Knights' goal-scoring flood turns to a trickle

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Through the first part of the OHL season, the London Knights scooped up goals like they were shovelling coal on a fast-moving train.

But the last five games, that locomotive has suffered a derailment. There isn't much relief with Brampton goalie and Lambeth native Daren Machesney coming to the John Labatt Centre tonight with his Battalion teammates.

Despite boasting the OHL's top two scorers in David Bolland and Rob Schremp and two other top 10 point-getters in Dylan Hunter and Sergei Kostitsyn, the Knights have managed just 14 goals in their last five games.

London scored 14 in a game Oct. 16 against the Toronto St. Michael's Majors.

But lately, London's opponents have turned to ultra- disciplined play to negate the Knights' league-leading power play, which has operated at well over 30-per-cent efficiency this season. Opponents know the less the referee's arm goes up, the better chance they have to hang with the Knights.

"There's definitely less penalties being called," Knights head coach Dale Hunter said. "In Erie, it was 4-2 and in Saginaw, it was 4-4 (in power-play chances). There just aren't as many power-play opportunities and it's a reason why the scores have come down. Look at Guelph. They played a 0-0 game in Mississauga (Wednesday, won 1-0 by the Storm in a shootout). With less power plays, you're not going to see as much scoring."

Like many observers, London captain Dylan Hunter has noticed a difference in games featuring one referee and others with the two-ref format. The OHL has scheduled both systems equally this regular season.

"Nothing against the referees, but with just one out there, he's going to miss some stuff," Dylan Hunter said. "With two, you'll, for the most part, get more power-play chances and there's less of a chance of getting guys. With one ref, guys can just wait until his back is turned to do stuff. You notice a change in the way teams play us. There's less punching after the whistle and you don't snow the goalie because everyone's afraid of getting a penalty for it and putting your team down a man."

Hunter, who will become London's all-time leader in games next Friday against Sault Ste. Marie, forecasts more tallies for the Knights soon. The team has three wins and two shootout losses during its tough stretch, so they haven't been that bothered by the smaller number of goals.

"It helps that we're still winning these games, but obviously, it would be better and easier to be up 9-1 and win in blowouts," Dylan Hunter said.

"I don't think it'll be low scoring all year. It's temporary. Once we figure out the defensive system, we'll score more goals. It's just a race to see who figures it out first.

"It's been a big change for everyone. You grow up playing one system and then everything changes this year and it takes some time to get used to it."

One thing that has kept London on track is goalie Adam Dennis, expected to make his 20th straight start tonight. The Knights have surrendered only nine goals in the current five-game stretch (11 if you count the goals given for shootout wins by Guelph and Plymouth).

"We don't want Denny to have to stand on his head every game," Dylan Hunter said. "Our defence has been very good in this new game. You can't hold anybody up anymore, so I give them a lot of credit for going back there because they're getting hit every time the puck goes in the corner."

The recent low-scoring stint could be an omen for what Knights games will look like for a while after Christmas, when top scorers Rob Schremp and David Bolland are likely to be gone with their countries' teams at the world junior hockey championships.

"We definitely have to better five-on-five and four-on-four," Dylan Hunter said.

"This is a good test for our younger guys to know what's it going to be like later on. Typically, you don't win playoff games 10-1. They're more like these games now."

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: vs. Brampton, 7:30, John Labatt Centre

Tomorrow: at Sarnia, 7:30 p.m., Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre


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