Goalies' stellar numbers credit to team defence

Morris Dalla Costa -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:26 PM ET

Aside from the victories, it's probably the other stat raising eyebrows around the Ontario Hockey League. The goaltenders for the London Knights are putting up startling numbers.

Gerald Coleman, in 33 games, has a goals-against average of 1.68 and a save percentage of .948. Adam Dennis has played in nine games since joining the Knights and has a goals-against average of 1.56 and a save percentage of .951.

The Knights are on the way to breaking their own league record for fewest goals allowed in a season -- 147, set last year. The Canadian Hockey League record is 125, set last season by the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. It included 14 shutouts. The Knights have given up 106 so far this season.

Some kind of goaltending, no doubt about that.

The matter-of-fact 7-0 win over the Sarnia Sting last night at the John Labatt Centre was shutout No. 7 for Coleman.

But don't get lost too deeply in those numbers. Look beyond for more numbers that give a real picture of where this team's strength lies and the real reason the goals-against averages and save percentages are as good as they are. Against the Brampton Battalion on Thursday night, they only gave up eight scoring chances. In most games they give up even fewer.

The Knights gave up nine chances against the Sting, most of them of lower quality. Goalies tend to put up good numbers when that happens.

It also helps to have four horses on the blue-line who seem to complement each other.

The Knights have put a saddle on Danny Syvret, Bryan Rodney, Marc Methot and Daniel Girardi. They'll ride them through the rest of the season, the playoffs and the Memorial Cup. Jeff Whitfield is the No. 5 man and spells off the others. Rookie Steve Ferry is being groomed for next year.

Injured Frank Rediker is still in the picture. He may be back for the playoffs.

But for now it's a lot of the top four.

"It's simple," said Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu, who also handles the defence. "We keep the shots from the perimeter. We give up low-percentage shots."

Against the Sting it was embarrassingly simple and effective. It was so effective, the sellout crowd was as quiet as church mice.

The only time things got really hot was at the end of the game when both teams began to tussle as they were leaving the ice. With the score 6-0 late in the game, the Sting were upset the Knights had so many of their top players on the power play.

"They thought we were running up the score," said Beaulieu. "We were trying to get Trevor Kell a hat trick. It's a big thing. He may never get another hat trick again."

Kell scored but the Sting didn't appreciate being embarrassed.

The Knights have shut down teams with good goal scorers. The Sting don't have a good goal scorer. Coleman faced 33 shots but he didn't have much to do. His biggest enemy was boredom.

With the addition of Girardi from Guelph, the Knights defensive unit fits like glove. Rodney came just prior to the season from Kingston. He has become a key member of the power-play unit.

Four guys carrying a huge load on a team everyone is looking to beat. At the end of the season, there's the long grind of the playoffs, then the Memorial Cup. Is anyone concerned that the wear and tear will eventually catch up to the defence?

"No," Beaulieu said promptly. "These guys are like horses. They are going to play 25 minutes a game in the playoffs, some of them even more. You train horses to get them ready, why not these guys?

"They are in good shape. I have no worries."

That's what happens when you have a stable full of slick thoroughbreds and hard- working Clydesdales.


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