Knights can prepare for pressure

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, FREE PRESS SPORTS COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

A short series against their first opponent.

Probably 10 days off before they have to play again.

A perceived stumbling block to a repeat of an Ontario Hockey League title, already eliminated.

It's been a pretty good start to the playoffs for the London Knights.

No bulletin board material here. You won't find anyone associated with the Knights saying they'd much rather play the Owen Sound Attack or the Windsor Spitfires than the Kitchener Rangers.

But they definitely like their chances better of winning OHL title No. 2 now that the Rangers are golfing instead of skating. There's an added shiver of pleasure because the Rangers have become the Knights most despised opponent.

"I was shocked," said Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu of the Rangers elimination.

Shocked by how meekly the Rangers went out, as much as by their elimination. The Rangers made a lot of moves as the season progressed, building for a run at a championship. Defence is supposed to win championships and the Rangers' defence was determined to be the best in the league.

Well, the best got their butts kicked by an Owen Sound team that could be the Knights' next opponent.

The Knights will either play the Attack or the Windsor Spitfires, who stayed alive by beating the Plymouth Whalers 7-4 last night to force a seventh game in that series tomorrow night in Plymouth.

The Ranger loss is a good lesson to be learned for the Knights, who finished off the Soo Greyhounds in four games.

The big, mobile and experienced Ranger blue-line could not handle Owen Sound's pressure. The Attack forced turnovers, dumped the puck in and physically controlled Kitchener's defence.

The idea of getting a chance to go after a young London defence must make Owen Sound's mouths water.

After all, if you can pressure the Rangers, the Knights defence will cough up a few more pucks.

Point made.

But there are significant difference in what happens after the puck is coughed up.

Dan Turple, the Kitchener netminder, had an .896 save percentage. That's not championship-type goaltending.

This year in the first round, the Knights gave up a lot of scoring chances, but they got the big save from Adam Dennis when needed. His save percentage against the Greyhounds was .931, fourth best so far in the playoffs. Michael Ouzas of the Attack did Dennis one better at .934.

The Rangers didn't have a legitimate game-breaker. When the game was close, they had trouble finding someone they could rely on to score a big goal.

The Knights have two game-breakers in Rob Schremp and David Bolland, and Dylan Hunter to orchestrate it all. This puts pressure on the other team because even if the Knights are down a couple, they're only a couple of power plays away from getting back in the game.

This team may not have the depth of last year's squad but the Knights can strike with lightening quickness offensively and with a power play always just around the corner, the other team has to stay out of the penalty box.

"That was the difference in the last series," said Jeff Perry, a Knights assistant coach. "We had some natural goal scorers and when we had a chance to finish the game off, we did."

So it earned them a long layoff.

Friday seems the likely day the Knights will open the next series. That's a 10-day layoff from the last time they played someone in anger.

Time off is good. Too much time off though, may lead to rust. No matter, the Knights had rather risk a little rust than a lot of sore joints. Matt Pelech was banged up in the opening series and Frank Rediker, who has ligament damage in his elbow, is skating but can't yet shot the puck.

"This is a good thing for us," said Perry. "We use a shorter bench, there's no secret to that. Our top-end players play a lot of minutes. This has been a great rest for those guys. It also gives us, as a coaching staff, a chance to see some games we wouldn't normally have a chance to see."

So they know what disease to expect. Unlike Kitchener, though, they hope to have the remedy to it.


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