November 6, 2009
Home-ice improvement swirling around KnightsAs the team's dressing room is renovated, the team looks to upgrade its power play
By RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA
The hammers are flying.
The drills are spinning.
Right now, the London Knights' dressing room at the John Labatt Centre is undergoing an extreme makeover, all in the interest of adding space.
The old coaches room, where Dale Hunter and Jacques Beaulieu used to plot out strategy, is becoming a trainer's room where athletic therapist Andy Scott will treat various bumps and bruises.
The new coaches office has moved way to the back of the building near a parking lot. That's where other major renovations are taking place.
In that back bunker, the Knights' power play is being reconstructed, all in the interest of adding goals.
Despite the club's obvious veteran talent up front, London has sunk to a sickly 17th in the OHL with the man advantage.
They are running at a low-grade 15.5% (13-of-84) and a horrifying league-worst 3-for-39 (7.7%) on the road.
"Generally, teams kill penalties at home better than they do on the road," Beaulieu said.
Still, these are the Knights, who for years won games on power-play ability alone.
Not any more, home or away.
The Knights have led the league in power-play percentage every year since 2003 except for one: 2007-08, when Pat Maroon and Jadran Beljo were London's top offensive threats.
Even in that one-year "rebuild," they finished fifth.
Seventeenth is a long haul from there.
"It's getting better," said London forward Daniel Erlich, who had been working the point with the man advantage the past few weeks. "It's coming. At the start, we ran into some bad bounces but we're getting more chances. We've worked on it but we're also focused on our five-on-five play, too.
"We have four lines that could be first lines on other teams. Any one of them can score."
But the power play isn't putting the fear into anyone.
The Knights went into Guelph last Sunday and had some early opportunities against the worst penalty kill in the OHL.
They still couldn't score. Heck, they had trouble hitting the net.
They had a two-man edge. They called a timeout to talk things over.
Success didn't translate.
And Dale Hunter isn't usually that patient.
The club worked on the power play twice this week for 40 minutes at a time. The five-forward unit, an old Knights favourite, had flopped. But it isn't gone.
"I just watched the Barrie Colts use it (in a 6-1 win over Owen Sound, London's opponent tonight)," Beaulieu said.
Barrie has the league's best power play. London isn't even close so they're going back to a more basic approach.
"We've worked on it with four forwards and one defenceman on both units," Beaulieu said. "We'll see if that works and if not, we'll keep changing up until we find something that does."
First, the Knights weren't passing the puck around the perimeter very well. Now they are, but aren't getting enough shots or rebounds.
"It's all about reading how the other team is defending you," Beaulieu said. "That's what Corey (Perry) and Dylan (Hunter) and those guys did so well when they had it working. They knew where the puck had to go."
At the moment, the Knights will settle for front-of-the net ugly goals like Hunter's favourite example, Detroit Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom, always scores.
"We have the bigger guys like Leigh Salters, Zac Rinaldo and Justin Taylor to go in front of the net," Erlich said. "We just have to make sure we get them the puck there."
Then somebody has to hammer it home. If it doesn't happen soon, the Hunters need to look for some new tools.
And it'll once again be scouting trips to other OHL rinks -- not Home Depot or Rona -- that'll do the trick.
Tonight: vs. Owen Sound, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.
Tomorrow: vs Ottawa, 7 p.m. at the JLC. It's House of Red night to honour the Canadian military and their families.
Sunday: at Brampton, 2 p.m.