Knights victories a confidence booster

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

You can look at the London Knights win over the Saginaw Spirit and pick it apart for what the Knights failed to do.

But in the end, the Knights took on a team with the most points in the Ontario Hockey League, overcame the fact they blew two leads and still wound up winning a game that will go a long way to building confidence.

It took seven rounds of shootout hockey but the Knights defeated the Spirit 6-5 Saturday at the John Labatt Centre.

Pair that with a 3-1 win over Guelph Friday and it was a nice weekend with a pair of wins against teams contending for the Western Conference title.

The bad stuff was obvious to all. The Knights held a 4-1 lead in the second period and gave it up before the period was over.

They also had a 5-4 lead in the third and gave that up.

Then we come to backup netminder Igor Bobkov who started his first game at the John Labatt Centre.

“It’s a learning curve. He’s a big goalie but I thought he looked small (Saturday),” said Knights’ assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu. “When you are a big goalie and you look small, that’s not right. He has to come out of his net a little bit.”

It didn’t go well. He gave up four goals on 18 shots and was yanked in favour of Michael Houser with less than five minutes to go in the second period.

The list of good stuff though is much longer.

“We competed. We got pucks to the net and we got two power-play goals . . . by defencemen,” Beaulieau said. “It was a long time coming. It was great for us to score on the power play. We’ve been . . . working on it.”

It starts with the Knights playing great hockey for 59 minutes. Take away the six minutes in the second period when the Spirit scored three goals and the Knights carried the play.

The good stuff continues with the competitive level of play the Knights displayed. The standard refrain that jumps from the lips of everyone after the game is that “we played hard.”

This time, they really did.

Then there was the performance of young players like Andreas Athanasiou and Vladislav Namestnikov who played well against a tough club. Athansiou had a goal and an assist and was a plus-2. Namestnikov had two assists and was plus-1.

Namestnikov also had the shootout winner. He was the 13th shooter when he whipped a wrist shot at Saginaw goaltender Mavric Parks. Parks made the save, the puck flipped high into the air and when Parks stood up, it went off the back of his arm into the net.

Veterans Daniel Erlich had a goal and three assists while defenceman Michael D’Orazio had two goals.

Not only were the goals from a defenceman, which is a rarity for the Knights but both were on the power play, also a rarity.

The best stuff of all came from Houser. Houser was steady after replacing Bobkov but he was terrific, as usual, in the shootout.

He gave up a goal on the Spirit’s first shooter and then shut the door on the next six.

Houser is now three-for-three in shootout wins this year.

“It’s really fun,” Houser said. “It’s definitely my favourite part of the game. It’s just you against the shooter and you really have to battle. It’s a test of individuality and how good you really are. I know we have really good players on our team and I know they’ll take care of the job at the other end if I do mine.”

The early season performance by Houser has solidified his right to play as many games as he can.

“I don’t feel like I have (earned the right to be No. 1,)” he said. “I feel you have to go out and battle every week. That’s the way I think both of us look at it. It comes down to practices. You just have to work as hard as you can . . . I just want to go out and take care of my job.”

D’Orazio had a big night. He logged a ton of ice time, scored twice and rushed back from taking a stick in the throat in the last minute of the game to play in overtime.

While the goals were a welcome sight to Beaulieu, D’Orazio says not a big deal is made about defenceman having to score.

“There’s not much emphasis on that at all,” D’Orazio said. “Playing sound defensively, making good defensive plays creates offence. We’re doing a good job getting the puck up to the wingers and often you’ll see a defenceman getting a third point because he makes the first pass out of the zone.”


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