Knights measure up to early test

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Even by the high standard everyone expected from the London Knights, this is a very good start.

After all, it is junior hockey, it's the beginning of a season and by all admissions the roster has been a work in progress. Yet, after completing a three-games-in-three-nights run, the Knights are 5-0.

OK, so outside of the Kitchener Rangers, the teams the Knights have beaten aren't expected to challenge for the Ontario Hockey League championship.

No matter; this early in the season any win is a good thing, especially when many teams are forced to play roster dominoes.

Injuries have deprived the Knights of four players they had counted on to be in the lineup. Frank Rediker is a week-to-week decision, Logan Hunter has a broken ankle and will be out another month, Ryan Pottruff has a badly broken leg and won't be back until January and Brandon Prust has injured ribs.

They have seven players getting playing time who are new to the lineup, including Shawn Futers, Jeff Whitfield and Bryan Rodney -- all brought in by trade.

To top it all off, four of the five wins have come by one goal, and three wins have come on the road.

Good teams find ways to win games they don't play well in, they find ways to win close games and they win games on the road. All that is some sort of hockey measuring stick when judging the quality of teams.

If that's the case, the Knights must be pretty good. They were outplayed in the season opener against Kitchener, played poorly in Windsor and blew a two-goal lead against Plymouth at home before winning in overtime.

"This is a pretty tight league," said coach Dale Hunter. "There's going to be a lot of one-goal games."

Hunter had a chance to observe his team from a different perspective early in the season. He served a four-game suspension and watched from above the ice surface.

"I really like our team," Hunter said. "What I like is that different people at different times are contributing. Everyone is contributing."

Hunter said Saturday in Saginaw it was goaltender Gerald Coleman who made a big save late in the game to keep the game tied 2-2.

David Bolland then scored a beautiful goal with 48 seconds left in regulation time to give the Knights a 3-2 win.

If there is one thing Hunter would like to see, it's an even lower goals-against average. That's not surprising. It's something Hunter preaches, no matter how stellar that average is. The Knights have given up only 12 goals. Coleman is fifth in the OHL with a 2.00 goals-against average.

Other categories of interest have Corey Perry leading the league in points, with Dylan Hunter fifth and Shawn Futers leading in penalty minutes.

The Knights are second overall in power-play percentage, scoring seven goals in 25 opportunities. For a team that's going to face tight checking all year, connecting on the power play is vital. It'll make teams think twice about taking obstruction and intimidation penalties.

That's why patience has become a word heard often around this team. Patience when they play teams who want to slow them down by playing a trap, patience in waiting for new players to integrate and patience in the development of things like special teams.

"We have to learn to be patient," Dale Hunter said. "You can't score every shift. And the power play has been working well. We brought in Bryan Rodney and once he learns the tendencies of players like Corey Perry, it will add to team cohesiveness."

The general quality of play early this season has left a lot to be desired. It has to improve. But at 5-0. the Knights have a leg up on a number of teams with the promise of better things to come.


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