Knights' defence can't rest its case

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

A large part of the London Knights' success last year depended on their defence.

A large part of the Knights' success this year will depend on their defence.

That's about where the similarity ends.

Last year's group of well-publicized blue-liners -- Danny Syvret, Bryan Rodney, Dan Girardi and Marc Methot -- proved untouchable as the season progressed, eating up huge minutes of ice time, keeping scoring chances to a minimum and making sure they supported a talented group of forwards.

This year's group is a work in progress. General manager Mark Hunter worked the phone lines as trade day approached, looking to get much-needed help for his blueline.

He came up with promising Matt Pelech from Sarnia and David Halasz from Oshawa. Halasz has a bad leg and might not play for a couple of weeks.

They'll complement untried rookies Scott Aarssen, Ryan Martinelli and Corey Syvret and veteran Frank Rediker, who returns from injury but will play on a fragile knee.

Not exactly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Does it give assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu a comfortable feeling?

"If they play up to expectations of what we think they can do, I'll feel comfortable," he said. "The additions we made with Pelech and Halasz and the productivity we've gotten out of Aarssen and Martinelli, we have four D that can compliment our forwards.

"But we have to keep the puck out of our own end as much as as we can. We have to get it to the forwards and we've struggled with that this year.

"The defence (isn't) going to lift you out of your seats. They're going to be very simple. They'll lift the puck out of our zone. We feel we have the six best forwards in the Ontario Hockey League and we need to get them the puck and that's our goal."

Last year, when the Knights made a late trade to get Girardi from Guelph, they were getting an experienced defenceman who had played a lot and had been through the playoff grind.

That type of player was not available this year. Blue-liners such as Aarssen and Martinelli, who had limited OHL experience, have been carrying too much of a load.

"With Halasz, he's a stay-at-home D and we need to settle down Matt Pelech and get him in better shape so he can play more minutes," Beaulieu said.

"With Rediker back, he's going to take three minutes away from Martinelli and Aarssen per period. They are playing too much and they aren't capable of handling that kind of ice time right now. We're putting them in positions to fail and it's not fair to them and not fair to our team."

Knights' goaltender Adam Dennis' play has gone a long way in helping cover the warts. Beaulieu said the Knights are giving up "30 per cent" more scoring chances than last year.

"That's a lot. Our goal is to allow 10 chances a game. In the Kitchener game, we allowed 16 and that's way too many."

Beaulieu knows it's going to get tougher as the season progresses.

"All the guys are in better condition, they're snapping pucks around. These young guys like Martinelli and Aarssen and (Andrew) Wilkins and Syvret, they haven't had much heat on them like the other guys did in the playoffs last year. When you play Kitchener and Owen Sound, they come at you hard. There's a lot of heat on you and you have to make the right decisions."

Beaulieu said the new guys will help but it's going to take time. Injuries had slowed Pelech the last two seasons. He is going through double workouts to get in shape to play more than he is now.

"The same with Halasz," Beaulieu said. "It will be a month before he can contribute to our team. He's a very safe defenceman. He's going to help our team. It's just a matter of taking some minutes away from the younger guys."


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