Tavares guns for magic 50

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

Fifty is still a major feat.

The next goal John Tavares scores will make him a 50-goal man for the second time in his four-year OHL career.

"It's special because people aren't scoring goals the way they were before," he said, "but I haven't got there yet. I'm not going to think about it. I'm just going to play."

It could happen tonight at home while he's pretty in pink against the tough Erie Otters. It could be Sunday on Sportsnet against Kingston, whose head coach Doug Gilmour buried 70 goals in his final OHL campaign with the Cornwall Royals in 1982-83.

Tavares might end up alone on the half-century plateau this season. Old Oshawa mate Brett Parnham has 41 goals with eight games to go. Sarnia's Justin DiBenedetto has 40 and nine games left, but just one more against the Soo Greyhounds -- a team he owned offensively this season.

Last year, Tavares' teammate Brett MacLean scored 61 times and Sarnia's Steven Stamkos had 58.

In 2006-07, Tavares tallied 72 as a 16-year-old to break Wayne Gretzky's age record.

Tavares needs to get to 57 in his final seven regular season games to become the OHL's career scoring king. He has 206 goals and eight more will push him past former Ottawa 67's forward Peter Lee's mark of 213. (This season, the OHL re-checked and reduced Lee's total from the 215 that had been on the books for the last three decades.)

The former Oshawa captain has 23 goals in 18 games as a Knight, but the team has struggled to score lately.

The Knights have topped three goals in a game just once in their last 13 outings.

"We've been scoring enough to win the past few games," the 18-year-old Oakville native said. "This team will score. Right now, we're trying to play good defence first and the coaches are trying to get us to keep it simple. We need to drive to the net a little more and we've been working on cycling the puck down low."

Tavares knows there's no secret formula to breaking out of a light-scoring month. But there are good habits teams can follow that will increase the likelihood of potting more goals.

"We do test goalies with a lot of shots and we do wear them down," he said. "You're not always going to score on the rush and maybe we've tried to do that too much. We have to go to the net because that's where the majority of goals are scored -- on second and third shots.

"A Tomas Holmstrom (of the Detroit Red Wings), he's a specialized player who gets around the net like that. You don't always get to shoot from point-blank."

Tavares is in a strange position right now. It's hard not to talk about his statistical achievements but that's exactly what the Knights are trying to shy away from during this stretch run.

"At the start of the year, we had guys who put up good offensive numbers but we didn't like the way they were playing," London assistant coach Pat Curcio said, "and now, we have some guys who haven't scored as much but we like the way they're playing. It's been an on-going thing all year. It doesn't matter what your numbers are. It's about winning.

"Defence wins championships -- you hear that all the time. Sometimes, we see the team we think we are but we have to find a way to get that more consistently and become the contender we know we can be."

Otherwise, this project will end up being a group of a guys with good stats and a lot of free time in the later rounds of the OHL playoffs.

RYAN.PYETTE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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