Say what you will about the London Knights and their organization, but they have a history of winning and being a force in the Ontario Hockey League. Which is part of the reason why fans of the organization and players within it are having a hard time grasping the start they’ve had to the 2017-18 season.
For starters, the Knights are 1-8-1 in their first 10 games. They’ve scored a measly 18 goals, while giving up an average of four per game. They haven’t won since their second game of the season and it’s clear that players are starting to get frustrated.
“If you ask anybody in the dressing room we’re not happy with how we’re playing,” said Cliff Pu following a 2-1 loss to the Windsor Spitfires. “We got a lot of shots, but we still have to find a way to bear down and win.”
Still, it’s not time to panic. The Knights have more than 50 games left in the regular season and on paper, they should be much better than what they’ve shown so far this season. So, if the Knights are hoping to turn around their season, here are a few things they can do to get that started.
Play With Discipline
One of the keys to the Knights’ Memorial Cup run in 2015-16 was tenacity in which Matthew Tkachuk played with. In his only OHL season, the former Knight and current Calgary Flames’ forward, collected 30 goals and 107 points in 57 games during the regular season. He was also a super pest and physical presence in the lineup – raking in 80 penalty minutes over that span.
But that team also included guys like Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner – two players that could maintain puck possession and help in the penalty killing process.
This year’s club has a number of agitators – Adrian Carbonara, Max Jones and Cole Tymkin amongst them. The problem is that they don’t have the same kind of high-calibre players that they did on the 2015-16 team.
Sure, Sam Miletic, Robert Thomas, Cliff Pu and even Jones are talented, but at Marner and Dvorak’s level?
As of Monday, the Knights are dead last in the Western Conference and fifth in the conference in penalty minutes. Teams are 10-for-41 on the power play against the Knights and the Knights are currently 17th in the league in penalty kill percentage (75.6%). On top of that, they’ve given up the most shorthanded goals against this season (5) – another knock on the team’s special teams. Oh, and did I mention that they have the worst power play in the league?
A team that has success rates of 10 percent on the power play and just over 75 percent on the penalty kill aren’t going to go very far. That said, something has to change.
Stats Aren’t Always Fancy
Forget the fancy stats discussion for this piece – after all, the Knights need to get their basic stats back on track before we delve in deeper to analyze their advanced statistics.
Right now, Evan Bouchard leads the team in points. He has dressed for all 10 of the team’s games and has two goals and eight points to show for it. Behind him is the newly acquired Tyler Rollo (who has six points spread between London and Peterborough) and Thomas who has six points in seven games since his return from St. Louis Blues’ camp.
Their problem isn’t getting shots on goal or opportunities. Their problem is taking advantage of those opportunities. In the last two games, there have been two chances for the Knights that included a goalie well out of position – basically they could’ve shot at an open net. Instead, the Knights’ players involved decided to make one more pass. The plays dissolved.
In their most recent affair – an overtime loss to the Owen Sound Attack – the Knights had three partial breaks in the closing minute of regulation. Each time they either shot it wide or right at the goaltender.
Either way, the issue isn’t with their ability to create opportunities. The shots are there. Two Knights are sitting at 35-plus shots – which is top-10 in the league. But creating high-quality opportunities is a must for a team struggling to score. That means that sometimes shooting comes before making that final pass or dropping a puck between your legs for the trailer – something the Knights have to grasp as their season trudges on.
Support the Goaltenders
No longer does the Knights’ crease belong to Tyler Parsons. After three seasons manning the team’s net, Parsons has moved on to the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks and will eventually don the Calgary Flames’ logo.
Now, however, the Knights are dealing with their own goalie conundrum. Tyler Johnson seemed to be the starter out of the gate, but he’s 0-4-1 with a 3.55 goals against average and 0.893 save percentage. Enter Jordan Kooy – who hasn’t actually had any better luck.
Kooy is 1-4-0 in six games played and carries with him a 3.92 goals against and 0.873 save percentage.
Whether the players in front of them are still dealing with the goalie change over from the past three seasons, one thing is for sure. These two goaltenders – who aren’t at the same level as Parsons was – are struggling to keep the Knights in games and aren’t getting the support of the players in front of them.
Pu is a minus-13 in nine games. Bouchard is minus-10 along with Jones. Even Miletic, who has played in just five games this season, is a minus-7.
Maybe the Knights have to come up with a plan to develop their squad into a defensive team – one that can suffocate opposing offences. Regardless of how they do it, something has to change with this Knights club if they hope to turn this season around. And these three issues could be a good starting point.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.