Nat Loh made a good point in his comment about how if things keep going the way they are we just might have to rename the Staal Standard after Michael Del Zotto or Evgeny Grachev. Right now we would have to say that Del Zotto is starting to blow everyone out of his path the way he has been playing.
In our previews about the prospects in the playoffs, we have harped upon the need for them to be active and involved in order for their teams to win. As we have seen the more active they have been the better the results have been for the prospects.
Michael Del Zotto had an assist on London's first goal as the London Knights defeated the Saginaw Spirit 4-1 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. It was more than Del Zotto's assist that stood out as his play with defensive partner John Carlson has allowed each to play their game at their very best.
While Del Zotto was having his 3 point night yesterday, Carlson was back covering for him. Today as Carlson was having his 2 assist game, there was Del Zotto playing the defensive role.
This is a pairing that goes beyond describing as lethal as Del Zotto's 2-11-13 and Carlson's 1-10-11 is 2nd and 3rd among OHL defensemen in playoff scoring. In fact Del Zotto is now the 3rd leading playoff scorer on the Knights (AND 12th overall in the OHL) as he set a new career high in playoff points.
The key has been Del Zotto's skating as both he and the Knights have more speed than the Saginaw Spirit and it is the biggest reason why on Tuesday Del Zotto and the Knights go for the sweep.
We also got tipped off to this clip of Del Zotto from February when he scored a shootout goal.
Evgeny Grachev actually has gone now 2 games in a row without scoring as the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors may have figured out a way to slow Grachev and his Brampton Battalion down. The Majors defeated the Battalion 5-1 on the Battalion's home ice to cut the Battalion series lead down to 2 games to 1.
Grachev had chances to score but the Major's goalie JP Anderson came up huge denying Grachev on several occasions including 3 different times during a Battalion 5 on 3. The Troop simply did not not take advantage of their power plays (1 for 8) and were outworked by the Majors.
The key was that the Majors wanted it more than the Battalion and it showed on the ice in the effort put out by the two teams. This in it's own way could be a good thing for Grachev as now we get to see how he responds to a "mini-slump."
We said in the series preview that if Grachev put up numbers then the Majors were going to lose the series, so far in 3 games Grachev (and to be fair his linemates as well) have not produced which is why this is a series instead of a 3-0 lead for the Battalion.
Game 4 will be in Mississauga on Tuesday so this will be good but we think Grachev will respond to the challenge.
Out west, Tomas Kundratek and his Medicine Hat Tigers are in a lot of trouble that is their own doing. The Tigers dropped Game 2 of this WHL series 8-6 to trail the Brandon Wheat Kings in this season 2-0.
The Tigers had a 5-2 lead in the first period and then the Brandon Wheat Kings scored 5 straight goals of their own to take a 7-5 lead. Kundratek set up Linden Vey for a goal that made the score 7-6 late in the third period but the Wheat Kings added the empty netter for the final score.
Here is what is going to make a lot of people scratch their heads as the key to the win was actually the Wheat King's defense. Kind of hard to understand in an 8-6 game but what happened was when the Tigers went up 5-2, the Wheat Kings clamped down on them and forced turnover after turnover which led to scoring chance after scoring chance.
Kundratek and company simply can not solve the Wheat Kings who are a team that we realize that most of you know nothing about. For starters they are coached by former Flyer's coach Kelly McCrimmon, they have 6 guys who scored 20 or more goals during the regular season.
They had the second best record in the WHL's Eastern Conference finishing with 103 points on the year. They will have 2 players go in the Top Ten of the next NHL Entry Draft in Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie (0f course would Glennie fall to where the Rangers could draft him we would not cry).
In any case, as much as we like the folks in Medicine Hat they are not going to be able to overcome this hole especially now that the 4 out of the next 5 possible games will be played in Brandon.
Hartford will be adding another defenseman at the end of this week.
(Del Zotto courtesy of Stu Switzer of Phatso Photography)
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