By Ray Harris | @CanadasPredsFan
The Saint John Sea Dogs power play was buzzing Tuesday night as they put three power play goals passed the 36th overall Montreal Canadian draft pick Zach Fucale.
Michael Abbott had two goals and an assist, with Olivier LeBlanc scoring the third power play goal and Highmore burying a very nice empty netter. Sebastien Auger was solid for the Dogs, but was surely happy he didn’t need to steal the game for his team.
The win not only spoils the 2013 Memorial Cup Champs return to Saint John, but also Jonathan Drouin’s return to the QMJHL. The highly touted Tampa Bay prospect was sent down on Sunday and looked, at best, disinterested during the game tonight. The team has lost significant portions of their supporting cast from last year’s Cup run, and there was a clear lack of chemistry between Drouin and his teammates. I also won’t hesitate to point out that he took two pretty needless penalties, the second of which provided a power play for LeBlanc’s game winning goal. Having been cut only Sunday, it is unlikely that Drouin got anything more than one practice in with the Moosehead before tonight (his final stats were 0G, 0A, 2 shots, 1 hit, 4 PIM and 15/30 in the faceoff circle).
The first 10 minutes of the game were indisputably all Halifax, with Saint John barely getting a touch on the puck. It looked like the twenty-five hundred some fans in attendance were in for a long night when Nikolaj Ehlers danced around LeBlanc to kick off the scoring six minutes in. Ehlers was one on one into the zone and was just carrying significantly more speed than LeBlanc who tried to fight him off the puck. Ehlers won the battle and with a nifty cross crease toe drag roofed it passed a disappointed Auger. Ehlers was, in my opinion, the best player for Halifax tonight, and, in the opinion of whoever does it, the third star of the game. Halifax pressed for a while after that goal, including a shot that went off the crossbar and out of play only within a minute after the goal. It was a goal on an interference penalty to Connor Moynihan that woke the Sea Dogs up.
Moynihan hit Cameron very high, who went to the dressing room with what looked like either a concussion or shoulder injury. Cameron did return. On the goal, Noel won a clean faceoff to Abbott who, without hesitation, released a cannon through traffic to beat Fucale only two seconds into the penalty. It was Noel’s first QMJHL assist.
The goal was a noticeable turning point for the Sea Dogs who received an astounding effort from every player for the next 48 minutes of hockey. Saint John may have entered the game with a little bit too much respect for the Mooseheads after last year’s regrettable playoff matchup. But with the game tying goal the team discovered they could compete, and compete they did.
Dominating might be a strong word to use for the Sea Dogs the rest of the game. Especially given the misleading shot count. But the Mooseheads were having significant difficulties getting control of the puck in their own zone. There seemed to be two players in blue for every player in white. Not to mention the pinching Saint John defensemen who got their sticks on just about everything. On almost every occasion, Halifax was having a very difficult time clearing the puck.
The Mooseheads got the only goal of the second, which came off a power play. The officials seemed to switch sporadically from lenient to by the book, and the penalty to Bent was definitely a by the book call. Nonetheless, Halifax deserves some credit for a very well worked power play that had Andrew Ryan making a cross ice pass to an open Falkenham who put it in no problem (second assist to Ehlers). Auger may have been screened on the pass, as he seemed late to react to Falkenham receiving the puck … not that he should have made the save anyway, it was a great power play goal.
The Seadogs did have some really good chances throughout the second, but Fucale was playing very well, making a few “Augeresque” saves.
It was more of the same in the third. Halifax was having difficulty connecting on passes and getting anything set up in the Saint John end. Contrarily, the Sea Dogs overstayed their welcome repeatedly on offense.
Despite a handful of good even strength offensive chances, including a nice spin-o-rama back hand by Noel that went quite high but looked pretty nonetheless, the Sea Dogs would need another power play to tie it up.
A high sticking penalty to Matt Murphy gave the dogs a 5-on-3 opportunity, in which you could basically copy and paste the first goal and you wouldn’t miss out on anything. Highmore won the draw to Anderson who held onto the puck briefly before dropping it to LeBlanc. LeBlanc swung it across the blue line to Abbott who hit the one timer, through traffic and passed Fucale. As good as Fucale was, the Sea Dogs may have found a weakness.
With most of the second penalty still remaining the Sea Dogs had no problem keeping the momentum after the game tying goal, and a short two minutes after the penalty expired, the Moosehead were back to the box again. This time it was a frustrated Jonathan Drouin who took a hooking minor.
Seven seconds into the power play, Abbott returned the favor to LeBlanc, as he gave the point to point pass and LeBlanc scored his second of the season with a one timer through traffic (Highmore with the second assist).
Is was desperation for Halifax after that, but a solid five minutes of unsuccessful puck possession, lead to a timeout and Fucale on the bench for the offensive zone faceoff. They won the faceoff but couldn’t keep possession for long, as Highmore created the turnover and went all in with a shot down the ice from just above the faceoff circle. It was nothing but mesh for his second goal of the season and a two point night.
Halifax would pull Fucale again, but it only lead to more Saint John chances. Cooper couldn’t put the puck into the empty net and I think it was Zilbert that also had a shot blocked. The final was 4-2 Saint John.
Saint John Scratches: Samuel Dove-McFalls (healthy), Connor Donaghey (healthy), Will Thompson (healthy), Jurij Repe (wrist), and Juraj Siska (injured/arriving soon).
- Sea Dogs are 6/12 on the power play in their last two games.
- Auger made 30 saves for a .937 sv%
- Probably some kind of record for elapsed time on power plays where a goal is scored in a single game, but I am not sure if anyone keeps track of that (this would probably be under game speculations and not game facts if I had such a section)
- Next game Friday at Cape Breton, next home game Sunday the 13th vs Charlottetown.