QMJHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

QMJHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

After a couple of interesting series, including three game sevens, the second round is set. Some teams that were expected to make it to this point almost did not, while a couple of clubs surprised many by making it this far. This makes up for four matchups that are sure to watched closely, because, as we saw in round one, anything can happen.

Eastern Conference

(1) Halifax Mooseheads vs. (7) Moncton Wildcats

Moncton turned things around and was able to upset Baie-Comeau in a seven-game thriller, and are the lowest seed to make it to the second round. The Wildcats were led by Jeremy McKenna once again, with 11 points in the series, and four multi-point games. Mika Cyr was huge in this series. Moncton’s four wins came in the four games where Cyr got a point, and he had 10 in the series, including the game-winning goal in game seven. Gabriel Sylvestre was an important piece on the blueline, with five assists, and was never a minus in a single game in the series, finishing with +6 rating.

The Mooseheads are coming into the second round after surviving a seven-game series against the Quebec Remparts, where Halifax went down 2-0, and needed to win games six and seven to advance. Raphael Lavoie led the league in scoring in the first round with 13 points, and his seven goals were also the most among fellow QMJHLers. Only games one and seven saw Lavoie held to less than two points. Maxim Trepanier missed most of the last two months of the season with concussion-like symptoms, but still averaged a point a game in the regular season. After missing game one, Trepanier put up six points in six games. 

With the Mooseheads hosting of the Memorial Cup, they may not feel the pressure to win, which was noticeable in their series against Quebec. The Wildcats had to scratch and claw (no pun intended) to slow down one of the best offences in the league, thanks to the play of the d-core and netminder Francis Leclerc. While Moncton only won two games in the regular season against Halifax, the desperation they played with in the first round could be the difference in this round two matchup.

My Pick

Halifax right now is going through the motions, and the Wildcats want it more. It’ll be close, but Moncton in seven.

(3) Rimouski Oceanic vs. (5) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Rimouski was the lone team to move on in the minimum number of games, as they took care of Chicoutimi in four games, including a marathon game two where D’Artagnan Joly’s scored his lone goal in the series in the fourth overtime. Alexis Lafreniere was exceptional as always, averaging two points a game in this series, leading the team. Lafreniere’s linemate, Jimmy Huntington, scored seven points in the series, with three-point performances in games one and three. Colton Ellis was solid in goal for the Oceanic, only giving up 11 goals on 148 shots, including making 53 saves in the game two overtime win.

Cape Breton is coming off upending Charlottetown in a six game series where the Islanders went up 2-0, before the Screaming Eagles reeled off four straight victories. Three of which were one goal games, with the series-clinching game six ending in overtime after Egor Sokolov’s fourth goal of the series. The man who tied that game to send it to overtime, Mitchell Balmas, was stellar throughout the series. With five goals and six assists, his 11 points were tied for the third-most points in first round scoring. Kevin Mandolese was clutch in net for Cape Breton. After allowing eight goals in the first two games, the Ottawa prospect only allowed nine the rest of the series.

These two teams play vastly different styles. Rimouski likes to open up and use their offence to dictate the game, whereas Cape Breton will do their best to grind their opponent down to win. Rimouski, of course, will be rested heading into game one, as they have not played since March 27th. The teams only met twice in the regular season, with the Screaming Eagles pulling out two, one-goal, victories.

My Pick

Rimouski’s rest will hurt them at first, but the Screaming Eagles will fall off late in the series. Oceanic in seven.

Western Conference

(1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs. (4) Victoriaville Tigres 

Victoriaville punched their ticket to the second round in the most dramatic way possible. After winning game six to force a game seven against Val-d’Or, Olivier Mathieu’s second goal of the series 35 seconds into overtime won the Tigres the game and the series. Simon Lafrance and Dominic Cormier led the Victoriaville offence in the first round, with each scoring nine points. Lafrance was clutch for the Tigres, as he had two points in both games six and seven. Similar to Lafrance, Cormier managed to earn three multi-point games in the seven games.

The Huskies had their struggles against the Shawinigan Cataractes, as Shawinigan won their first game since February 9th in game two, then won again in game four. However, routs in games five and six by the Huskies put any thoughts of an upset to bed. Peter Abbandonato was the dominant playmaker in Rouyn-Noranda’s first round as he was in the regular season. With 11 assists in the six games, his 13 points tied Lavoie for most in round one. Noah Dobson showed that he is back to form, as he scored 10 points from the blueline.

While the Huskies had issues with lowly Shawinigan in the first round, do not expect them to overlook another opponent, especially a scrappy team like Victoriaville. Rouyn-Noranda won all four games in the regular season, but the Tigres put up good efforts at home, with both games only being decided by a single goal. Tristan Cote-Cazenave was clutch for the Tigres against Val-d’Or, but he does not measure up to Samuel Harvey, who, despite losing twice, was still one of the better netminders in the first round with a 1.90 GAA and .912 SV%.

My Pick

Huskies will not take the Tigres lightly, Rouyn-Noranda in five.

(2) Drummondville Volitgeurs vs. (3) Sherbrooke Phoenix

After being stunned in game one against Blainville-Boisbriand, Sherbrooke settled down and ran through the next four games to move passed the Armada into round two. Samuel Poulin led the charge for the Phoenix offence, scoring nine points in the five-game series. Felix Robert produced well for Sherbrooke, as he scored eight points in the series, including a three-point night in game three. Dakota Lund-Cornish was exceptional in net, only allowing 10 goals on 134 shots with a shutout in a bounce-back game two win.

The Volitgeurs had an easy time beating the Gatineau Olympiques in the first round in five games. Joseph Veleno was ever impressive, with a hat trick in game one, and three more points in game five on his way to nine points against Gatineau. Maxime Comtois was also a solid goal scorer for Drummondville, as he potted four goals in the series. Anthony Morrone had the easiest workload compared to the rest of the league, but he only allowed nine goals in the series with a shutout to boot.

This series will come down to effort. It may sound cliché, but if the Phoenix want any shot against the talented Voltigeur lineup, they are going to have outwork them for an entire seven-game series. It will be tough, especially since Drummondville swamped the Phoenix in the six regular season meetings. The Voltigeurs won all six games, outscoring 33-9 in the process. 

My Pick

Too much offence for one team to handle, Drummondville in five.

All statistics and records from the QMJHL and Elite Prospects.

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QMJHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

QMJHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

The playoffs are here, and there is a lot to look at heading into the first round. Eight of the 10 teams from the QMJHL’s Eastern Conference are resting, and preparing for the biggest grind in sports. There are a couple of series that are going to be sure-things, while other series may end up surprising a lot of folks.

(1) Halifax Mooseheads vs. (8) Quebec Remparts

While finishing the season with the third best record in the entire league, the Mooseheads really don’t have a whole lot to play for, giving that they are hosting the Memorial Cup in May. However, that does not mean they will take the playoffs lightly. With talented scorers Samuel Asselin and Benoit-Olivier Groulx leading the charge up front, and extremely talented two-way d-men Jared McIsaac and Justin Barron holding the blueline, the Mooseheads certainly have the ability to make a run deep towards the President’s Cup Finals.

Despite the Remparts poor end to the regular season where they lost their final five games, there is a lot to be intrigued in with this Quebec roster. Chicago draft pick Philipp Kurashev leads the team with 65 points, with 27 of them coming on the power play. Rookie Aleksei Sergeev has been a really adequate playmaker. With 45 points in the regular season, Sergeev was sixth in scoring among rookies.

My Pick

While Quebec could surprise Halifax and pull out a win, the Mooseheads will waltz the rest of the way through the series, winning in five.

(2) Baie-Comeau Drakkar vs. (7) Moncton Wildcats

If you looked at these two teams back in December, you would not think these two teams would play in the first round. Yet, after the Wildcats tailed off in the second half of the season, they have really put themselves in a tight spot heading into the playoffs. Jeremy McKenna led the team in scoring with 97, but he, like the rest of his team, fell a bit off towards the end of the regular season, only putting up 40 points in the last 34 games. Jordan Spence is one of the best, all-round rookie defencemen in the league. With 49 points coming from the back end, he is ninth in defencemen scoring and fourth in rookie scoring.

The Drakkar have had an incredible turn-around season with one of the best offencive clubs in the entire QMJHL, led by Ivan Chekohovich. The San Jose prospect finished tied for second in league scoring with 105 points, and his 43 goals is tied for fourth. Nathan Legare and Gabriel Fortier have also been big producers on the offencive end for the Drakkar. The biggest question for Baie-Comeau will be in net, as Alex D’Orio has been mediocre at best this season. Since being traded from Saint John at the trade deadline, the Pittsburgh prospect went 16-7, with a 2.55 GAA and .899 SV%.

My Pick

Moncton keeps it a close series, but the Drakkar offence will take control when it matters most, Baie-Comeau wins in six.

(3) Rimouski Oceanic vs. (6) Chicoutimi Sagueneens

The Oceanic did not have high expectations coming into this season. However, with the coming-out party of Alexis Lafreniere, and the confidence that grew within the team around him, Rimouski became one of the best teams in the QMJHL. Lafreniere ended the season with 105 points, tied with Baie-Comeau’s Chekhovich. His 25 assists while with the man advantage is tied with teammate Charle-Edouard D’Astous. D’Astous’ 66 points also leads the QMJHL in d-man scoring. With Lafreniere, centre Jimmy Huntington’s production increased exponentially this season, finishing second on the team with 92 points.

 Chicoutimi does not have the same offencive arsenal that Rimouski has, but that has not stopped the Sagueneens from taking the season series from the Oceanic, as Chicoutimi won four of the seven meetings. If the Sagueneens want a chance to win four more, they will rely on goaltender Alexis Shank. Shank went 27-11-4 this season, with a 2.61 GAA and .913 SV%, both sixth-best in the league. 

My Pick

Lafreniere lights up the score sheet, however that’s all it will be for Rimouski. Chicoutimi wins an extremely close series, and upsets the Oceanic in seven.

(4) Charlottetown Islanders vs. (5) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Two teams that are on hot streaks heading into the postseason, this could be another fun series to watch. The Islanders won 10 of their last 13 games of the season, including two wins over Cape Breton, and a shootout win over Halifax to ramp up the momentum heading into the playoffs. Even though Charlottetown does not have any star scoring compared to some other teams, they do have some very solid, and wide-spread scoring. Daniel Hardie has been big for the Islanders down the stretch, registering a point in each of the final six games with 10 assists. 

Despite losing a pair to the Islanders, the Screaming Eagles have been really good in the last month of the season, going 5-2-1 in the month of March, and winners of seven of their last 10 games. Mitchell Laferriere and Mitchell Balmas have been the big duo for Cape Breton this season. Laferriere finished second in team scoring with 74 points, while Balmas finished tied for fourth in the league in goal scoring with 43 goals. That top line is what the Screaming Eagles are going to have to die on in this series.

My Pick

Even though there is more offence with Cape Breton, Charlottetown will find a way to pull it out in seven games.

All statistics found on the official QMJHL website and Elite Prospects

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QMJHL Report: Moncton and Bathurst Heading In Opposite Directions

The Moncton Wildcats and Acadie-Bathurst Titan finished last season at opposite ends of the standings. So far, the story has been similar…with a major role reversal.

Titan finished second in the ‘Q’ last year. They easily walked through the playoffs on route to the President’s Cup and Memorial Cup Championship. The Wildcats struggled throughout the entire season, going 27-33-5-3 finishing 14th in the league. They did make noise when they upset Rimouski Océanic in the first round of the playoffs, before falling to Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in round two.

However, this year, there has been a change in fates for the two in the first three months of the season. Last year’s juggernaut has fallen towards the cellar of the league, while the other, who has had difficulty finding success in recent years, seems to have found their stride, and have found their way to the top of the league. Let’s take a look at how these teams got to where they are.

A Titan(ic) Fall

Titan’s run to the Memorial Cup was nothing less than spectacular. For a team that finished last in 2015, Bathurst has slowly climbed up the standings to the top of the league, all the way to finishing right behind the Armada in the final standings.

This year, let’s just say they have taken a huge step back. The defending Memorial Cup Champs have only won five games in their 28 games. Three of those wins were against Saint John’s, who are a whole two points behind Titan for last place in the league. A number of factors led to the club’s sudden, and sharp, decline.

The Scoring Went Adrift

I know it is redundant, but you cannot win hockey games if you cannot score, and Titan has not been able to put the puck in the back in the net. Bathurst’s 58 goals for are lowest in the league, even less than the last place Sea Dogs. New York Islanders’ first round pick, Noah Dobson is still helping lead the offensive attack. His 15 points is tied Marc-Andre LeCouffe for the team lead. However, that is a far cry from his point-a-game pace he had last year. His 69 points put him second in defensemen scoring last year. He also saved his best for the Memorial Cup, putting up seven points in four games. It does not help that Dobson does not have the same support staff as he had last season. Leading scorers Antoine Morand and Olivier Galipeau led the attack through the post-season, and who could forget Jeffrey Truchon-Viel’s performance in the Memorial Cup? Unfortunately, for this year’s team, there has just not been enough all around scoring for this team to be successful up front.

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Shaky Goaltending

One of the biggest acquisitions last season for Bathurst was Evan Fitzpatrick from Sherbrooke Phoenix. He back-stopped Titan to the Memorial Cup, and really helped the team’s confidence. Fitzpatrick moved onto the pros, and Titan went out looking for an experienced net-minder to fill the gap. Sadly, the experience that Mark Grametbauer possesses is not the most noteworthy. The Halifax native came to Titan from Moncton, and his lackluster play carried over to Bathurst. He’s 5-14, with a 3.71 GAA, with a .901 SV%. Rookie backup Tyriq Outen has not been able to support Grametbauer in his time in the net. Outen is 0-8 so far this year, with an abysmal 5.64 GAA, and .874 SV%.

Unfortunately for Titan, it looks like they have taken a huge step back from the progress they have made in the past three seasons, and with star player Dobson most likely heading out the door, Bathurst is going to have start rebuilding if they want to get back to the top.

Experience Key In Moncton’s Success

The last time the Moncton Wildcats finished in the top-half of the league, Jakob Pelletier was not even in secondary school (high school for those outside Canada). Since then, Moncton has been mediocre at best, never able to get the same talent the bigger clubs have been able to (i.e. Drummondville Voltiguers, Quebec Remparts, etc.). This year, though, the Wildcats seemed to have found their touch this year. They are 21-7-2 through December 3rd, and sitting atop of the Eastern Conference. Moncton is just four points behind one of the best teams in the CHL, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. There are a number of reasons why this team has been as good as they have been this year.

Lamp Lighting Up and Down the Line-up

One aspect that Moncton lacked a year ago was depth scoring. This year, there is more goals up and down the lineup. It all starts with Jeremy McKenna. Last year’s leading scorer is out in front again with 50 points in 30 games. He is third in the league in goals (20) and assists (30), and is only a pair of points behind Peter Abbandonato, the ‘Q’s leading scorer. Pelletier is setting himself up to be a hot commodity come draft day next June.  After putting up 61 points in his rookie season, the Quebec native is already averaging well over a point a game. If he can keep up at the pace he’s at now, he could easily reach 100 points by season’s end. Veteran centre Mika Cyr and Minnesota prospect Alexander Khovanov each have really stepped up their games, with each capable of setting career highs this season.

Improved Defense

The Wildcats gave up the fourth most goals last season. This year, the team has greatly improved in their own zone. Only five players have a plus-minus under zero, compared to last year where there were 20. The defense has been led by over-ager Gabriel Sylvestre and rookie Jordan Spence. Sylvestre, the undrafted d-man from Blainville, is really settling in after coming over from Shawinigan last season, and is tied for second with Cyr in plus-minus with a +18. In his first season, Spence has established himself as a very capable two-way defenseman. His 21 points has him tied for fifth in defensemen scoring, and his +10 plus-minus is sixth-best among rookies.

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Moncton has found the formula for success this season. If this club can keep it up, there is no question that Moncton will be a definite favourite to represent the QMJHL at the upcoming Memorial Cup.

stats from theqmjhl.ca