Full marks to the Rangers collective defense for smoothering the Colts. The "big four" Valabik, Kindl, Lashoff and Fraser were all very effective along with Matt Pepe and Dan Gyenes, but the forwards also deserve much of the credit for what was the team's tightest defensive effort of the season. If there was one handicap that the team hasn't had to deal with until arriving in Barrie it was the absence of Just Azevedo. Aside from the of the shifty offense and creativity that Azevedo brings the Rangers on a nightly basis, the smallest Ranger is also DeBoer's go-to-guy for key faceoffs offensive or defensive zone. Azevedo's value in the faceoff circle is so strong that he often takes faceoffs on powerplays only to wander back to a position manning the point, quite the resume for a 17-year-old sophomore. His teammates made up for his absence though, the Rangers were strong in the faceoff circle and some of the rookies and lesser stars of the Rangers really generated some quality scoring opportunites on the Rangers' less heralded 3rd and 4th lines. One of the rookies that particularly impressed was Yves Bastien, it would be fair to say that he looked like a breakaway threat each and every time he stepped onto the ice, and veteran Evan McGrath who often shared ice with the Rangers 2nd round pick knew how to get to the puck to him while at the same time leading him around the Colts' defenders exploiting Bastien's speed. Bastien was able to generate several chances including a clear breakaway during the second period, Bastien put on a deke move but couldn't beat LaCosta.
Out of many of the changes that the OHL has
implemented following the example set fourth by the NHL that have been
beneficial, one that has remained a consistent sore spot is the inconsistency
in the officiating. Something that the OHL intends to take measures
to improve during the off-season, on this night there was only one official
and it would appear that one official in games that have involved the Rangers
at least have resulted in half of the infractions and therefore half the
amount of power plays. This was one of those games which unfortunately
may leave the Rangers ill prepared for their next matchup in Kitchener
should there be several of the men in black and white stripes officiating.
Still despite the second official the Rangers found themselves with a 43
second two-man advantage late in the first period, one that may have been
squandered due to the team panicing trying to break into the Colts' zone
too quickly with some ill-adivsed passes. The Colts power play was
a rare creature, only seen 4 times through the game, but the Rangers applied
some really good pressure while on the penalty kill and really refused
to allow the Colts to get anything quality on goal, and while not busy
(especially in the first period and again in the third as the Rangers permitted
only 4 and 5 shots respectively, Turple didn't kick out any bad rebounds
and in essence had a flawless effort.
The second period despite being the worst on the shot clock for the Rangers was a period filled with scoring opportunities for the Rangers. Perhaps most astonishing was the contribution of the Rangers' 3rd and 4th line. Sean Courtney found his way back into the lineup after some recent struggles with a pulled groin muscle, and he was joined by Nick Spaling (who quietly leads the Rangers in plus/minus with a +2) and Sean Smyth made a very effective line for the Rangers. They checked well, but perhaps most importantly they often weren't busy trying to steal the puck or intercept it, as they were deep in the Colts' zone for many of their shifts cycling the puck very effectively using their speed on one of the OHL's fastest ice surfaces. Craig Voakes had a nose for the net most of the night continuing where he left off in Erie, and was in position as the Rangers took to the power play late in the second period finally bagging a rebound from the top of the crease and depositing the puck behind LaCosta giving the Rangers the lead after an extended period of pressure by the Rangers. But it wasn't the goal that was most of note for the Rangers, but some of the chances that they were generating and failing to score on, still struggling to score several Rangers have been gripping their sticks far too tightly!
The boards at the resturant end of the arena were also quite involved with the play in both the second and third periods, in the first a puck came off the end boards confusing LaCosta, in the second period there was a much more rapid change in direction, the puck kicked off a small partition in the corner on a dump and nearly found it's way into the back of the net for what would have been a disasterous goal against the Rangers. Dan Turple had to make his best save in the third period with the Colts on a two-on-one he slide directly into the path of the pass giving the Colts' shooter nothing to shoot at. Amazingly the Rangers shutout the Colts on the shot clock throught the final 7 minutes of regulation. In addition, the Colts weren't able to remove their netminder until only a dozen seconds remained as the Rangers strong forecheck prevented the Colts from gaining the zone. It's been three full games since the Rangers scored an even strength goal, but it's also been four straight games since they've lost. Unfortunately the scoring isn't where it should be, the Rangers generate far too many chances to only pot one goal, they made the game's first star Dan LaCosta look very good, though he did have a solid night accuracy around the net was rather poor for the Rangers. On the flip side the effort and work ethic that may have been missing during some of the wins earlier in the season was really present for all 60 minute in a solid road victory. The Rangers have allowed only 1 goal against in their last two games, both on the road.