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Saginaw powers past the London Knights

Brock Hill #24 of the Saginaw Spirit takes a high sticking penalty for hitting Alex Formenton #80 of the London Knights in the face during an OHL game. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

The Saginaw Spirit ended the London Knights’ four-game winning streak on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over London at the Dow Event Center.

Power plays and special teams have been a huge part of hockey back to the days of the Montreal Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers. The NHL changed their rule book to try and neutralize what those two teams could do, because their opponents simply couldn’t.

The Spirit took advantage on the man advantage, cashing in three times on 5-on-3 opportunities.

“That was definitely the major key,” assistant coach Rick Steadman said. “They executed on their power play and we didn’t. Their penalty kill did what it needed to and ours didn’t. If you can win the special teams battle in a game, it makes a big difference.”

The first one came late in the first period as Adrian Carbonara was given a slashing penalty and then a roughing penalty on the same play and 38 seconds later Alex Formenton was whistled for roughing.

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Red Wings’ prospect Filip Hronek fired a one-timer over the shoulder of Tyler Parsons with 1:49 left to make it 1-0 Spirit.  From there, the Knights did a good job of penalty killing and actually got the puck down the ice and behind the net with ten seconds remaining.  On a last rush up the ice before the buzzer, Marcus Crawford got a puck to Kris Bennett and although his shot was stopped, C.J. Garcia was on the doorstep to chip in the rebound with 0.9 seconds left on the clock and put London in a 2-0 hole going to the dressing room.

The only even-strength goal of the game put Saginaw up 3-0 just over a minute into the second period as Parsons made a save on a wrap-around try from Bennett only to have the puck go right to Spirit leading scorer, Hayden Hodgson.  He put the puck home from a sharp angle and swung Saginaw’s momentum to an even greater degree.

Another 5-on-3 led to a Matthew Kreis goal and a 4-0 lead for Saginaw at 14:05 of the second.

The Knights continued to put pucks at the Spirit net, but could not beat Evan Cormier until the final minute of the game. Even pulling the goalie with more than 11 minutes left to create a 6-on-4 power play couldn’t find the back of the net.

Sam Miletic zipped down the left side of the Saginaw zone on a late London power play and sent a shot over the shoulder of Cormier with 50.9 seconds left on the clock and that ended the scoring at 4-1.

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The goal moved Miletic into a tie with Cliff Pu for the goal-scoring lead on the Knights. Both have 27.

Saginaw has been a team of ebbs and flows this year, especially since the trade deadline, but they seem to find success when their power play is clicking. With the win over London, they are now 15-4-1-2 when they get a goal on the man advantage. That becomes even more impressive when you consider the Spirit have a total of 20 wins this season.

Their victory keeps them four points back of Flint for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The loss by the Knights leaves them tied with the Erie Otters in points, in first place in the overall Ontario Hockey League Standings.  Erie has one game in hand on London and the teams will meet in Pennsylvania in just over a week.

Take away the statistics created with players in the box and this game had some similarities to the ones the Knights have played over the past week.  London limited Saginaw to fewer than 30 shots, although Tyler Parsons was forced to make more big saves against Saginaw than he was against Owen Sound or Kitchener.

London’s power play has been at the top of the OHL for more than two weeks now, and although their lone goal came with the man advantage, the 1-for-7 on the scoresheet stood out.

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“We always want to come in and play a solid team game and we didn’t do that,” admitted Steadman.  “We were a little leaky on defence and gave up chances.  We also took too many penalties so we have to get back to the things that make us successful and move forward.

The Knights will visit Flint for the first time this season on Wednesday before heading to Kitchener on Friday. Coverage will begin at 6:30 for both games on AM980 and at player.am980.ca.

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