London power outage

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

ST. CATHARINES -- No one expects John Tavares to score two goals every game.

But who figured on this?

The London Knights' stunning power play, which these days can roll out five OHL all-stars at any one time, gets shut right down.

An offence duelling with Windsor for tops in the league held to just two goals by Plymouth discard Jeremy Smith, now a Niagara ace.

Tavares, the most coveted player in junior hockey, stymied and turned aside -- a minus-four in a forgettable outing. Meanwhile, Italian import forward Marco Insam, once waived through the entire Western Hockey League, slapping home a hat trick for the IceDogs as the Knights fell 5-2 before 3,145 in a jammed Jack Gatecliff Arena last night.

Most eye-opening of all? These supposedly mighty Knights are just 3-2 since GM Mark Hunter's talent splurge at the OHL trade deadline.

Some figured revamped London might only lose a couple of games the rest of the regular season.

"We're going to have to take what we learned here and move forward -- the whole season's a work in progress," said Justin Taylor, officially credited with a late goal that looked to be Tavares' 34th of the season and eighth in four games as a Knight.

If the league doesn't change the tally, that's an end to his league-leading 19-game point streak and nine-game goal surge.

But it's the Knights' performance that needs correcting, especially in the cramped confines of the old St. Catharines rink where dump-and-chase is more handy than London's puck-possession approach.

"We tried to chip it in and go after it in the first, but we didn't score and only got two goals," Taylor said. "That wasn't enough."

Guys who did go in the corner -- like sparkplug Daniel Erlich -- paid a price. The little pepper-pot needed repairs after taking an accidental Reggie Traccitto skate in the face close to an eye.

He was back to his normal self shortly after the incident.

"You never want to see any of your teammates go down like that and you're obviously worried about them," Taylor said.

But it's time to fret about the offence. No one thought a club that welcomed Michael Del Zotto back to the lineup and rolled out John Carlson, Tavares, Phil McRae and Nazem Kadri on a couple of shifts together would have trouble scoring.

"You wouldn't think that, but it's not always the way it works in hockey," London assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "We're still trying to see who works well together. We're going to have to find a way to score more.

"I didn't think we worked as hard as we wanted to in the first period and we ended up down two goals. But our power play has to be better than it was."

The early lead gave Niagara, winners of seven of eight heading into tonight's rematch, extra confidence. Smith, who lost his first three starts against London this year while in Plymouth, wasn't about to be on the hook for four. The Nashville draft pick has won five of his first six stars since being traded to the 'Dogs.

"He's been great for us the whole time," said the 19-year-old Insam. "It's a huge win for us. Anytime you beat one of the top 10 teams in the country, that's big."

Insam, who left his native Italy to study at famed hockey school Notre Dame College in Saskatchewan, is built for his home rink. He's six-foot-two, 205 pounds and works well in close quarters.

"It's different in this rink," he said. "There's not a very big neutral zone. You can use that and get on teams very quickly."

The IceDogs jumped all over the Knights and built a 4-0 lead before hearing any response from London.

It could be a quiet kind of Western Conference dressing room when the five top Knights head to Windsor for the All-Star Classic on Feb. 4.

They'll be sharing the space with five Spitfires -- Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis, Scott Timmins, Andrew Engelage and Greg Nemisz -- and the two clubs play two days later in London.

"I know a few of those guys over there, but I've been told Windsor is our biggest rival," Del Zotto said, "so it's going to be kind of interesting. We'll play together there and then go back to our business."

London GM Mark Hunter and Plymouth GM-head coach Mike Vellucci hand-picked the Western Conference team.

IceDogs 5, Knights 2

Niagara goals: Marco Insam (3), Andrew Agozzino, Matt Sisca

London goals: Garett Hunter, Justin Taylor

Next: The-IceDogs are at the JOhn Labatt Centre tonight at 7:30.


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