There were shades of their 2009 playoff run when the London Knights opened their defence of the OHL’s J. Ross Robertson Cup heading into overtime against the Windsor Spitfires.
The Knights led the game one two separate occasions, but seemed to lose track of the puck in their own end during the second and third periods allowing the Spitfires to regain composure and climb back into their matchup at Budweiser Gardens on Friday.
While credit shouldn’t be taken away from the hard-working play of Spitfires – who went on to a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 of their Western Conference series – some blame also has to be put on the shoulders of the Knights. Dale Hunter’s club play a far more undisciplined game in the final two periods before overtime, and it ultimately cost them.
Can’t Win Shorthanded
To start this series, Sam Miletic was already serving a two-game suspension for an apparent slew foot in the Knights’ final regular season game. That meant that the Knights would be without their leading goal scorer to start the series already.
So with just over 13 percent of their regular season scoring out of the lineup, the Knights were going to need all the help they could get on the offensive end.
On Friday, it looked like they would get some scoring even with Miletic out of the lineup. Olli Juolevi opened the scoring early on the power play and after Jeremiah Addison tied it up early in the second, the Knights got another goal from their defensive core when Victor Mete gave them the lead again.
But their penalty trouble bit them hard in the second when Aaron Luchuk scored on the power play to tie the game again.
Now, the Knights did have four power play chances in the first period – going one-for-four. But after the first, the Knights were whistled for five straight penalties over the remainder of the game. Sure, the Spitfires only capitalized on one of those chances, but the Knights had to play shorthanded for 10 more minutes than Windsor did over the last two period combined. While it may not have led to goals, it didn’t help their chances of building some momentum in trying to produce any offence either.
Brandon Crawley: Playing on the Edge
When it comes to the Knights blue line, they don’t have that big, solid defender. Brandon Crawley tries to play a physical game – and often succeeds at it – but plays much to close to the line.
That cost him in Game 1 against Windsor and left the Knights shorthanded three times as Crawley raked in six minutes in penalties – including two minors within seven minutes of each other in the third frame.
The defenceman finished the regular season with 114 penalty minutes. He has 299 in his career with the Knights, so he’s no stranger to sitting in the box. But when it comes to the playoffs, some players need to alter their game based on the needs of the franchise.
With a team like London – already missing Miletic – playing 10 of the last 40 minutes shorthanded is costly. A player like Crawley needs to close the gap between playing a physical game and playing outside the rules of the game.
Max Jones: An Immediate Target
Another player of note is Anaheim Ducks’ prospect Max Jones. Another player known for stepping outside the lines on occasion, he made an immediate impact in Game 1 by getting under the skin of Windsor players at every whistle.
While he returned to the lineup to close out the regular season following a 10-game suspension, Jones noted that his game entails getting into the heads of opposing players. And while it can cause him to be the target of his opponents and under the microscope of the referees, Jones said he doesn’t plan on changing the way he plays.
“I just can’t get focused on stuff I can’t control and stuff our line – our team – can’t control,” said the physical forward following the Knights final home game of the regular season. “We just have to take control of ourselves. That’s saying a lot coming from me, right? It’s just easy to turn a page now and focus on stuff I can control.”
Jones did sit for a two-minute minor in Game 1 of the series against Windsor, but also drove the Spitfires’ defensemen nuts. The Knights will have to find a way to get on the board early and often in Game 2 on Sunday afternoon, but most importantly they need to stay out of the box and remain discipline.