TORONTO - In a season spent mostly in darkness, it seems there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for the Oshawa Generals.
Whether that light turns out to be an oncoming train, well, the odds are down to about 50-50.
As the OHL season heads into the stretch run, the Generals, a talented but puzzling team that never really got anything going for much of the season, appear to have an excellent chance of nailing down a playoff berth.
Two months ago, I wouldn’t have bet a dime the Gens would be able to overcome whatever issues they had to sneak into the post-season. In fact, they reminded me a lot of the 2010-11 Guelph Storm, a team with good skill up front, a serviceable defence corps and a veteran goalie who would look brilliant one night and awful the next. But the Storm never got untracked and, despite slipping into the second-last playoff spot, bowed out meekly in the first round.
Lately, though, there’s been reason for optimism in the ’Shwa. The moves general manager Chris DePiero made at the trade deadline, bringing in veteran blueliners Matt Petgrave, Geoffrey Schemitsch and Julian Melchiori, have paid off, the Generals’ big four forwards — Christian Thomas, Andy Andreoff, Lucas Lessio and Nicklas Jensen — have been more consistent and goalie Kevin Bailie has been solid on most nights.
“Any time after a trade deadline, with the roster solidified, everyone takes a deep breath and now the focus is on the latter part of the season,” DePiero said. “Now it’s making sure you’re taking the necessary steps to help the team out. I think the three guys we brought in have certainly aided us in that respect. I think our focus is just on playing good hockey right now. We’ve got an opportunity to control our own fate.
“Given the opposition we face over the last four weeks, it’s going to be an opportunity for us to play our game. I think we’ve been playing relatively well. What happens when we get there is another story. We’ll deal with that when it comes.”
On the surface, the Gens might appear to be treading water — they are 9-8 since Jan. 1 and 7-7 since the trade deadline. But look deeper and you’ll see that Oshawa, perhaps haltingly, does appear to have turned the corner and is pointed somewhat in the right direction.
With nine of their 13 remaining games against Eastern Conference teams, including three against Barrie and two each against Brampton and Peterborough, the Gens do indeed control their destiny.
NOW, THAT’S IMPRESSIVE
How good have the Niagara IceDogs been lately? Scary good.
In the last 17 games, the IceDogs have won 14 times. It gets better, though.
In the last 10 games, they’ve shut out the opposition five times. Niagara won three of four games from Jan. 22 to Jan. 29 by shutout — the fourth was, coincidentally, a shutout loss to Guelph.
Along the way the IceDogs have rolled to a 9-0 win over Peterborough, an 11-0 romp over Mississauga and eked out a 3-2 thriller against London, the No. 1 team in the CHL.
Mark Visentin, who has a league-leading (and OHL record-tying) nine shutouts this season, hasn’t lost in regulation since Nov. 20, when he was yanked after the Ottawa 67’s pumped three goals past him in just under seven minutes. Since returning from the world junior tourney, Visentin is 12-0 and has allowed more than two goals in a game just once.
Guess we’re finally finding out how good the star-studded IceDogs actually are after an injury and suspension-plagued start to the season.
BAD NEWS FOR 67’S
There hasn’t been a whole lot of good news coming out of the Nation’s Capital over the last week or so.
First, Ottawa 67’s fans found out they’ll need to trek to Scotiabank Place in Kanata for games because of construction around the downtown-ish Ottawa Civic Centre, a project that is expected to tie up their home rink for two years. Given the state of Ottawa public transit and the fact that the 67’s will play the role of younger sibling to the Senators (and the musical acts that are booked into The Bank), having to play in the ’burbs for two full seasons can’t be very palatable to anyone.
While that little nugget was still being digested, the 67’s learned that 19-year-old forward John McFarland, acquired at the deadline from the Saginaw Spirit, will have season-ending shoulder surgery this week.
It’s obviously not the way McFarland, a former first overall pick who has been viewed as a bust by many, would like to end his junior career. But the 67’s are loaded up front — Tyler Toffoli leads the league in scoring while Shane Prince and Sean Monahan have combined for 140 points — so they shouldn’t miss McFarland as much as other teams would.
The good news, such as it is, is that nobody is likely to catch the 67’s in the race for top spot in the East Division. Ottawa leads a tightly-packed group of three teams by 17 points with a month left in the season.