Whalers Win Sixth Straight, 4-1, in London
Photo - Andy Bathgate scores the first goal of the game for Plymouth Friday night in London. Photo by Sue Reeve, London Free Press.
LONDON - London goaltender Michael Houser was spectacular Friday night at the John Labatt Centre against the Plymouth Whalers. Houser - the game's first star - was the difference in the game in stopping 41-of-44 shots, but it wasn't enough, as the Whalers defeated London, 4-1, for their sixth straight victory.
Plymouth's current winning streak is the longest winning streak for the team since the 2009-10 season, when the Whalers won seven games in a row between from Jan. 16-30, 2010.
The victory puts Plymouth in a tie with London at the top of the Western Conference standings. Plymouth is now 15-6-2-1, good for 33 points. London is now 16-4-0-1, also with 33 points and in first place due to one more win. The Whalers remain in first place in the West Division, one point ahead of Sarnia (14-4-1-3, 32 points), who defeated Saginaw, 6-3, on Friday.
Rickard Rakell paced the Whalers attack with a pair of goals (12-13), including the eventual game-winner in the second period. Andy Bathgate added his ninth of the year and Alex Aleardi added an empty net goal, his 12th of the year.
London played shorthanded due to their post-game fight a week ago against Sault Ste. Marie. London players suspended included Jared Knight, Scott Harrington, and Ryan and Matt Rupert. Still, the Knights came into the game as the top team in the Canadian Hockey League. Plymouth is eighth in the current CHL Top Ten Rankings.
Bathgate gave Plymouth a 1-0 lead on a power play goal at 2:55 of the first period. Mitchell Heard had the puck in the high slot and fed Bathgate at the lower rim of the left circle. Bathgate wasted no time in re-directing the puck quickly and accurately over Houser.
Houser was spectacular the rest of the period and prevented the Whalers from blowing the game open. Sometimes, the shot clock is not an accurate gauge to the flow of the game, but in the first period tonight, it was. The Whalers outshot London, 16-1, through the first 10:07 of the first period and 21-1, through the first 13:50.
The only sniff of a scoring chance for London in the first period did not count, as London's Brett Welychka scored on a delayed London penalty and referees Ryan Hutchison and Korey Bannerman forgot to whistle the play dead. The sellout crowd booed, but the goal was disallowed and that was the correct call.
For more about Houser's night, here's the game story from Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press.
The Whalers kept coming in the second period and Rakell finally gave Plymouth a 2-0 lead at 7:42 of the period. Rakell started the play by winning the faceoff in the London zone and linemates Stefan Noesen and Garrett Meurs won battles deep in the London zone to find Rakell at the hashmarks. Rakell snapped a backhand past Houser.
Plymouth led, 2-0, after forty minutes. They had a golden opportunity to add to the lead with London Kyle's Flemington was assessed two minutes for instigation a fight with Plymouth's Garrett Meurs (who did not retaliate), five minutes for fighting and a ten minute misconduct - giving the Whalers a seven-minute power play.
But the Whalers didn't score with the extended power play.
Because of Houser's heroics, London hung around and cut the Plymouth lead to 2-1 on Chase Hatcher's first OHL goal at 7:26 of the third period. Hatcher wristed a shot from the hashmarks to beat Plymouth goaltender Scott Wedgewood, who had a shutout streak snapped at 127:51, dating back to last Friday in Guelph.
And London had several opportunities to tie the game later in the period, but Rakell scored again with 2:06 left to give Plymouth a 3-1 lead. Working against London defenders behind the goal, Rakell wrapped the puck at the Knights' net from the left goalpost and finally scored. After a lengthy video review, referee Bannerman signalled a goal.
With 1:59 left, London head coach Dale Hunter pulled Houser for the extra attacker. Aleardi foiled the strategy, scoring from the penalty box area on a back-hand shot, to ice the game.
Plymouth is back home Saturday night, hosting Kitchener at 7:05pm at Compuware Arena (6:50pm, 88.1FM WSDP, www.plymouthwhalers.com).