The Sarnia Sting dropped a 7-4 decision to the London Knights in Ontario Hockey League play, Friday afternoon in front of 3,743 fans at the RBC Centre.
The loss snapped a modest two-game winning streak for the Sting who once again dipped under the .500 mark at 15-16-3-1.Sarnia is now three points back of London and Guelph for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Sarnia and London meet again Saturday night at the John Labatt Centre in London to complete their traditional end of the year mini-series.
The Sting got off to a quick start against the London jumping out to a 2-0 lead before the game was five minutes. But London rebounded to tie the game after the first period and held a 5-4 advantage after 40 minutes before scoring the only two goals of the third period, one into an empty net.
Sting head coach Dave MacQueen gave this assessment of his team’s performance.
“We warned our players before the game that London plays a simple, safe game. They chip pucks in and chip pucks out and try to lull you to sleep. Well, that’s exactly what they did.
“We got off to a quick start, but they scored four in a row. We were able to tie it up in the second period, but defensively we are making poor decisions in our end. It’s not just the defencemen. But we make those mistakes and the puck ends up in the back of our net. Until we get committed in our end, we are going to have nights like this.”
MacQueen also didn’t like London’s fifth goal on the power play, which turned out to be the game winner in the second period.
“We told our guys to watch the back door play and what happens, they score off the back door.”
The Sting had plenty of scoring chances in the first and second periods, but London closed the door in the third period. “They shut down the netural zone and give you zero space to operate in,” said MacQueen. “They have a big defence and they were winning the battles along the boards. When we did get a chance their goalie made the save.”
Any momentum Sarnia night have generated in the third period was quashed when London scored their sixth goal at 9:15. “The goal was scored from our goal line. We didn’t get any freebies like that. You could see that goal really deflated our team,” MacQueen said.
Vladislav Namestnikov led London with two goals, including the winner, and was named the game’s first star. Jared Knight had a goal and three assists, Seth Griffith a goal and two assists while Colin Martin, Dane Fox and Daniel Erlich notched single goals.
Craig Hottot had two goals for Sarnia, giving him nine on the season. Nail Yakupov recorded his 24th of the year and added two assists while Alex Galchenyuk scored his 11th and second in as many games.
Michael Houser was the winning goalie making 25 saves while John Cullen stopped 27 for the Sting. London was two-for-three on the power play and Sarnia one-for-three. There was one fight when Kyle Flemington of the Sting got the better of Jarred Tinordi.
MacQueen says he doesn’t expect anything different for Saturday’s game in London.
“I expect the same thing. They don’t change a lot whether at home or on the road. I’m sure they will come out harder. We need to be patient and not turn the puck over in our own end.”
Defenceman Jack Kuzmyk played his first game in a Sting uniform after being acquired in a trade with Owen Sound. Kuzmyk gained an assist in his first shift of the game on Hottot’s goal.
“We talked to him before the game he knew he might not play that much,” said MacQueen. “He hasn’t played a lot this year. He needs to practice a few times so he can get accustomed to his new team-mates and the systems here. He knows that.”
– Namestnikov was first star with Yakupov second star and Griffith third star.
– Defenceman Joe Rogalski was back in the Sting lineup after missing five games due to a concussion. Brent Sullivan was also back after missing two games with a back injury.
– Sarnia started the game with only 10 forwards. Midway through the opening period Brandon Francisco was shaken up when he collided with one of his teammates. He was used sparingly the rest of the way.
– With the addition of Kuzmyk, Sarnia now has nine defencemen on their roster. They dressed eight for the London game.
– Sarnia’s home record is now 10-8-0-1.
– After Saturday’s game in London, Sarnia has a pair of home games next week as they host Kitchener on Thursday night and Windsor on Friday night.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games both home and away and also does features for the Sting Website.