Penalty killing goes in for repairs

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

The London Knights can either look at this past weekend and be unhappy that their winning streak was stopped. Or they can be realistic and say, "Damn, we had a good weekend."

They should opt for No. 2.

Why wouldn't they? So the Mississauga IceDogs came into the John Labatt Centre on Friday night and came out with a tie, halting the Knights' win streak at 10.

The next night the Knights travelled to Owen Sound, always a tough haul and came away with a win.

Less than 18 hours later they iced the Storm in Guelph. The Storm is the only team to have beaten the Knights since the Plymouth Whalers did it last Jan. 24.

The Knights are now unbeaten in 13 since the start of the season. Damn, they had a good weekend.

There isn't much to be unhappy about these days in Knightland. Things seem to be going swimmingly.

But nothing is ever perfect, and so the Knights took the opportunity this weekend to rectify the one aspect of their team they weren't all that happy with.

"We were 11th in the league in penalty killing and we weren't happy with that," said captain Danny Syvret. "We didn't want to have a mediocre penalty-killing team."

Everyone has heard about the Knights' power play. Their success with the man advantage is held over the opposition's head like the Sword of Damocles. It's always dangling there waiting to drop.

The penalty-killing unit has been another story. If there has been an Achilles heel on this team early in the season, its been their penalty killing.

But it was their penalty-killing unit that won them the game yesterday. The Storm scored on their first power play and then were shut down through their next six chances. It was the only power-play goal the Knights allowed in the three weekend games, killing 16-of-17 assessed penalties.

"It was a big deal with us," said Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu, who handles the penalty-killing unit.

"We didn't like being 11th. It bothered me because I kept hearing from (coach Dale Hunter) about it."

The Knights have two types of penalty-killing systems. One is passive, the other aggressive.

There's no doubt in Beaulieu's mind which he prefers.

"I like aggressive. That way you don't give skilled players a chance to make plays."

If you're looking for a preference from Syvret, put him down for the "aggressive style."

The Knights were aggressive. While penalty-killing kudos usually fall to the forwards (Drew Larman, Dave Bolland, Rick Steadman, Robbie Drummond), Beaulieu says the key is really how well the defencemen are able to apply pressure.

"We didn't have any problems moving our feet (yesterday) and we were aggressive."

There are several reason for the Knights' improvement. One is the return of defenceman Frank Rediker.

He's a big-bodied player who can move players from in front of the net. He is mobile enough to pressure skilled players.

Then there's the addition of Larman, who came to London in a trade with the Sarnia Sting for Mathis Olimb. Larman can kill penalties and he knows what he's doing in the faceoff circle.

"It's why we got him," said Beaulieu. "We weren't very good on faceoffs, and winning the faceoff is a key in penalty killing. If you win the faceoff and clear the puck, you kill 20, 25 seconds at a time."

Larman was on the ice for most of the key faceoffs.

That's what teams that believe they can win championships do. They find the few pieces of the puzzle missing in an attempt to complete the picture.

If indeed the Knights have fixed their penalty-killing problem, the picture may be just about finished.


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