Working without four regular defenceman would take down most teams, yet the London Knights' now 21-game win streak will live through Christmas.
There could be some bitter fallout from what might have aided London during its 6-5 comeback overtime win over the Kingston Frontenacs, but that's not reflected in the standings. The Knights still had to score twice in the final 8:30 of regulation to force overtime before Boston Bruins prospect Seth Griffith ended it 3:13 into overtime.
That might not even been the most impressive part about the Knights sweeping this weekend, which included a road shootout win over the talented Guelph Storm and last-second win over the Owen Sound Attack. Every major junior team, especially in the OHL with its 3-in-3 weekends, is supposed to eventually hit the point of No Más — when the schedule and opposition demands more than it has to give.
That really should have happened this weekend. The Knights had a 3-in-2½, none too far from home albeit, after bidding back-end pillars Scott Harrington, Olli Määttä and Nikita Zadorov adieu for the world junior hockey championship and losing dependable Kevin Raine to a suspension. The Guelph Storm are a talented, up-tempo club which is second in the OHL in goals scored after London. Owen Sound, even with goalie Jordan Binnington away with Team Canada, is a strong team.
Yet it took until early in the second period on Sunday, when Kingston's Jean Dupuy scored for a 3-2 lead, before the Knights had to face a deficit this weekend. The Frontenacs' next goal by Slater Doggett also made them the first team to score four in a game vs. the Knights since London's last loss on Nov. 1 vs. the Windsor Spitfires).
No Domi, question of motivation
A lazy Sunday effort also would have been understandable given the circumstances. Coach Dale Hunter's Knights, on top of being depleted defensively, also had the risk of a crash after digging deep for those two aforementioned dramatic finishes. Star forward Max Domi was also suspended.
It was also an out-of-conference game, where a loss would not mean helping a potential playoff opponent scoot up in the standings. Those situations — home ice, end of the weekend, an opponent that could be taken lightly — are often ripe for the heavy favourites laying an egg.
The Todd Gill-coached Frontenacs managed to go from being down two goals early to having a two-goal lead while operating without five of their 10 best players and using backup goalie Colin Furlong (who made some outstanding saves). Kingston was missing leading goal scorer Darcy Greenaway, key forwards Henri Ikonen and Billy Jenkins and defenders Mikko Vainonen and injured Roland McKeown to either injuries or the Finnish national junior team.
Knowing that could have just exacerbated any frustration London felt about trailing against a lesser team. That is prone to happening with teams of teenagers once they trail. It didn't happen after they were down 5-3 with 10 minutes left.
Except Hunter's Knights just do not quit on a game. Kingston broke the four-goal threshold with a skeleton lineup, which is a feat itself, and still only had one point to show for it.
There was controversy, though. London's first two games this weekend had a combined 32 power plays. Sunday, the officials let the teams play. There had only been five power plays all day until Kingston centre Sam Bennett was sent off for hooking with 5:39 left and the Knights sniffing blood with a 5-4 deficit. The penalty kill started well for Kingston, but as 's HockeyProspect.com's Ryan Yessie (@RyanHPscout) noted, a missed infraction deprived the Frontenacs of a breakaway. Referees often are quicker to make an even-up call after giving out a later power play. That sequence ended with Toronto Maple Leafs pick Ryan Rupert scoring the tying goal after London caught Kingston with a long pass for a 2-on-1 rush.
Wow Kingston about to have a clear breakaway London gives a knee on knee the puck comes back and London scores to tie it.
— Ryan Yessie (@RyanHPscout) December 16, 2012
The refs can't put the puck in the net. Knights showed great resiliency and work ethic to tie the game and win it in OT.
— Ryan Yessie (@RyanHPscout) December 16, 2012
When the NFL's New England Patriots flirted with perfection in 2007, it was only human nature to look for or suspect it was getting help from the zebras. People want to believe it's just not possible to keep rolling 7's. There is no suggestion that even happened here, but having people wonder about a conspiracy or phantom penalties helping London is not necessarily bad in terms of expanding junior hockey beyond its regular niche.
It means people are paying attention and getting emotionally invested. That could be good for the OHL and major junior hockey, to have people wondering when The Streak will end.
The Knights are now within four victories of the 1983-84 Kitchener Rangers' mark of 25 consecutive wins. (London has had three overtime wins and two in shootouts across that stretch). If they couldn't lose today in spite of it all, well, when will they?
London will play six games while Harrington, Määttä and Zadorov are expected to be in Ufa for the world junior. The WJC could be their friend though. After their game with Windsor on Dec. 27, they have a run against other teams missing key pieces: Dec. 29 at Plymouth (Rickard Rakell off with Team Sweden), a New Year's home-and-home with Sarnia (Alex Galchenyuk and Connor Murphy away with Team USA) and a potential record-breaker on Jan. 4 vs. the Saginaw Spirit, which will be without Team Canada goalie Jake Paterson. There might be a potential L lurking, but forget about trying to call it.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.