By: Mitchell Fox
The Mississauga Steelheads came out on the wrong side of a close game on Wednesday, falling 2-1 in overtime to the Guelph Storm.
The two teams – who sat tied at 61 points coming into the game and now each sit fifth in their respective conferences – gave all the students in attendance for a rare daytime game a show for the ages, battling it out from start to finish.
Here are some takeaways from a low-scoring affair at Paramount Fine Foods Centre on Wednesday.
Steelheads and Trout match the energy of the arena
Paramount Fine Foods Centre was as loud as ever on Wednesday, with students from elementary and middle schools from across Peel Region bringing everything they had to cheer on the Steelheads at their School Day Game.
The energy in the building was palpable even before the puck drop, and it translated to the ice in quick fashion. Some early bobbles of the puck indicated a young Steelheads squad being too jumpy, but in time the energy was translated to efficient puck movement and tight body checking.
The two teams seemed to take advantage of the fact the heavy hitting was not resulting in penalties, as the physical play took few breaks, to the chagrin of the kids in attendance.
Unfortunately for those fans, the combination of high pace and a grind-it-out game was a low-scoring one, as the game did not see a single goal at 5-on-5, despite over 50 minutes of it.
5 on 5 execution still a challenge for the Steelheads
A final shot count of 42-19 was reflective of the Steelheads’ strong play with the puck and eagerness to throw whatever they could at Storm goaltender Brayden Gillespie, but the team still was unable to score at 5-on-5, resulting in a close overtime loss.
The Steelheads’ lone goal came early in the third period when, with the teams at 4 on 4, Zander Veccia’s shot from the slot squeezed its way through Gillespie’s five-hole.
Richmond said the team works on the four-on-four, and it worked on Wednesday.
“We scored and it worked,” Richmond said. “We should have scored more five on five.”
Steelheads run into another brick wall in goal
The Steelheads found themselves at the hands of another strong goaltending performance from their opponent on Wednesday. A 6-goal game against the Kingston Frontenacs on Friday was an outlier in a string of low-scoring games for the Steelheads, despite generating a lot of chances. Saginaw Spirit goaltender Andrew Oke allowed just one goal on 32 shots from the Steelheads last week, then on Saturday, Ottawa 67’s goaltender Max Denoso made 21 saves on 22 shots.
“The Saginaw goalie came in and had a hell of a game. Today their goalie had a hell of a game,” Richmond said. “We gotta be better, find a way to win.”
Execution on scoring chances has been a clear issue for the Steelheads over the last month, as generating more chances than their opponents is not leading to victories.
“I don't think we did a very good job of bearing down when we needed to,” Richmond said about Wednesday’s game, though he noted a trend as well, looking back on Saturday.
“Six periods of hockey, we get two goals,” he said. “The guys that score goals need to start working on it in practice a little bit harder. Instead of floating around, we need to finish those chances.”
Mississauga shuts down Storm offence
At the other end of the ice, the Steelheads were effective at shutting down a Storm offence that had scored at least four goals in each of their last four games (totalling 22 goals).
In addition to shutting down the Storm’s attempts to use the stretch pass in transition, the Steelheads were strong defending the rush.
All three pairs of defencemen and some of the forwards had effective games, getting their sticks and bodies in the way of the Storm’s attempts to get to the net with speed or to make cross-crease passes. When the defence did get beat, they recovered well, either individually or with the help of their teammates.
Richmond said the Storm are “a good hockey team” and played well on Wednesday, so he was glad to see his team keep them to 19 shots and two goals.
“They did a good job in our zone holding onto the puck a couple of times,” he said. “But we did keep them to the outside. We didn't give them a lot from the inside.”
All of the defencemen were strong, but Parker Von Richter and Finn Harding were particularly noticeable. Von Richter had some struggles early, appearing just a bit too eager to make a play out of his zone, but his play with and without the puck excelled more and more as the game went on, resulting in his being awarded the third star of the game to go with an assist.
Harding, meanwhile, was all over the ice. He made well-timed pinches to keep the Steelheads on offence, used his stickwork to keep Guelph players to the outside on the rush, and activated offensively without getting caught. His play alongside the usually-staunch Kasper Larsen may have earned him some more opportunities in the final stretch of the season.
Steelheads’ penalty kill woes carry on
The one goal the Steelheads gave up in regulation came as a powerplay goal for the Storm, contributing to Mississauga’s continuing struggles on the penalty kill. They sit second-last in the Ontario Hockey League at 72.7%.
“The PK, I mean, it's been an issue for us most of the year,” Richmond assessed.
The Storm have the third-best powerplay in the OHL at 24.4%, but Richmond said his team had watched video and prepared to address their shorthanded struggles.
“We showed them what was going to happen. And what was going to happen did happen,” Richmond said. “So that's, maybe putting the wrong players out there or something.”
Further, the one team below the Steelheads in penalty killing is the Storm, who have a 72.1% penalty kill percentage. The Steelheads only had one powerplay in the game and did generate some chances on it, but winning special teams battles will be something they hope to do more often in the final stretch of the season and the playoffs.
Callaghan out for “extended time”
With under seven minutes remaining in the third period, Charlie Callaghan went down hard after taking a hit against the boards from the Storm’s Ryan McGuire. The Steelheads co-captian was on the ice for a bit before skating off with a trainer, heading straight down the tunnel.
Richmond did not comment on the play or call, but said Callaghan will be “out for extended time.”
The loss of an OHL veteran, leader and dynamic player at both ends of the ice will be impactful for Mississauga, so they will undoubtedly hope for Callaghan’s prognosis to be better than expected.
The Steelheads will play host to the North Bay Battalion on Friday night before setting off on a four-game road trip. Possibly without Callaghan, they will hope to maintain their defensive play but get things going on offence at five-on-five and clean up their special teams as the season moves into its final stretch.