The London Knights have a lot working in their favour as they enter the final eight games of the regular season.
Forward Pat Kane is healthy after missing two games last weekend with a throat infection. The team's top scorer has 53 goals in 50 games -- including seven game-winners -- and his absence removed a lot of offensive punch from the attack.
"It was painful to turn on the TV and try to watch the games (against Sault Ste. Marie and Owen Sound), but the guys did a good job," he said. "I wanted to play but it's one of those things you can't control. It was the smartest thing just to rest and wait it out and I feel a lot better now."
Kitchener and Plymouth, the two teams tailing London in the OHL's Western Conference, will knock each other around tonight in Kitchener. The Rangers will be without Steve Downie, who was suspended for eight games for attacking Guelph forward Mike McLean last week and throwing a water bottle during a meltdown.
Downie, who helped the Peterborough Petes sweep London in last year's final, won't play against the Knights on Thursday when Kitchener is in London for their final regular season meeting. The Knights don't have any more games against the Whalers, who end their season at home to Kitchener on March 17. The Knights are in Erie that night against the last-place Otters.
"If we want first, we're going to have to keep winning because Plymouth isn't going to lose very many," said Knights goalie Steve Mason.
The eastern Ontario swing has traditionally been a bear for the Knights, but that was well before they had reeled off three straight regular season titles and are now closing in on a fourth. They swept a four-game trip through the East division -- which included a stop in Peterborough -- late last year and currently boast the best road record at 23-5.
The Knights have a lot of rookies who have never been through the Ottawa, Belleville and Kingston experience, but little of the unknown has affected this group so far.
"Ottawa has a good rink but Belleville's big (the ice surface measures 199.5 by 99.5 feet), so it's different," said coach Dale Hunter, who returns to the bench on Sunday in Kingston after serving a two-game suspension for being booted out in the third period of London's 6-3 loss in Owen Sound last Saturday. "But we have guys who have played there before like Sergei (Kostitsyn), so he (and veterans like Jordan Foreman and Josh Beaulieu) will have to lead the way."
Hunter noted that with three of the league's top five scorers in Kane, Kostitsyn and Sam Gagner, the Knights should be score anywhere.
They'll have an inspired offensive player in Kingston when rookie forward Justin Taylor takes the ice. The former Frontenacs draft pick, who has two goals and 12 points in 23 games with the Knights, was dealt to London this season after indicating he wouldn't report to Kingston.
Captain Robbie Drummond is still injured from last Tuesday's head check by Kitchener's Jakub Kindl and didn't go on the road trip.
Tonight: London at Ottawa, 7:30 p.m.
Tomorrow: London at Belleville, 7:15 p.m.
Sunday: London at Kingston, 2 p.m.
London (8): at Ottawa, at Belleville, at Kingston, vs. Kitchener, at Guelph, at Owen Sound, vs. Erie, at Erie.
Plymouth (8): at Kitchener, vs. Sarnia, vs. Mississauga, at Windsor, at Erie, vs. Sault Ste. Marie, at Sault Ste. Marie, vs Kitchener.
Kitchener (7): vs. Plymouth, at London, vs. Saginaw, vs. Windsor, at Guelph, vs. Owen Sound, at Plymouth.