The Kings managed a split last weekend in a pair of tough games, beating the division-leading Guelph Hurricanes 5-3 in Guelph Nov. 13, following it up with a tough 2-1 loss to the Stoney Creek Warriors at home on Sunday.
And although the season is just nearing its halfway point, head coach Geoff Haddaway concedes that many games from this point forward will have a playoff feel to them as teams jockey for position in the standings.
“As the season goes on and once Christmas is in sight, I think the guys can begin to sense that the end is near and you get excited,” he explained. “So you’ll see teams getting closer to a playoff style, they’ve had the chance to implement their system and they’re relying on that game in and game out.”
Heading into last Saturday’s game against Guelph, the Kings had been on a bit of a slide, losing four of their previous five games and allowing 21 goals against over that time. A game on Guelph’s ice didn’t bode well for the team.
They got off to a sluggish start, managing only two shots in the first 20 minutes and trailing 2-1 heading into the first intermission. Andrew Smith had the Kings’ lone goal, scoring on the powerplay at 13:05 from Wade Pfeffer and Lukas Baleshta.
“(Goaltender) Matt Smith played extremely well, especially in the first period to allow us to find our legs,” said Haddaway. “In the third, I thought we played a lot better in front of him and generated more chances.”
The second period was even more lopsided than the first, as Guelph outshot the Kings 18-8 in the frame. Pfeffer tied the game at two with his fourth goal of the season at 4:31 from Brady Campbell and Baleshta, but Guelph re-took the lead with only 2:36 remaining in the period, going back into the room up 3-2.
Yet it seems that all season the third has been the Kings’ best period, and it was again versus Guelph.
Campbell scored a quick goal to start the frame, just 4:01 in, to tie it up at three and shifted the momentum of the game in Elmira’s favour. Baleshta put the Kings ahead with the team’s third powerplay goal of the night at 6:37 from Colton Wolfe-Sabo, and captain Josh Woolley iced the game at 16:55 with his fourth of the season from Brennon Pearce and Jarred Parent. The Kings outshot Guelph 14-8 in the third.
“I think we just took advantage of some opportunities. In the second period I thought we played better, and that’s pretty motivating,” noted Haddaway. “Guelph came into our rink and handed it to us (a 5-2 loss back on Sept. 19), so here was chance for us to get some redemption for that game.”
The next night the Kings played a rare match against the Stoney Creek Warriors, their first time the two have met since the formation of the GOJHL back in 2007. The Kings held the advantage throughout most of the game, outshooting the Warriors 39-28, but couldn’t crack goaltender Matt Sagrott as they fell 2-1.
That isn’t to say the Kings didn’t get their chances in the offensive zone. On the second shift of the game newly-acquired forward Ryan Clarkson had a glorious chance to put the home team ahead, but the puck sat on the goal line and the Warrior keeper managed to fall on it in time.
“I think if that goes in, it’s a game that we probably win,” said Haddaway. Other players had chances through the game as well. Altogether, the team had six breakaways against the Warriors’ goaltender, but couldn’t beat him.
Several shots went wide, and others were relatively easy saves. Woolley had consecutive shorthanded breakaways at one point in the game, but couldn’t convert either.
“If you get six breakaways in a hockey game, I would say you have to win the vast majority of the hockey games,” explained Haddaway. “We didn’t capitalize on those chances, and if you play with fire long enough, you’re going to get burned.”
Stoney Creek scored in the first period off a mad scramble in front of the net in which Elmira goalie Matt Smith was knocked to the ice and couldn’t recover in time.
Stoney Creek’s second period goal came after the Kings got caught running around in their own zone and left a Warrior player alone in front for an easy tap-in on a pass from behind the net.
In the third the Kings broke the shutout bid with four minutes left on the clock when Brady Campbell potted his team-leading 13th goal of the season from Clarkson and Brad Kraus. The Kings frantically tried to tie the game up, but came up short.
Haddway said that much like past games, after the team got behind they got away from their game, which is forechecking and getting pucks deep.
“As the game went on we pressed more and more to score, I thought we got a little too individual, rather than sticking with our game plan,” he said.
Despite their recent slump, Haddaway is confident that the life they showed against Guelph, and their strong play against the Warriors is an indication that they’re going to break out and resume their winning ways.
The coach is also happy with the play of forward Ryan Clarkson, who the Kings acquired from Kitchener last week.
He has four points in three games with the Kings, and should help their offence as they head towards the playoffs. The 19-year-old had 27 goals for the Dutchmen last season as a rookie, and six thus far this season.
“We like our team, but if we can add to it and make it better, we will,” Haddaway said of the team’s acquisition.
“We have great chemistry in our room, however we also have a mandate to get better and put the best team on the ice that we can. We’re very excited to have him, he’s fit exceptionally well in the dressing room.”
The Kings have another tough weekend ahead of them as they play three games in three nights. After a Friday night match in Owen Sounds, the team returns home Saturday to take on the Waterloo Siskins at 7 p.m., then face the Cambridge Winter Hawks Sunday at the WMC, also at 7 p.m.