The London Knights took on the Erie Otters in Game 3 of their second-round series tonight, with the Knights looking to take a 3-0 stranglehold on the series. Budweiser Gardens was absolutely packed, and even the press box was so full of cameras there wasn't any seating for press to be had.
Against a raucous backdrop, the Knights began rather tentatively, with the Otters controlling the first few minutes of the game. Leafs' prospect J.J. Piccinich's line got running around a bit in their own zone but escaped unscathed on the scoreboard.
Just over 4 minutes into the game, Mitch Marner drew Travis Dermott to him just inside the blue line and then feathered a beautiful pass into Christian Dvorak, who sent a great wrister just inside the post to beat Erie goaltender Devin Williams to put the Knights up 1-0.
It was the Knights who went to the power play first, as Dylan Strome took a penalty for tripping, as the Knights' Matthew Tkachuk flew past him while rushing in the neutral zone. The Knights' power play looked good, as Marner moved the puck well around the perimeter of the ice well while starting on the point. With Tkachuk stationed in front of the Otters' net, London created havoc, but ultimately couldn't cash in.
Tkachuk went to the box to give the Otters their first power play, but with Travis Dermott on the ice for most of it, the Otters couldn't do much. In fact, while Dermott was carrying the puck up ice in his own zone, Marner stripped him of the puck, danced another Otter, and unleashed a deadly backhand that narrowly missed.
In the first, Marner was easily the best player on the ice on either team.
Erie pushed back in the opening four minutes of the second period, but the Knights struck again, this time with some strong cycling in the offensive zone. Owen MacDonald swooped around the net uncovered and knocked home a rebound after a great chance in tight by Chandler Yakimowicz.
London dominated the next 10 minutes of play, with the Piccinich line doing more great work cycling the puck and preventing the Otters from even clearing the puck for minutes at a time. The shot count didn't reflect much their strong play however, as the shot count was only 11-10 Knights by the 12-minute mark of the second.
Travis Dermott made a couple good plays to keep the Knights hemmed in for a minute or two, but unfortunately had his stick snap in half just as he went to hammer one on net. It wasn't long before the Knights were back to dominating.
With the Knights grinding for the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, it was Marner who finally dug the puck loose, slid the puck through his skates to completely lose two defenders, and set the wheels in motion for another Knights' goal for which he unfortunately did not receive an assist. Instead, it was Tkachuk who cleaned up a Jacob Graves rebound while standing in the crease at 14:08.
The Marner line was back on the scoreboard just 3 minutes later to make it 4-0 as Tkachuk dug out a puck from the corner and found Marner in motion coming through the slot. Marner fired a one-timer through Williams and added another insurance goal for London.
Just as the second was set to close, Piccinich's trio was back on the cycle and was absolutely handing it to Strome's group. After generating a great point-blank chance on net for London, there was some on-ice chatter than netted Strome his second penalty of the game for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Knights a full 2-minute power play to start the third.
Just 22 seconds into the third, the Marner got caught deep on a shorthanded odd-man rush for Erie. Although he powered his way back in time to get into the passing lane, he caught an edge and fell awkwardly, allowing the pass to go through. The Otters' Jake Marchment was able to tap home a goal to cut the Knights' lead to 3. The play was reviewed to see if there was a kicking motion, but in the end, it was deemed a good goal.
Marner's trio went immediately back into the other zone for a great chance or two but were unable to do any damage with the remainder of the power play.
At 4:21, the Knights' Brandon Crawley took a double minor for high-sticking as Erie pressed for a goal.
The Knights played very tight to the net on the power play, which gave Dermott a good look or two at the net, but he was unable to get any pucks through. Dermott left the ice briefly but still played roughly 3/4 of the power play, eventually getting a weak shot through that the Knights' goaltender Tyler Parsons handled easily. The Knights killed off the power play.
The Otters began to get a bit more zone time after the penalty expired, but the Knights weren't without chances, either.
After Aaron Berisha was hit from behind, Marner went to work again on the power play, faking a shot, stepping around a defender, and snapping a wrister in off the post for his second goal of the game. Just over 12 minutes into the third, it was 5-1 Knights.
At 2:19 there was a stoppage in play and people started heading for the exits. The Knights were dominant in this one and the Otters simply had no answer for Marner and Tkachuk, though it should be noted that the Knights' other lines were great too, including that of Piccinich.
Nothing much worth mentioning happened as the game closed out, apart from another London power play that saw Dermott absolutely level Kole Sherwood in open ice.
The Knights closed this one out 5-1 to take a 3-0 series lead with Game 4 tomorrow night in London. The shots were 27-25 for Erie.
Notes on the prospects:
- If it wasn't already obvious, Mitch Marner was completely dominant tonight. He broke up Erie plays all over the ice, including some great work in the defensive zone covering men and taking away lanes. He reads plays as they develop and gets himself in the mix when he needs to. His speed was also on full display, as he absolutely flew through Otters on the Rush. In fact, he stepped in as a defender on several occasions and looked reasonably comfortable doing so.
On the attack, Marner has got to be the best or at least one of the best, passers in the entire OHL. He distributes the puck so well in any situation, whether he's standing still in the D-zone, rushing the in the neutral zone, or playing the point on the power play.
His speed also took me by surprise, as he didn't look as dangerous on the rush against tougher competition in the Leafs' rookie tournament, but he did say back then that he felt nervous and that he wasn't playing his game. Tonight he flew through all zones and picked up a couple points doing so.
In the end, Marner was named the game's first star, and had 2 goals and 2 assists to show for it. He's ready to make the jump.
- J.J. Piccinich was good in this game, but not a game-breaker. He broke up a few passes in all zones and showed that he can get in a lane, but he's also not a very active defender. He will challenge for the puck in the offensive zone and grind along the boards if need be, and he plays a good cycle game. He has decent speed, and isn't afraid to go for a rush, but tonight didn't show the hands necessary to create real chances on the rush.
- Travis Dermott generally plays such a quiet game, he's a hard player to watch when a guy like Marner is on the ice. He got burned by Marner at least twice (the first time on the opening goal), and although he had a lot of power play time, he only showed limited offensive impact - at least tonight. He doesn't have the wheels to create much on the rush.
He laid an open ice hit near the end of the game, but he generally plays a quiet physical game in all ends of the ice. Having said that, he is obviously a strong player that Erie relies on quite a bit.