When you're leading the division and adversity strikes, suddenly, every game's importance hits another level.
The Oshawa Generals got to the summit of the Ontario Hockey League's East Division using a balanced attack, some stellar play by their captain, and quality goaltending from a netminder who needed a strong season. Loaded for bear with several top young players, the Generals looked to be in solid position to remain in contention all season.
They got their first bump in the road over the weekend.
In a game against the Ottawa 67's, Oshawa forward Scott Laughton (a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers) delivered a dangerous hit to the head of Ottawa forward Daniel Walsh, who had his back to the play and never saw it coming.
Laughton was handed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct -- meaning he will likely face disciplinary action from the OHL, which has really started to crack down on hits to the head in recent years. Not only is Laughton a significant contributor for the Generals, he's one of those guys that can get the bench ignited with his play.
In this case, though, he may have cost him team dearly. A lengthy suspension could force Oshawa to play without two key forwards, as Lucas Lessio left the game on Saturday due to tendon damage due to a skate blade cut.
TSN's Bob McKenzie also said Lessio could be out up to three months, all but removing him from consideration for Team Canada's World Junior team and leaving the Generals without an important part of their attack.
Boone Jenner has been their star all season long, and he's going to be counted on to step up in the absence of his teammates. Jenner is one point behind Vincent Trocheck (Saginaw) and Mark Scheifele (Barrie) for the OHL's scoring lead, and his 19 points have had a tendency to come at very opportunistic moments in hockey games.
Along with line mates Tyler Biggs and Michael Dal Colle, the Jenner unit figures to be the go-to trio for Oshawa, at least for the time being. How will they respond to be being checked as the top unit, and can the Generals' secondary lines generate enough chances to warrant some attention?
These are questions that will weigh heavily on the mind of head coach D.J. Smith, who has gotten a lot of mileage from his top players thus far.
With home games this weekend against Saginaw (Friday) and Peterborough (Sunday afternoon), there's no time to sit back and sulk -- the Generals are just four points ahead of the Belleville Bulls, who have played much better of late.
Belleville is also getting excellent goaltending from Malcolm Subban after some rough outings to start the year.