SARNIA — Right before the shootout, London Knights rookie goalie Michael Houser had a pow-wow with fellow puckstopper Michael Hutchinson.
Big veteran Hutch had a couple of thoughts on the potential Sarnia Sting shooters.
A guy might not make a save, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t contribute to a win.
“We had been watching video of the Plymouth-Sarnia shootout a couple of months ago (the Sting won on Dec. 10) and I wasn’t really paying much attention,” Houser said, “but Mike was. He told me that Zack MacQueen went to the backhand in that one so he’s going to try it and he did and it worked out the way he said it would.”
Houser stopped MacQueen. He shut down Jesse Stoughton and turned aside Craig Hottot.
Nazem Kadri scored — on the same move he almost always makes — and the Knights had a 4-3 shootout victory over the Sarnia Sting before 4,671 Saturday night at the RBC Centre.
This is why the Knights have 47 wins.
They have talent. But they also have smarts.
They’re always alert. Someone is always paying attention.
Before Jared Knight took his shootout attempt, Houser whispered something about Sting goalie Shayne Campbell to him.
“You pick up things during the game,” Houser said. “Guys usually know what they’re going to do. You just give them some more information if they need it.”
Houser only faced nine shots in the game’s first 57 minutes.
Then, he had to turn aside a flurry. One blast hit the top of the net.
But he didn’t falter. He found a way.
“It’s harder when you have a good defence,” he said. “Goalies always want to face more shots and a few got by but you just try to hang in there.”
And against all odds, these Knights have 47 wins.
They’re the closest they’ve been to Windsor in the standings since the first few weeks of the OHL season.
Fifty wins would be nifty.
And if the Knights can close out their final three games, they’ll do it.
But the Knights won’t chase it at all costs.
Friday’s final home game against the Spitfires will be the expected end of the line for the Knights’ top guns.
“We want 50 wins and we have to get the last three,” Knight said. “We know Windsor is going to be tough and it’s great we’re playing on Sportsnet. It’s going to be a good test.”
London plays its regular season finale in Erie on Saturday night. That’s a faceoff against a potential first-round foe for the second year in a row.
No need giving the Otters an appetizer or any food for thought.
Nazem Kadri is going to get a rest at some point.
“I have a hard time seeing Nazem Kadri going,” London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. “It’s a long trip. We have some guys we can bring with us. We have another goalie (in late-round draft pick) Taylor Speed.”
So Hutchinson should see some down time before taking the playoff net.
“I feel good about the way I’m playing going into the playoffs,” Hutch said, “but that’s the coach’s decision whether or not to bring me.”
These Knights don’t have the star power they had last year with John Tavares and Co.
They’re doing it with guys who have something to prove.
They’ve been doing it lately with huge input from powerful Pieter Schienkelshoek.
“He’s been a force for us,” Knight said. “He has two assists in his last three games and that’s why we’re winning games. We couldn’t do it without him.”
People forget something about Schinkelshoek.
He dominated minor hockey as a Junior Knight the way Kadri did.
He had a ton of points. He blasted the puck.
“You’d go to the games and they’d say, ‘Watch out for this kid Schinkelshoek,’” Beaulieu said. “He can do it all. I knew him well because my son (Nathan, who plays for the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) played against him (with the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs).”
He went to Ottawa in the OHL draft but didn’t establish himself as a scoring threat early.
In London, he found a role. He’s the tough guy who puts in an honest effort every shift. He went through a stretch where he fought in five straight games.
“Dale (Hunter) lets me know when I’m not playing my game,” he said. “I’ve found my role and I’m just trying to chip in where I can.”
The Knights instilled him with confidence.
“When you’re young and you get traded and you’re not playing, it gets in your noggin,” Beaulieu said. “It takes a while for the fog to clear. You’re being told you’re a fourth-line player even if you’re more than that.”
The Sting, meanwhile, cemented themselves with the first overall pick in the 2010 OHL draft on May 1.
They’ll kick off the proceedings.
They have the chance to take the next Stamkos, but it might not be that clear-cut a decision for Sting GM and coach Dave MacQueen.
Four years ago, the club couldn’t go wrong with Stamkos or his Markham Waxers captain Michael Del Zotto, who went to Oshawa and ended up in London last season.
Now, there could be four or five guys to sort through over the next seven weeks.
Sarnia’s leading scorer Kale Kerbashian, the former Knight, didn’t play. He was back in Thunder Bay after the death of his grandmother.
- Knights 4, Sting 3 (SO)
- (London wins shootout 1-0)
- London goals: Jared Knight (2), Justin Taylor
- Sarnia goals: Jesse Stoughton (2), Brandon Francisco
- Next: The same two clubs meet in London Wednesday. Game time is 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.
- At RBC Centre
- Knights 4, Sting 3 (SO)
- (London wins shootout 1-0)
- 1. Sarnia, Francisco 11 (Chiarlitti, Hottot) 14:13
- 2. London, Knight 33 (Ekelund, Erlich) 18:34
- Penalty — Stevens, Sar (holding) 16:13.
- 3. London, Taylor 31 (Kadri) 1:38
- 4. Sarnia, Stoughton 11 (Neuber) 13:40
- 5. London, Knight 34 (Tarasuk, Kadri) 16:54 (pp)
- Penalties — Kavaratzis, Sar (hooking) 4:58, Tarasuk, Ldn (high-sticking) 14:15, Ritchie, Sar (interference) 14:49, Alderson, Sar (tripping) 15:01.
- 6. Sarnia, Stoughton 12 (unassisted) 4:00 (sh)
- Penalties — MacQueen, Sar (checking from behind) 3:18, MacQueen, Sar (tripping) 9:48, Preisinger, Sar (delay of game) 12:08, Brown, Ldn (hooking) 16:59.
Penalties — None.
- London: Kadri scored. Knight missed.
- Sarnia: Stoughton missed. MacQueen missed. Hottot missed.
Shots on goal by
- London 11 7 10 3—30
- Sarnia 4 3 6 5—18
- Goal — London: Houser (W, 16-4). Sarnia: Campbell (L, 7-26).
- Power plays (goals-chances): Ldn 1-7. Sar 0-2.
- Referees — Brad Beer, Sean Reid. Linesmen — Drew Jackson, Sean McLoughlin.
- Attendance — 4,671 (5,100).