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What's Wrong With the East Division Champion 67's?

by Alex Quevillon
The Ottawa 67’s have been officially crowned the winner of the OHL’s East Division, but their play this past weekend has to be cause for concern for a team looking to avenge last season’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Sudbury Wolves.

Friday night's game against the Barrie Colts had its' merits. Shortly after taking a 2-1 lead in the third period, however, the 67's allowed Barrie's Colin Behenna, Alex Lepowski and Ivan Telegin score three times in less than five minutes. Ottawa was the beneficiary of a pair of weak goals on rookie goaltender Alex Fotinos, but the 67's really didn't deserve to take this to overtime.

More of the same frustration at the end of regulation. Ottawa blew a golden chance to win the game on a powerplay and Zach Hall won the game in a shootout for Barrie (34-21-2-2). The Belleville Bulls won both of their games on Friday and Saturday, meaning that while the 67's were pretty much assured a division win, it wasn't official.

So on Sunday, the ball was in Ottawa's court. Sure, they were playing the London Knights, the top ranked team in the OHL and CHL, but Ottawa usually brings their 'A' game at home against top notch opponents. Ottawa had a glorious chance to clinch themselves the division, and they blew it; everything went wrong on Sunday afternoon.

Petr Mrazek allowed a goal in the first three minutes from well outside the blueline, London stormed to a 4-0 lead, and while Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli made the game interesting, Greg McKegg put it out of reach and the London Knights walked out of Ottawa with a relatively easy two points.

Belleville lost 4-3 in Peterborough, so by default Ottawa did win the division that day, but moving towards the playoffs, there are a lot of things to consider if the East Division Champs want to make a splash in the post-season

What's Going Wrong?
Goaltending: The goalie position is going to be Ottawa's key to success in the next couple of months. Fact is, Michael Nishi hasn't been bad of late and Shayne Campbell was expected to be back by now. As a result, Mrazek should only play one game next weekend. But, because of reputation, he will probably play two-to-three.

I'm not saying that Mrazek was to blame for the last two seasons' playoff losses. In 2010, he came off the bench in relief of Chris Perugini and played pretty well. But, he was outdueled in Game 7 by Mississauga's JP Anderson, who came off the bench to relieve Chris Carrozzi. Still, you can't blame a rookie backup for not being able to carry a team too far in the playoffs.

Last year's playoffs were a nightmare for the entire team, Mrazek included. He was pulled after allowing 7 goals in an 8-7 loss in Game 1, stood on his head in the one game where the rest of the team decided not to show up for Game 2, and allowed numerous late goals from far out in the final two games, as Sudbury erased four of Ottawa's two-goal leads to sweep them 4-0. Mrazek, in fairness, was coming off an injury and the team infront of him was banged up. But this year, he has a lot to prove, and he has to prove it now.

I'm also not saying that Mrazek was to blame for the last two losses. The first goal, a bouncer from the neutral zone, it happens. But after London made it 2-0, neither goal from anywhere near in close, the Ottawa players tried to do everything individually to make up lost ground. But, as Mrazek showed at the World Juniors, he can keep his team in it when given goal support. I'm sure he will improve by playoff time. The individual efforts, however, tie into the next problem as well

Line Juggling: There are three weeks left in the season. Let the guys build chemistry with one another. I literally cannot name a forward other than the indefinitely injured John McFarland that Shane Prince hasn't played numerous shifts with in the last three games. Remember when Ottawa had the best line in the league in 2003, Scott Sheppard, Matt Foy and Corey Locke? They faltered when split up. Remember in 2011 when the 67's split up Toffoli, Prince and Ryan Martindale? They were swept. Ottawa teams rely on chemistry up front. There won't be too much if this constant line juggling continues.

Team Toughness: Nonexistant. Remember when the 67's played the Remparts in the pre-season and pounded them into the ice when they pulled their nonsense? Where was that yesterday? Neither of London's Rupert brothers hold anything to the likes of Dalton Smith, Ryan Van Stralen or Michal Cajkovsky if the gloves come off, why not send a message?

The Barberpoles did play a very physical game, the only real positive on Sunday. But how can Ottawa watch London bump their goaltender at the benches on a delayed penalty in a 4-0 game and do nothing about it? How can Ryan Rupert deck Brett Gustavsen after the whistle while nobody does anything? Vladislav Namestnikov goes for a low hit on Sean Callaghan in the late moments of a 5-2 game, Callaghan puts him in a headlock and lets him go. I'm not saying a guy like Namestnikov deserves to be hurt, but a message has to be sent to the team that hosts Ottawa next Saturday. A team like Oshawa or Peterborough will walk all over them if they meet in the playoffs, and for a team that's supposed to be tough, that's a scary precedent.

But, with that being said, the 67's are East Division Champs and are only two points out of first in the conference. Yay, I guess. Last season, this was around the same time that the injury bug hit and everything started going downhill. McFarland is out for the year and Marc-Anthony Zanetti went down on Friday after a collision with Telegin. Ottawa fans just hope that with the injury bug hurting their team early in the year (and it really did), that they have their health woes out of the way by playoff time. All hope is not lost in the Nation's Capital. But it's a real gut check time for Ottawa. Let's see how they respond as they head to Sarnia, London, Guelph and Kingston for a four-in-six road trip.

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