If you've watched the Plymouth Whalers for any length of time, you know that Whalers head coach Mike Vellucci shuffles his forward lines constantly. The lines announced at the start of the game may not be the same at any point during the game.
On Saturday, change was good for the Whalers and they moved back into first place in the tight Ontario Hockey League West Division race.
Garrett Meurs’ power play goal at 12:45 of the second period snapped a 3-3 tie and the Whalers went on to defeat to Owen Sound Attack, 7-3, in an Ontario Hockey League game played Saturday night before 2,867 at Compuware Arena.
Plymouth’s victory – coupled with Sault Ste. Marie’s 3-2 loss in Peterborough – move the Whalers back into first place in the OHL’s West Division. The Whalers are 27-16-5-4, good for 63 points. Sault Ste. Marie is in second with a record of 29-20-2-2, good for 62 points. Sarnia is in third with 61 points (29-21-0-3).
A new line of Tom Wilson, Vince Trocheck and Ryan Hartman clicked for three goals, seven assists and was +12. First star Wilson scored two goals (14-15) with two assists and was +4. Second star Hartman recorded four assists and was +4. Trocheck scored a goal (34), added an assist and was also +4.
"The boys came ready to play tonight against a good rival, the Owen Sound Attack," said Wilson after the game. "I love playing with Hartman - I played with him a lot at the beginning of the year. Tonight was my first time playing with Trocheck. He's so creative and so offensively minded. When you're on the offensive end with him, it's pretty easy to play.
"Our line was hot tonight. (Against) their first line of Catenacci, Brace and Janes, we were just trying to match their energy and we certainly did tonight."
Meurs’ game-winner was his 24th. Gianluca Curcuruto (9), Michael Whaley (3) and Cody Payne (16) scored the other Plymouth goals.
Zach Nastasiuk (13th), Kyle Hope (13) and Cameron Brace (31) scored for Owen Sound.
The Whalers came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits. After Nastasiuk (5:14) and Hope (11:48) scored in the first period to give Owen Sound a 2-0 lead, the Whalers replied when Wilson - beyond the goal line - banked the puck off Owen Sound goaltender Jordan Binnington at 16:13. Wilson then led a rush into the Owen Sound zone and took a shot from the right circle that Binnington stopped but allowed a rebound. Trocheck followed the puck and tapped home a backhand from the hashmarks at 19:07.
The first period ended ended at 2-2.
Brace was awarded a penalty shot at 2:19 of the second period and scored to give Owen Sound a 3-2 lead.
But Wilson’s second goal of the night at 7:48 of the second period tied the game at 3-3. The play was the result of a turnover in Attack territory when Trocheck intercepted a loose pass at the right point and found Hartman at the lower rim of the right circle. Hartman took a hit from an Owen Sound defender and fed the puck across to Wilson, who scored on the left side of the Owen Sound goal.
"We've been working on backchecks all week and that played really showed good transition up the ice," Wilson said. "Trocheck's such a creative player. He knew he didn't have a great shot and he knew I was coming behind him."
Meurs scored on a bank shot gave Plymouth their first lead at 12:45, capping off good pressure in the Attack zone. Meurs took the shot from the left goal line and the puck caromed off an Owen Sound defender and past Binnington.
Plymouth has a history of dominating the third period at Compuware Arena and got back to that trait tonight. The Whalers won the third period, outshooting Owen Sound, 12-7, and receiving goals from Curcuruto at 3:21, Whaley at 18:05 and Payne on the empty net at 18:51 to ice the game.
"We just wanted to keep the pedal down (in the third period)," Wilson said. "We didn't want to give them any room to breathe. We wanted to keep the puck in their end for most of the third period and we were able to do that."
Plymouth outshot Owen Sound, 40-31.
The Whalers play in Brampton on Sunday against the Battalion (1:50 p.m.,www.plymouthwhalers.com).
LET'S EAT: Saturday's win starts a new promotion with the Whalers and sponsor bd's Mongolian BBQ. When the Whalers score five or more goals in a game and win at home during the regular season, take your ticket stub to your local bd’s Mongolian BBQ to redeem for a free bowl of stir-fry with the purchase of a beverage.
KEY TO VICTORY: The Whalers are now 13-5-0-1 since the Chrismas Break. In all 13 wins, Plymouth has allowed no more than one, two or three goals. In the five losses, the Whalers have allowed four or more goals in every one of those games. In the shootout loss (Jan. 25 in Sarnia), Plymouth lost, 5-4.