Knights' blue-line has no playoff experience

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

It isn't difficult to see who is wearing the target for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

The man with the team's most playoff experience on the blue-line actually earned it as a forward. The rest of the group so lacks playoff experience that the former forward is expected to play 30 minutes and be part of the club's top pair of defenders.

"We know what every team is going to do to us," said Knights' assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu. "The key to victory is to pressure and attack our (defence). Put them under pressure as much as they can and have them turn the puck over. We know that's everybody's game plan."

The game plan begins tomorrow night when the Knights and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds begin their best-of-seven quarter-final series at the John Labatt Centre.

"Not very much experience? We don't have any playoff experience," said Beaulieu of his blue-line. "Last year, I could play four guys the whole game. Now we have Scott Aarssen, a 10th-round pick. He's given us a lot of minutes and played well, but can he give us 30 minutes? I don't think he's capable of that yet. Matt Pelech should be able to. Now Trevor Kell is back there and he can log of a lot of minutes. I can see him playing 30 minutes a game for sure."

Pelech, who came from Sarnia in a trade this year, has no playoff experience. Ryan Martinelli, the other blue-liner who's logged a lot of ice time, played only a few minutes each playoff game last year and usually against the other team's third or fourth line.

Kell is the guy who's played forward for most of his career. Beaulieu says even though he's not a natural defenceman, he's adjusted well because he's good with the puck and makes good decisions.

As a forward, Kell watched opposing teams take dead aim at the blue-liners last year, pounding them in an effort to wear them out. But Danny Syvret, Bryan Rodney, Dan Girardi and Marc Methot didn't let that happen.

"Trust me, the one thing I'm going to tell (the younger players) is that it's going to get a lot tougher in the playoffs," said Kell. "It's good that I got a few games on defence in the regular season. They're going to be getting on me a little harder and I've got to get used to a lot of guys hitting me all the time."

How well the defence withstands that will determine how far this team goes. Last year, opposing teams would starve waiting for scoring opportunities. The goal, usually attained, was to keep scoring chances to fewer than 10. This team usually gives up 15 or more quality scoring chances, relying on Adam Dennis to keep the opposition from getting fat.

But for this year's version of the team, the best defence is indeed a good offence.

"We've cut down on giving up chances because we're spending a lot more time in (the other team's) zone," said Beaulieu. "We have to keep the game simple and be patient. Our game plan is to get the puck to the forwards. If we have to battle half the game in our own zone, we aren't going to score goals."

The most talented forwards in the OHL will have to help an average defensive team.

"It's a young D, we are going to give up chances and they are going to make mistakes. What we have to do is eliminate our turnovers," said Beaulieu.

And stay healthy.

Injuries will play a key role in the playoffs. Teams will keep injuries hidden. If word of an injury leaks out, a shoulder injury suddenly becomes a lower-body injury.

The Knights rested several players for the last game of the season, including Aarssen and Pelech, spawning rumours they were hurt.

"They had minor injuries but they'll be ready to play," said Beaulieu. "We only kept them out of the game as a precautionary measure.

But the bottom line for Kell is playing the hand he's dealt.

"I don't feel any pressure," he said. "I bring what I can to the table. It's different from when I was a young. Now, I've been through the playoffs and a Memorial Cup. Hopefully, I can help the guys through it."


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