The Oshawa General wrapped up the series Friday, May 15 in Oshawa, beating the Erie Otters in five games. This was a complete team effort by the Generals who, by and large, were the best team in the OHL this season. I successfully picked them to come out of the Eastern Conference when we previewed the OHL playoffs. Going into the series the focus was on Connor McDavid and how the Generals, in particular Cole Cassels, were going to try and slow him.
Cassels, a Delaware native, talked with Aaron Portzline before the series started and had this to say about trying to stop McDavid: “If I can hold him to less than a point a game, that’d be great for me and the team.” Cassels didn’t quite do that, as McDavid had seven points in the five game series. Still, it was a remarkable effort, as McDavid came into the series with 42 points in 15 games, a 2.8 point per game rate.
It was obvious Oshawa head coach DJ Smith really wanted this match up. He reiterated that after game four of the series. “For me to be able to get Cole, (Bradley) Latour, and (Hunter) Smith out there against him (McDavid) with (Josh) Brown and (Dakota) Mermis is huge for us. Those guys are superior defensive players for us and they have been for three years.”
The media was all over this story, talking about how Cassels had shut McDavid down. After digging into the numbers, Cassels and the Generals may have just been beneficiaries of some good puck luck.
This situation with Cassels and McDavid instantly reminded me of the NHL playoffs last season when Brandon Dubinsky went head to head with Sidney Crosby. Dubinsky received a ton of praise for shutting down Crosby when in reality Dubi benefited from some puck luck, holding Crosby goalless despite a 61.3% Corsi from Sid the Kid.
McDavid was even more dominant from a Corsi perspective than Crosby was. For the series, McDavid was a +137/-69, good for 67%. On the other hand, Cassels was nearly the inverse of that, putting up +75/-132 for 36%. For all the talk about how McDavid struggled in the three games in Oshawa, putting up just a single assist, he was quite good from a possession standpoint, going +80/-37 for 68% in the three games.
It’s clear by these numbers that Cassels didn’t do as well as everyone thought in “shutting down” McDavid’s offensive chances. But there are some distinct reasons as to why his possession numbers were as poor as they were. Head coach DJ Smith did Cassels no favours, starting him in in the defensive zone a ton. For the series, Cassels started 49 shifts in the defensive zone vs just 24 in the offensive zone. His 33% ZSO, much like with his Corsi, was basically inverse of McDavid, who started 73% of his shifts in the offensive zone.
The other factor at play was that it was clear when the Cassels line was on the ice against McDavid they were not trying for offense, but just doing their best to contain McDavid and keep him in check. Cassels talked about this in the press conference after game four. “When he’s (McDavid) out there you gotta be careful and we have been but tonight, like Smitty said, he got loose.”
There was a clear effort to contain McDavid and not let him get rush chances or breakaways. The way Cassels and his line went about that was to get the puck deep and try to set up the cycle. Once they gained the offensive zone they were not going for offense. The numbers support this ideology. Cassels had 11 controlled entries in the series, and only one lead to a single shot attempt for. He also dumped the puck in 12 times again in an effort to get the puck deep and set up the forecheck/cycle. Contrast that with McDavid, who had 22 of his 24 controlled entries leading to shot attempts.
Given the zone starts, the match-up and style of play, Cassels made the best he could out of the situation. By taking the toughest match-up, he opened up Oshawa’s middle six to create more offense. Michael Dal Colle and Matt Mistele used this to put up six and seven points, respectively, in the series. For Erie, this came at the expense of Dylan Strome, who really struggled through the entire series, putting up just three points.
For his efforts in the series, Cassels was named the Pioneer Energy OHL Player of the Week for the week of May 11 – May 17, putting up nine points over the last three games of the series. Overall, he had 12 points in the series.
Cassels and the Generals are now off to Quebec to represent the OHL at the Memorial Cup. They will join WHL Champions the Kelowna Rockets, QMJHL Champs the Rimouski Oceanic and the host team, the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts.
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