By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
The OHL season hit the one-third mark last Sunday for the Rangers — before a 4-3 loss to the visiting London Knights, Kitchener’s first defeat at The Aud this season.
So what exactly has Steve Spott got?
The league’s best defensive unit, led by a pair of stellar netminders in John Gibson and Franky Palazzese, an identity the Rangers’ head coach and general manager is comfortable with going forward as the Sarnia Sting (12-9-0-2) visit town Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
“I think we’re a team that recognizes our strength relies on our defensive game and obviously with our goaltending,” Steve Spott said. “The challenge for us since training camp is to create offence, so we need to find that urgency.
“And it’s not going to be by natural skill, it’s going to be through hard work and collectively getting a new scorer on the score sheet every night.”
So consider Kitchener’s 22-goal burst over four games in the middle of October — a 3-1-0 run against Ottawa, Oshawa, Sarnia and Kingston — the exception to the rule.
Tight-checking games, where special teams decide the outcome, maybe be the common denominator to a win, which has been the case through late October and most of November as the Rangers entered last Saturday’s game in Owen Sound with a team goals-against average of 1.55 in its last 11 contests.
That means winning games with super special teams — something the Rangers did well early in the season but have struggled with since, especially on the power play.
Kitchener was getting by with a solid 28.6 power-play efficiency rate through their first 49 opportunities while a man or two up. Since then, they’ve skidded down to the bottom half of the league with only five goals in as many power-play chances (49).
“We’re winning games averaging just two goals per game right now, and that’s too much pressure to put on our back end,” Spott said. “Our power play has to be better and our offence has to create five on five.”
Otherwise, Spott said he likes the group assembled so far, with their best players, like Matt Puempel, Radek Faksa, Tobias Rieder, Ryan Murphy and John Gibson, also their hardest workers.
Still, Spott plans to be on the lookout for more offensively gifted players if they are available before the trade deadline.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re scoring goals and that’s an area we need to address,” he said.
KITCHENER NOTES: The Rangers head into tonight’s game looking to snap a two-game losing skid.
Losses to the Owen Sound Attack (a 4-0 defeat in Owen Sound last Saturday) and London (a 4-3 decision at The Aud last Sunday) cost the team in the standings with all three of those teams, along with the Guelph Storm, battling for the division title in an ultra-competitive Midwest — all four have more points than the West Division-leading Plymouth Whalers.
The Rangers will look to get back on track with games this weekend against Sarnia, Erie and London — at home on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
They are close to full strength, too, with defenceman Jared Gilbert the only non-healthy scratch expected tonight due to a concussion.
SARNIA NOTES: No Nail? No problem for the Sting, who entered the week with points in seven of their last 10 games, but losers of three straight.
Having hotshot prospect Alex Galchenyuk for the start of the season helps.
The Montreal Canadiens first-rounder is back amongst the league’s top-20 scorers after a knee injury sidetracked his 2011-12 season. With 13 goals and 22 assists, he was ninth in OHL scoring heading into Thursday’s game against London.
Charles Sarault, Reid Boucher and goalie J.P. Anderson are still around, too.
POST SEZ: Spott likes the way his team is playing now, but is still looking up and down the lineup for offence beyond his big three forwards — Puempel, Faksa and Rieder.
On Friday night, the team will have to be mindful on defence, however, of Galchenyuk and his dangerous Sting teammates, while overage netminder Anderson has a proven pedigree of goaltending success with 109 OHL wins on his resume.
On a side note, the OHL unanimously approved the move of the Brampton Battalion to North Bay on Monday after more than 2,175 fans committed to three year’s worth of season tickets in less than two weeks.
The Battalion will retain their nickname and start playing out of North Bay’s Memorial Gardens in 2013-14.