Spitfires in their sights

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Forget about phone texts or e-mails or even Canada Post.

The London Knights believe they have something for the Windsor Spitfires and it can't be mailed in.

It's a statement that needs to be delivered face-to-face.

"We're coming with a message for them," London defenceman Steve Tarasuk said. "They're obviously the team we're chasing. They've got the No. 1 ranking (in the Canadian Hockey League) and they're the ones we have to beat. Our goal is to show them we're not the same team they played before.

"We're better than we were last time."

On paper, the Knights have improved. London GM Mark Hunter made sure of it by adding scoring in John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto and grit in Zac Rinaldo and still-suspended Leigh Salters at the trade deadline.

But the Spitfires are better, too. They raided the Kitchener Rangers' veteran cupboard from their Memorial Cup finalist club of a year ago -- two-way forward Scott Timmins, veteran defender Ben Shutron and goalie Josh Unice -- to boost their playoff hopes.

Last year, Tarasuk had his Cup dreams dashed by his own team. The host Rangers shipped him to London as part of the package to pry Steve Mason away from the Knights a week-and-a-half before the deadline.

Now he feels like he has another great shot to get to the Cup, this time in Rimouski.

His biggest hurdle? The Spits, including a couple of his old Rangers teammates.

"Sure, they added some players who were impact guys for their teams," said the 19-year-old Tarasuk, "but we like to think we have some impact guys here, too. I know Phil (Varone) and Nazem (Kadri) are excited to play these guys because we feel like we have a team capable of competing here, too."

But they haven't been able to fully put it together. Aside from a 9-0 road thrashing over Kitchener last Tuesday, the Knights have been up-and-down like a teeter-totter.

They've only won five of their past 10 games. Tavares is putting up massive numbers since becoming a Knight, but it doesn't always translate into victories.

In recent years, the Knights dominated the Eastern Conference. Last weekend, during their road swing, they lost to last-place Kingston, beat Belleville by a goal and fell to Ottawa through its captain Logan Couture, a London kid.

"We feel we have the pieces in place," said Knights alternate captain Matt Clarke. "Other than the two losses, it was a good trip, a good chance to bond and for guys to get to know each other.

"But we know we have to start putting some wins together here. We feel we can compete with Windsor. We've talked about it. Now, it's time to show it, that we're capable of playing better than we have been lately."

Forward Phil McRae didn't mince his words. He knows how strong Windsor is and also knows how good the Knights can be.

"We made the changes we did and I think we're as good as they are and there's no reason we can't be better," he said. "We just have to go out and prove it to them."

They haven't yet. Windsor has won all three meetings. There are three more -- two in London, one in Windsor.

"Home advantage is big and we have to make use of it," Tarasuk said. "Our crowd can be pretty loud when it gets going and we have to show other teams this is a tough place to play."

Windsor has the ability to pressure up front and force turnovers. London's defence has been prone at times to giving up the puck.

"We've been a little too sloppy in our own end," Clarke said. "We just have to clean that up. You can't give a team extra scoring chances like we've been doing."


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