Power-play goals a must

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

The Kitchener Rangers are not going to change their style of play, unless the London Knights start punishing them on the power play.

The Rangers have been accused by the Knights of hacking and slashing, with coach Dale Hunter describing Kitchener's play as "bush league" and "goon" hockey.

The Rangers are being penalized, but the London power play has been ineffective, just 1-for-18.

It was zero-for-nine in Saturday's 3-1 loss at Kitchener as the Rangers tied the best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final at one game apiece.

The Rangers were the most penalized team during the regular season and have continued that in this series.

But the Knights' power play, which clicked at 28 per cent (97-for-349) in the regular season, hasn't been a factor.

And as long as it's a non-factor and the Rangers aren't made to pay a price, they aren't likely to back off.

"We've got to score on the power play," Hunter said yesterday. "That would put a stop to it, or maybe not. It doesn't seem like it.

"This is what all teams try to do against our skilled players. You can take the hits from the body, it's part of the game, but it's the slashing. They could have a penalty every shift.

"You know what's really bad? It's when they already have a penalty, then you really notice it because they think the referee won't put them down five-on-three. That's when they really cross-check and slash. A five-on-three happened once Saturday and it was only 20 seconds."

Rangers coach Peter DeBoer isn't about to apologize.

"I don't care what kind of hockey Dale Hunter calls it, we're not going to change the way we're going to play," DeBoer said yesterday.

"I also find it ironic the Kitchener Rangers are being painted as a hack-and-whack and clutch-and-grab team and it's the London Knights that come into this series leading the playoffs in penalty minutes."

So, what do the Knights do about their power play?

For starters, they have to get more aggressive. On their first power play Saturday, which came after 55 seconds, they fired a lot of shots at goalie Eric Pfligler.

But on subsequent power plays, they went back to passing the puck around, looking for the perfect shot.

But give the Rangers' penalty killers some credit, and that begins with captain Michael Richards. He scored his fourth short-handed goal of the postseason early in the third period Saturday to break a 1-1 tie.

When DeBoer was asked the reason for his team's success on killing penalties, he pointed to Richards, sitting beside him at the postgame media conference.

"Him. That's the answer," DeBoer said. "He's the best penalty killer I've ever coached. (But) obviously it's not that simple. We roll five or six forwards through a two-minute penalty and we apply pressure."

Kitchener has five short-handed goal in the playoffs. The Knights have none.

"I think our aggressive style helps and it's the pressure we put on them. We've been pressing just before the red (line) just to try to make them dump the puck and make them go get it," Richards said in explaining how the Rangers forced the Knights to cough up the puck, resulting in his winning goal.

DeBoer and Hunter have been at each other since the series began. DeBoer said before Game 1 the Knights had yet to face a period of adversity and Kitchener might be the team to do it.

Hunter scoffed.

"I don't know what Pete's talking about. The last 10 games of that (record-setting 31-game unbeaten) streak were playoff games," Hunter said. "Our kids don't quit. They'll play through that slashing and goon hockey."

The Knights have played 39 games (34 regular season and five playoff) at the John Labatt Centre, losing once.

"We're up for the challenge," Richards said. "We know they're not going to fold. We know they're not going to hand us the series because we're playing physical."

But that might be why Kitchener eventually wins the series if the Knights don't snap out of it.

KNIGHTWATCH

The series: The London Knights and Kitchener Rangers are tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final.

Next: Game 3 is tonight at the John Labatt Centre at 7 p.m.

Update: Knights defenceman Bryan Rodney, out with an upper body injury, is day-to-day, while forward Dan Fritsche, who missed Game 2 with the flu, is expected to play. Adam Dennis will be in goal, said coach Dale Hunter, as the Knights continue alternating.


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