Ryan Merkley scored once and set up two others as the London Knights knocked off the Sting 5-2 in Sarnia on Saturday afternoon.
The victory was London’s 12th in their last 13 tries. The loss was the 16th for the Sting in their last 17 games.
It was also the first career win in goal for Matt Onuska who made 21 saves for the Knights. The game was Onuska’s first career start for London.
Alec Regula connected on a pair of power play goals and Connor McMichael continued his recent tear as he had three assists to run his point streak to a dozen games. The Washington prospect has at least one point in every game he has played for the Knights since returning from the Czech Republic after winning gold with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
McMichael kicked off the scoring as he set up Billy Moskal with a nifty little drop pass on the right side of the Sarnia zone and Moskal ripped a shot past Ethan Langevin to make it 1-0 at the 7:57 mark of the opening period. Merkley picked up the second assist.
Merkley then moved into a tie for second in OHL defenceman scoring as he set up Alec Regula for Regula’s 16th goal of the season and London went to the dressing room ahead by a pair.
Ryan McGregor zipped a pass across the London crease to Sean Josling and lifted a puck over Onuska to cut the Knights lead in half early in the second period.
London came right back with a goal from Merkley that moved him into sole possession of second place in defenceman scoring as he took a pass from Matvey Guskov and beat Langevin with a shot from the slot. It gave Merkley his 250th point in the Ontario Hockey League.
Liam Foudy increased the Knights lead to 4-1 just 26 seconds after Merkley’s goal.
Sarnia found a way to score early in the third period to tighten the gap again as Ryan McDonald snapped a shot by Onuska from the high slot to make it 4-2.
Regula wrapped up the scoring with his 17th of the season with under two minutes remaining in the game.
The Knights outshot Sarnia 49-23.
London will visit the Niagara IceDogs on February 4 in St. Catharines.
McMichael and his hats
Connor McMichael’s three-goal performance against the Windsor Spitfires on Friday night was his sixth hat trick of the season and the seventh of his OHL career. One more will tie him with Patrick Kane for most three-goal games in a Knights season going back to 1997. The Washington Capitals first-rounder completed his latest trick with a no-look backhand that traveled across more than half the ice and hit dead-centre into an empty Windsor net. Canadian Hockey League stat guru Geoffrey Brandow (@GeoffreyBrandow on Twitter) points out that McMichael is now into the top-30 for three-goal games in the internet era (since 1997). Former Knight John Tavares leads in all-time internet era hat tricks with 13.
Still strong off the draw
The Knights have been one of the top teams in the face-off circle all season in the OHL but they stepped that up even more with the acquisition of Jason Willms from the Barrie Colts at the trade deadline. Among players who have taken at least 400 draws London has four of the top nine taking draws for them. Nathan Dunkley has been at the top of the charts basically all year. He owns a 62.4% success rate. Max Grondin of the Peterborough Petes ranks second at 62% even. Willms is fourth at 59.6%. Billy Moskal comes in at number seven at 58.1% and Matvey Guskov is tied for ninth at 57.4%. Those numbers put the puck on the sticks of London players a whole lot and in a possession game gives the Knights a decided advantage right from the drop of the puck.
The last time the London Knights made the trip to St. Catherines, Ont., they walked out of the Meridian Centre with extreme concern. It was December 12 and Niagara IceDogs goalie Tucker Tynan had just suffered a very serious skate cut to his leg that caused for the cancelation of the game. Tynan was taken to hospital that night, underwent surgery and is now rehabbing in his hometown of Chicago, Ill. The Knights and Niagara will now play the make-up game on February 4.
Tynan’s injury occurred very early in the second period but the game will be replayed in its entirety.
Coverage will start at 6:30 on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.