly through much of the first 40 minutes.
Richmond said he liked his team’s play in the third period, including that they did put more pressure on the Otters’ defence, but they were too complacent through the first two periods. He wants to work on that before the playoffs.
“We were just 'Well, we've already made it. So now we're going to coast in,’” Richmond said. “We cannot coast going into the playoffs. If a team coasts going in, they're gonna be out pretty quick.”
So, he said, the team needs to turn things up the rest of the way, as he hoped they would have from start-to-finish on Friday.
“You got to turn it up. Now,” Richmond said. “If you wait until game one you will be behind. So we gotta get ready.”
Steelheads kill troublesome third period penalties
In addition to a costly late penalty in the second period, the Steelheads took three penalties in the third period, including back-to-back penalties against Mason Zebeski and Angus MacDonell. They managed to keep the Otters off the scoreboard on those occasions, but discipline and getting caught a step behind their opponents are problems Mississauga will want to fix.
They managed to kill four of five penalties, keeping the Otters’ powerplay to the outside and forcing turnovers to clear the puck. When it comes to facing more dominant powerplays down the stretch and in the playoffs, however, the Steelheads will want to stay out of the box and improve on their second-to-worst in the league penalty kill percentage of 72.8 per cent.
Richmond said his penalty kill does still need to be better.
“We gave them one today because we had a guy chasing the guy behind the net. No business being behind there,” he gave as an example.
He also said he would like his team to be more disciplined, as they need to avoid bad penalties. The Steelheads are in the bottom half of the league in penalty minutes this season, but playoff matchups (especially if they are against Barrie and their top-three powerplay) will likely require winning games on the penalty sheet.
Quinn Binnie scores his first OHL goal, fourth line contributes
Quinn Binnie scored his first goal as a Steelhead and his first in his Ontario Hockey League career on Friday, finishing an end-to-end rush by Justin DeZoete by chipping the puck into the top corner. The goal was also his first career point.
Binnie has played 30 games for the Steelheads this year and 43 in his career, fitting into the lineup mostly as a fourth-line physical presence. He may not be known for his scoring touch, but the Steelheads’ power forward made no mistake this time.
“It's been a long time coming, so pretty excited,” Binnie said after the game.
Richmond said he has told Binnie he needs to get to the inside of the offensive zone rather than play on the perimeter. On Friday, he scored by doing just that.
“He's a big body. So he's got to get himself to the net front and good things will happen,” Richmond said.
The goal was met by a big cheer from the crowd and head taps from linemates Mason Zebeski and Justin DeZoete when he was shown on the scoreboard.
The Steelheads’ fourth line played an important role on Friday, not only providing some much-needed depth scoring but playing their checking role and 200-foot play, forcing mistakes by the Otters. Binnie’s goal even started with a stick-lift and steal by Zebeski.
“We're just trying to play our fourth line role, kind of bump and grind,” Binnie said of his line. “We got some good chances and we scored, so good night for us.”
Richmond said he liked the game the trio played.
“You want that fourth line to go out there and play at least even, right? They did that,” he said.
Charlie Callaghan returns to action
Co-captain Charlie Callaghan made his return to the ice for the Steelheads on Friday night, his first game since March 1. Callaghan had no points and was a -1 in the game, but he was still a factor, providing a calming presence on the back end while also playing his patented aggressive game.
A little over two weeks was a considerably quick return or an injury that sounded fairly serious, but Callaghan looked comfortable playing a pretty big role in a long, gruelling game. He played in all situations and could be seen making plays at both ends of the ice and in transition.
Callaghan has been a key player for the Steelheads all season, having posted 26 points in 52 games, a substantial career-best. He has also played an important role, wearing a letter, serving as the Steelheads' go-to guy in 3-on-3 overtime and taking over some of the minutes Ethan Del Mastro used to play. His return will surely be appreciated.
The Steelheads play again Sunday on the road against the Oshawa Generals, then get a few days off before playing the Generals once again on Friday.