Penalty kill plans breached

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

GUELPH -- No one is surprised the London Knights have the most productive powerplay in the OHL.

It's been like that for a handful of years now.

But before allowing a second-period tally yesterday in Guelph, the Knights had killed 33 straight penalties dating back to Oct. 24 at Kitchener to rocket to the top of the league in the other vital special teams category.

The refurbished penalty kill was a focal point for London head coach Dale Hunter after watching opposition power-play goals water down the impact of his own team's magic with the man advantage in the first month of the season.

"A while back, we were down in 17th place for penalty kills (in a 20-team league) so we wanted to tweak it and let (Knights assistant coach) Todd Bidner look at it with another set of eyes," Hunter said. "He watches film and picks out what the other team's doing on the powerplay against us. The way it's set up right now, I'm more like a head football coach and he's my defensive co-ordinator trying to shut out the other team."

The London players designated to kill penalties hasn't changed but the approach has been refined. For instance, the Knights shut down Kitchener's power play on Friday night by using the unorthodox method of rushing a defenceman out to the blue line to check the puck carrier.

"You're trying to take away time and space," London forward and penalty killer Josh Beaulieu said. "That's the key and how we approach it depends on how teams set up their powerplay against us. We thought using the defenceman would work against Kitchener. But the basics are you have to work hard for your minute out there and then get off but you have to work smart. When one guy is pursuing the puck, the other three have their sticks in the passing lanes."

The threat of falling down two men has changed the way London and all hockey teams approach playing while on the penalty kill.

"It's the way the refs are calling it now and I tell my guys to be disciplined -- to not take penalties when we're down a man," Hunter said. "You go down five-on-three and the odds of them scoring go up -- probably over (50 per cent). They're going to get quality chances and then, your goalie has to be good."

London's penalty killers make a conscious effort to control their sticks and the aggressive play and even try to draw penalties to eliminate the opposing powerplay.

"All you can really hack and whack at anymore is the puck and sometimes that's tough," Beaulieu said. "It's changed because of the way it's called but once you realize that and adjust to it, it's all right."

Beaulieu admits the benefit of practising against the best power-play unit in the league -- their own -- isn't an aspect that should be overlooked.

Hunter also sees value in using veteran players who don't always see power-play time as key penalty killers. "I try not to have the same guys but there is some overlap," he said. "It's a big part of the game -- powerplay and penalty kill -- and you want to be good at it. You have to work at it."

There's a simple formula that has worked for London the past few years and it was evident yesterday. The Knights scored two power-play goals, surrendered one, and left a tough Guelph rink with a victory.


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