2013 OHL Playoffs: Western Conference Preview and Predictions – Round 2
By Brendan Ross (@RossyYoungblood)
After Todd Cordell and I both predicted six of eight opening series correctly, we return to preview and predict the conference semi-final match-ups slated to begin Wednesday, April 3rd as Barrie and Oshawa take the ice in game one. This release will feature the Western Conference Semi-Final Previews and Predictions that feature the top four seeds including London Knights (1) vs. Kitchener Rangers (4) and Plymouth Whalers (2) vs. Owen Sound Attack (4). All four participating teams contain top drafted NHL talent and any of these remaining teams are contenders for the OHL as well as the CHL Memorial Cup so these matchups will surely provide some quality entertainment for all hockey fans.
London Knights (1) vs. Kitchener Rangers (4)
Season Series: 3-2 London Knights
Key Players: Max Domi (Knights), Seth Griffith (Knights), Bo Horvat (Knights), Olli Maatta (Knights), Tobias Rieder (Rangers), Josh Leivo (Rangers), Matt Puempel (Rangers), Radek Faksa (Rangers), John Gibson (Rangers)
X-Factors: The goaltending battle that is set to take place between London’s Anthony Stolarz (Flyers) and Kitchener’s John Gibson (Ducks) could potentially determine the outcome of the series. Arguably the best goaltender in the OHL, Gibson has the ability to steal this series from the Knights. Stolarz and Gibson sit third and fourth, respectively, with goals-against-averages of 1.57 and 1.61 but it is Gibson’s remarkable 0.962 save percentage that leads all OHL puck stoppers.
2013 draft eligible Max Domi (Photo credit: OHL Images)
Preview: In the Western Conference, the Knights versus Rangers matchup will be the highest profiled series especially with the slew of talent playing on both teams. Surprisingly, the Knights’ leading scorer after their opening series against Saginaw is not named Max Domi (2013 eligible) or Seth Griffith (Bruins) but rather Alex Broadhurst (Blackhawks), who tallied four goals and nine points in the Knight’s four-game sweep. Josh Leivo (Maple Leafs) and Tobias Rieder (Coyotes) led the way for Kitchener as both forwards racked up seven points. Keep an eye on London’s Chris Tierney (Sharks) as the 6-foot-1 forward racked up three goals and eight points in five regular season games versus the Rangers this year. Coming off a good series is 2013 NHL Draft eligible Remi Elie who stepped up to impress scouts as he provided great secondary scoring with three goals and five points. The Knights should receive a huge piece back this series as Scott Harrington (Penguins) returns to the blueline to join Olli Maatta (Penguins) and Nikita Zadorov (2013 eligible).
Looking towards the other end of the ice, the Rangers will turn to their big guns to continue to provide the offense needed to sink a talented, deep and well-coached Knights squad. Radek Faksa (Stars), Matt Puempel (Senators) and 2013 eligible Justin Bailey own the offensive skill to test London’s defensive game. Ryan Murphy (Hurricanes), Evan McEneny, Max Iafrate and Frankie Corrado (Canucks) will all need to play stellar at both ends of the ice to survive the waves of attack London can continuously send over the boards.
The Kitchener Rangers hold a significant advantage in powerplay statistics entering the Western Conference Semi-Final as their seven powerplay goals tops all teams. While the blue shirts are operating at a 23.3% effectiveness, London trickles into the series with just three goals with the man-advantage posting a 12th ranked powerplay (11.5%). Likewise, Steve Spott’s squad is ranked second on the penalty kill (92.9%) while Dale Hunter’s team didn’t have quite the same success versus Saginaw (81.2%). Special teams could be a huge factor in this series. With the exception of their last meeting of the season, each of the games in the regular season series was decided by just one goal.
Ross’ Prediction: London Knights in 7
Cordell’s Prediction: London Knights in 6
Plymouth Whalers (2) vs. Owen Sound Attack (3)
Season Series: 2-2 Split
Key Players: Vincent Trocheck (Whalers), Garrett Meurs (Whalers), Ryan Hartman (Whalers), Rickard Rakell (Whalers), Zach Nastasiuk (Attack), Daniel Catenacci (Attack), Gemel Smith (Attack), Codi Ceci (Attack), Jordan Binnington (Attack)
X-Factors: Tom Wilson (Whalers) was terrific in the opening series and Plymouth will need him to continue his dominance as Kitchener comes to town. Against Sarnia, Wilson showed a more offensive skilled side to his game especially in and around the net. Wilson is prone to running around at times looking for a big hit but he showed great discipline against the Sting. Against Owen Sound, Wilson should be able to play a more rough-and-tumble style of play than we seen versus Sarnia as this series projects to adopt a more physical element. Zach Nastasiuk (2013 eligible) is the skilled gritty forward to watch on the Attack. Nastasiuk was extremely effective in the Greyhounds’ series as he finished second in scoring on his team with three goals and seven points.
Preview: Will the Plymouth Whalers suffer from such an easy first round opponent after defeating the Sarnia Sting in four straight games? It is certainly a possibility. However, the Whalers have been playing exceptionally well over the past two months. In saying that, it will be interesting to see if the week-long layover influences the chemistry of the Plymouth Whalers or whether the Whale will pick up where they left off against the Sting.
Ryan Hartman (2013 eligible) and Tom Wilson (Capitals) kept their aggressive styles in check versus a skilled Sarnia Sting powerplay allowing Plymouth to cruise to an easy second-round birth. The Owen Sound Attack will present the Whalers with an entirely different challenge as their team is based on hard work and grit. The Attack feature one of the best blue lines in the OHL with Cody Ceci (Senators), Chris Bigras (2013 eligible) and overage defensive stalwart Nathan Chiarlitti all patrolling the line. Getting beyond the Attack defensemen is a challenge in itself but standing tall behind them is Team Canada World Junior goaltender Jordan Binnington (Blues). In addition to the abovementioned Nastasiuk, Gemel Smith (Stars), Daniel Catenacci (Sabres) and the much-improved Artur Gavrus (Devils) are the offensive weapons that Plymouth must contain offensively.
Outside of the London Knights, Plymouth has become the favourite to take home the OHL Championship but the Owen Sound Attack will certainly provide them with an exciting series. Vincent Trocheck (Panthers) continues to dominate the game sheets as he sits tied with Oshawa`s Scott Laughton (Flyers) with 12 points for the OHL Playoff scoring lead. Plymouth`s success on the powerplay (3rd, 25.0%) is clicking from the opening series and it will face Owen Sound`s 10th ranked penalty killing unit, which is operating at 81.2% efficiency. The Whalers Garret Meurs (Avalanche) was all over the ice creating scoring chances against Sarnia and his skill can certainly cause a lot of problems for Owen Sound if he continues his strong play. After a fairly sleepy regular season, Stefan Noesen (Senators) awoke to provide Plymouth with some secondary scoring punch and if the Whalers want to go deep into the play-offs they will require him to maintain this high level of play.
The Owen Sound Attack – Plymouth Whalers series has all the makings of a hard, intense and physical battle as the number two and three seeds battle it out over the next few weeks.
Ross’ Prediction: Plymouth Whalers in 6
Cordell’s Prediction: Plymouth Whalers in 6