Defence key to success

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

There seems to be tremendous surprise that the London Knights have been just an average team since acquiring John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto.

The expectation was the Knights would mow down the opposition and immediately challenge the Windsor Spitfires for first-place overall in the Ontario Hockey League.

The reality is entirely different. The Spitfires continue to win and the Knights can wave goodbye to No. 1. London will finish with the second-best record in the league.

There's no shame in that. But there is a patina of confusion surrounding the Knights and supporters, especially after they only won two of five.

In some corners, there are murmurs of dissatisfaction and questions about whether the trade was beneficial.

That's ludicrous, of course. When you have the chance to get the top scorer in the league and one of the top offensive defencemen, you jump at it.

The problems with this team have nothing to do with Tavares and Del Zotto. They really don't have to do with team chemistry, either.

It's about perception.

The Knights were winning before Tavares and Del Zotto. They're going through a little slump with the pair, but that shouldn't be surprising. Not only did the Knights bring in the two Oshawa Generals, but also Leigh Salters and Zac Rinaldo. They've had some injuries. With two new players on the power play, that will take time to jell.

The Knights were winning in spite of their shortcomings.

General manager Mark Hunter did what he could to bolster the roster, but he couldn't get everything done.

Hunter knew he was missing a big scorer up front and more scoring in general. Tavares and Del Zotto were the obvious fix.

The Knights also needed an adrenaline guy, someone who could come out and do some hitting, but had enough skill to play a regular shift.

Hunter was unsettled by the goaltending. He thought he'd rectified that by dealing for Trevor Cann from the Peterborough Petes.

He would have loved to come up with a defensive defenceman, but they were in short supply and the price was stiff.

The Knights aren't having any problem scoring goals. Tavares and Del Zotto are doing what they need to.

Rinaldo has been a pleasant surprise as the guy who can stir things up. He's a big hitter and can play a regular shift.

But that isn't going to help them cut down on the number of goals and scoring chances they are giving up.

When you toss in Cann's issues with consistency, they either get better behind the blue-line or recognize they are going to have to score a lot of goals to win.

It's no secret the Knights defence likes to play offence. In Del Zotto and Carlson, they have two of the best in the league at generating offence. Kevin Montgomery and Matt Clarke also like to take off. That's a lot of blue-liners who like to go.

The Knights coaching staff is working with them to be more selective about when they decide to stage a jail break.

Poor defence doesn't fall only on the shoulders of the defencemen.

The Knights have developed the horrendous habit of turning the puck over in the neutral zone or at the opposing blue-line -- a sure-fire recipe for odd-man rushes.

Somewhere down the line, though, Cann has to stop giving up easy goals.

None of these problems are irreversible. As the playoffs approach, the Knights coaching staff usually gets their team to play better defence.

Cann has enough time to sort out whatever is wrong with his game.

If the Knights don't somehow fix those problems, it won't matter how many goals Tavares and company manage to score.

It won't be enough.

The Knights either get better behind the blue-line or recognize they are going to have to score a lot of goals to win.


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