A .500 record normally indicates one of three things. Either you had a slow start and you’ve picked it up as of late or you had a hot start and things just haven’t gone your way in recent games. But if you’re the London Knights, it’s a sign of inconsistent play.
Now, we all remember how the Knights started the year. They had one win in 10 games and didn’t really find their footing until they got a number of players back from NHL camps. Robert Thomas, Sam Miletic, Cliff Pu and Alex Formenton all returned to London and filled the room with experience and leadership in a matter of games.
The Knights’ Turnaround
With their key cogs back in the lineup, the Knights have slowly found their way back to .500 and – with that – respectability. After all, this isn’t a franchise that is used to being near the bottom of the league, at least since the Hunters took over in London.
Playing in front of a capacity crowd at Budweiser Gardens, the Knights aren’t used to playing from behind. However, that’s been the case so far this season.
Now, the team sits at .500 and fourth in the OHL’s Midwest Division, eight points back of the division-leading Kitchener Rangers (32) with the Owen Sound Attack (28) and Guelph Storm (25) sitting between them.
But even though the Knights are in the bottom third of the league after 24 games, they’ve continued to battle with some impressive performances over the last 14 contests. Since starting the year 1-8-1, the Knights have gone 10-3-1 and are 12th in the league in goals for (80) averaging 3.3 per game.
Still, the team has some holes that will keep them from going deep in the playoffs if they aren’t addressed.
Filling the Holes at the Knights’ Round Table
On top of having to wait for the return of some players early in the season, it quickly became evident they would lose Victor Mete (to Montreal), Jesper Brett (to New Jersey) and Olli Juolevi (to Finland). On top of that, they traded defenceman Nicolas Mattinen which left a big hole on the team’s blue line.
Because of the trade that sent Mattinen to the Flint Firebirds, the Knights started the year with 2018 NHL Draft eligible defensemen Evan Bouchard and Alec Regula as their top pairing with little depth behind them. That has proved to be challenging at times, with most of the minutes put on the shoulders of Bouchard and Regula.
There have been lapses in the defensive zone coverage and breakdowns that often lead to goals for the opposition at inopportune times – on the penalty kill, late in games, when the team simply can’t afford to give up another tally. Still, the Knights have managed a strong rebound after their disappointing start to the season.
But some of the blame for their poor play early also has to fall on the shoulders of the early season goaltending. When Tyler Parsons left following the 2016-17 season, he left a gaping hole in the Knights’ net – one that couldn’t be filled by the likes of Tyler Johnson and Jordan Kooy. So, the team’s front office went out and acquired Joseph Raaymakers from Sault Ste. Marie who has seemingly brought stability to the Knights net.
He has a 10-3-1 record in 14 games since coming over with a 2.56 goals against average and .915 save percentage.
Confidence, Key to Consistent Play
Still, the team hasn’t been able to go on any sort of long win streak. And while the early season struggles weighed on the young squad, their recent successes at home has given the team something they’ve been looking for all season long – confidence.
“Obviously confidence is a big key to our game,” said Knights forward Alex Formenton following a 5-4 win over the Attack. “Just when you feel good, you play good and the streak at home is helping us out.”
The Knights have won their last four games at home, while they’re 2-3 in their last five on the road. Playing .600 hockey in their last 10 games, it could be argued that consistency might be nearing a favourable point for the Knights. But it’s still not quite at the point of what fans have grown to expect from their Knights in London.
In fact, the team hasn’t missed the playoff since the 1999-00 season which says a lot about how this franchise is built. While this year’s team will continue to battle toward earning a spot in the OHL’s postseason, consistent play will be something the coaching staff and players will be looking for down the stretch.
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.