December 1, 2009
Knights struggling with consistency
By RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA
Phil Varone is an entertaining guy.
After bouncing back from a shoulder injury suffered sticking up for Daniel Erlich in Brampton, the London Knights forward quipped it "probably marked the end of my fighting career."
There are many interesting characters in the London dressing room.
But is it translating to the big stage at the John Labatt Centre?
Not all the time.
Ho-hum is certainly not the way the Hunters drew it up.
They detest boring.
"We're not trying to play a New Jersey Devils style of hockey," London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "That's not what we're trying to do at all. On the road, we might play a bit different, but with 9,000 in the building, we're doing what we can to entertain them."
A 2-1 win over the last-place Sarnia Sting on Friday certainly wasn't the strongest case study for fun and excitement.
"But it's a rivalry and Sarnia always gets up to play here," Beaulieu said. "They came in losing seven in a row and we saw them at their best."
And the Knights got a win again at home.
That's been their identity to date.
They're 12-1 at home this season and that's better than anyone in the OHL except Barrie, the one team to beat the Knights at the JLC.
After a 4-3 loss in Erie Saturday marred by early untimely giveaways, London fell to 6-7-0-1 on the road.
Next up is the Guelph Storm on Friday. It's the SunLife Teddy Bear Toss night at the JLC.
There'll be nothing boring about seeing all that fur fly for a good cause after the Knights' first goal.
Jared Knight, who spent the last week dealing with his diabetes diagnosis, is expected to return. He leads the Knights with four game-winning goals.
But putting the puck in consistently is where London's big issues start.
"We've been a little bit snakebit around the net," Beaulieu said. "We're fourth in goals against. That's an improvement."
But the power play (14.1%) is fourth-last in the OHL.
There's been plenty of room for improvement all year.
"Eighty per cent of a team's goals are scored (even strength)," Beaulieu said, "and the other 20 is on special teams."
And a struggling power play is where those extra goals go to die.
Now, no team should be bland with Nazem Kadri leading the way. No club should lack for energy with Zac Rinaldo lighting the fuse.
But the most interesting question about the Knights, just two points behind Kitchener for first place in the Midwest Division, is what GM Mark Hunter is going to do.
There were rumblings at the minor midget tournament in Whitby this weekend. All the OHL big boys were there.
"I didn't talk to anybody (about a trade)," Hunter said yesterday. "There's nothing going on."
No one expects him, when all is said and done, to do nothing.
"It's up to us to prove that this group should stay together and go for it," Varone said. "We know the Hunters want to win and if we do our part, they're going to do what they have to do to give us a chance.
"When you come here to play, you know that."
These Knights have not ripped off the long win streak yet to make their case as contenders. Likewise, they have not lost enough to be dismantled.
They followed a season-high three game losing streak this month by winning five straight.
Their defence has been more sturdy than expected. But don't bank on a lot of goals from the back end.
"They're simple players," Beaulieu said. "They're keeping it simple and they're good at doing what they're told to do.
"(Matt) Ashman isn't flashy. Neither is Kalle (Ekelund) or Reid McNeill.
"The only offensive defencemen are Steve Tarasuk and Michael D'Orazio."