The penalty killing was especially appalling, and in December, was dead last in the league. Sudbury head coach has called it a lot of things — “embarrassing” being the most prominent and accurate way to describe it.
The Wolves have learned disciplined play is the best way to improve penalty killing and defensive success. It’s Major Junior hockey. Having penalty-free games or only one or two infractions in a game is going to be a rare occurrence. The penalty killing and defensive team play had to improve.
The players have made this a focus going forward and it seems to be working.
The Sudbury killing unit, despite still being ranked near the bottom, has improved. The last game, against North Bay on the road, the Wolves defenders killed off all five penalties the team took. Definitely worth a thumbs up, but far from worthy of hefty praise.
The Sudbury penalty killing is rated 19th out of 20 teams, so there is plenty of room for improvement. On the road, Sudbury is 19th and at home, 15th.
The Wolves know they have to sustain a staunch and tight defensive team game.
“Specialty teams creates wins,” Sudbury forward Mathew Campagna said. “The penalty kill is one of the biggest keys to success in hockey. The guys doing the penalty kills are doing their jobs and they have been working hard at it.
“Having a good penalty kill is going to win the team a lot of games. We were dead last in penalty kill before. It is huge for us to make it better.”
At the other end of the spectrum, the Wolves power play is ranked sixth overall in the league at 24.3 percent. On the road, it is 10th, and at home, the Wolves sizzle with the fourth-best ranked home power play at 26.9 percent.
Needless to say, if the Pack earn a power-play advantage, they are a good bet to score. Leading in power-play markers for the team is forward Nathan Pancel.
Nicholas Baptiste is second.
“A good power play is just as important as a good penalty kill,” Campagna said. “We have to make sure we keep working on our power play and taking advantage of them.”
The Wolves play twice this weekend.
Friday, Sudbury hosts Oshawa at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday at 7 p.m., the Wolves host the Kitchener Rangers. Goalie Franky Palazzese and forward Matt Schmalz were the two key pieces the Wolves received in a package (for Frank Corrado, Josh Leivo and Joel Vienneau) from Kitchener last season at the trade deadline.
Palazzese has been a difference-maker in net since his arrival and towering Schmalz (6-6, 210-pounds) has been an intriguing presence when he turns on his aggression and hammers the opposition with physical play.
The Oshawa Generals and Kitchener Rangers provide the competition for this week’s dose of OHL action in Greater Sudbury. The Generals play the Wolves on Friday at Sudbury Arena at 7:30 p.m. Kitchener rolls into the rink on Saturday for a 7 p.m. match up. Here’s a quick look at both teams.
The Generals continue to be the class of the Eastern Conference and sit atop the standings with a 26-10-0-3 record. Oshawa comes into the game on a modest two-game winning streak, having bested North Bay 3-2 and Ottawa 6-3.
Forward Michael Dal Colle has been nearly unstoppable this season, ringing up 63 points in 39 games. Dal Colle has enjoyed the hot hand the last four games, putting up four goals and seven points.
He enters the game as the biggest threat to the Wolves and for good reason. Dal Colle can beat a team many ways thanks to his skill, skating and shooting and passing. Forward Cole Cassels also has to be watched closely as he put up 12 points in eight games in December.
The Rangers busted the bank and future last season going for a run at a league championship. They made the biggest move by acquiring Sudbury’s Frank Corrado, Josh Leivo and goalie Joel Vienneau.
The move didn’t work out as the Rangers failed to win the championship. It has left Kitchener in rebuild mode and those pains are showing through this season.
The Rangers were last in the Western Conference with a record of 13-22-0-1. It doesn’t mean the Rangers will be pushovers. Forwards Radek Faska (14 goals), Justin Bailey (14 goals) and Nick Magyar (10 goals) combined for 75 points in the team’s first 36 games.
Rookie Magyar was a 12th round pick in 2012, 239th overall. Magyar has 25 points in his first 36 games.