The first rule of the No. 1 ranked penalty kill in the Ontario Hockey League?
Don’t talk about it.
“You don’t want to jinx stuff,” Knights coach Dale Hunter said. “The kids are playing hard.”
If you own a 90-plus percent kill rate at the quarter pole of the regular season, it’s clearly more than effort.
The Knights haven’t allowed a power-play goal in the past five games and have only surrendered five in total. Windsor, which has played two more games, is second-best with eight and they didn’t just have two NHL players fall into their lap.
The only team in the Canadian Hockey League better than London’s 91.1 percentage is the Western league’s Prince Albert Raiders, who have won 16 of their first 17 games.
“We’ve got good skaters,” Hunter said. “They’re forcing the issue down the ice and the (defencemen) are doing a good job standing up.”
The Knights are trying to forecheck with players like Liam Foudy, Alex Formenton, Connor McMichael and Josh Nelson and limit the opposition’s offensive zone time. They’re trying to force the puck to one side of the ice.
“They’re reading it and looking after each other with support,” assistant coach Rick Steadman said. “They’ve blocked a lot of shots and the goaltending has been great. We’re using each other for outlets and it’s working well so far.”
It also doesn’t hurt that London doesn’t take many penalties. They’re in the bottom half of that category.
“We have a good group of guys and we’re sticking to our game plan on the kill,” forward Connor McMichael said. “We pre-scout other teams’ power plays and don’t want to let them get set up.”
Sudbury makes its lone visit to Budweiser Gardens Friday and they have been just a bit better on the man advantage than London, which has struggled out of the gate. They’re missing first overall pick Quinton Byfield, currently at the under-17 worlds in New Brunswick.
“I was never a huge PK guy in my career,” Knights overage d-man Matthew Timms said, “but our guys are just determined, willing to block shots and we’re getting pucks out. Obviously, your goaltender is your best penalty kill and we’ve had unbelievable goaltending all season.”
HOLY GOALIES: How good has it been in net?
Joseph Raaymakers is the reigning Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the week and Jordan Kooy was just named to the Oshawa stop of the Canada Russia series Monday as an injury replacement for Sault Ste. Marie’s Matthew Villalta.
It doesn’t stop there, either.
Riley McCabe, a Knights prospect from the under-18 major midget draft, has the best numbers in the Junior B ranks for Listowel. Sixth-rounder Brett Brochu, who was at London practice this week, has been a virtual wall for the Dresden Kings in Junior C. Don’t forget Owen Say or American Cameron Rowe, currently committed to North Dakota.
“It’s always good to have depth in the system,” London goalie coach and scout Daren Machesney said. “We’ve got five guys, really, and all five aren’t going to play here. Competition is good and they have to keep succeeding at the level they’re at. If you can’t do it there, you probably won’t at the higher level. We’re keeping an eye on them. If you’re under two (goals against average), it doesn’t matter what league you’re in. You’re not giving up bad goals.
“They’re taking the steps and you’ve got to keep doing it to make our job hard.”
AROUND THE RINK: London is currently listed as an honourable mention in the CHL’s top 10 list. Beat Sudbury and Kitchener this week, they will return among the elites . . . The Knights announced their leadership group this week. Evan Bouchard, of course, returned as captain for the second straight year. Formenton, Foudy, Cole Tymkin and William Lochead will serve as alternates . . . Blackhawks first-rounder Adam Boqvist worked out this week with contact after missing the past four games. That means he is expected to play Friday. His presence will really give London its first look at its true roster. “When he’s got a black (practice) jersey on, it’s always a good sign,” Dale Hunter said. . . . Tymkin and McMichael lead the Knights with 10 goals apiece. Foudy is next with six. The co-leaders are engaged in friendly competition right now. “On the side, there is a little one between him and I,” the sophomore McMichael said. “He’s one of the older guys I look up to. He’s a good leader and seeing how he performs so well, it’s a huge boost for the rest of us.” . . . They have done their damage mostly separately. McMichael has largely stayed on the same line with Nathan Dunkley and Matvey Guskov. “I’m happy we’re still together,” he said. “You build chemistry. Personally, I’m happy (with his start). Hopefully, I can keep it up and contribute to a winning team.” . . . The return of Formenton and Bouchard Sunday had an impact on the Knights before they even stepped on the ice in Kitchener. “Guys are kind of tired by the end of a three-in-three weekend,” Timms said, “but when they came in, it was like a breath of fresh air. It was like playing the first game of the week. Guys were excited. It’s the start of a pretty good streak we’re going to get on.” . . . Formenton, of course, had no comment this week about being part of the infamous Uber ride that caused so much embarrassment to the Ottawa Senators franchise. He was part of a joint apology issued by the players, who had nothing to apologize for in the first place . . . It’s a shame Knights fans won’t get to see No. 1 pick Byfield play on London ice this season. But they did get to see Connor McDavid three times a year (plus playoffs) a while back, so it all evens out.
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