Knights' slower tempo works in their favour

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

This is as straightforward as it gets. The London Knights should beat the Erie Otters in five games.

Even though we're talking junior hockey and it's often unpredictable, this Ontario Hockey League Western Conference quarterfinal series shouldn't have many surprises.

The Otters will play the Knights tough. They'll be juiced and playing free with the knowledge that no one expects them to win. In recent games, the Otters have played it tight, not wanting to open up and give the Knights room to skate. The Otters have been effective. They haven't been able to win, but they've been effective.

What's interesting is that since the Knights have gone to a slower tempo, less open kind of game, they've been more successful. In the past 10 games of the regular season, the Knights gave up fewer chances, committed fewer turnovers and took more responsibility in their defensive end.

It's the only way to play when the playoffs roll around. Teams that rely on outscoring opponents may be successful in the early stages but when they run into the top teams later in the playoffs, they give up too many chances while not being able to create enough of their own.

The Knights tried it that way after Christmas and it didn't work well.

If this series had come along six weeks ago, the Otters may have had a chance. In fact, any team would have had a chance against a Knights team that was looking to find an identity.

It may never find a real identity but it appears to have found a style of play that works.

That's because the players have bought in. You can't win championships unless a team buys in to what the coach is selling.

Knights captain Scott Aarssen said other than the last month, the players have figured out their roles on the team and have worked to fulfill them.

"You can't have everyone scoring goals, you can't have everyone playing on the first line," Aarssen said. "It's not going to work that way. We have a good mix of guys. They realize what they need to do in order to help the team win. It's been clicking for us. That's allowed us to hit a good stride going into the playoffs."

The Otters don't have many advantages during this series.

One is that no one expects them to win. That means there's no pressure on them. It's amazing what happens when no on expects much.

The Otters also have Jaroslav Janus, a goalie who is good enough to steal a game or two.

It's not enough.

The Otters best chance of winning is if the Knights self-destruct or if they take a wrong turn on their way to Erie.

Since the bus operator is good at his job, the Otters have to do whatever they can to make someone other than Knights snipers John Tavares and Justin Taylor beat them.

The Knights still rely heavily on those two to score goals. So given everyone expects you to lose anyway, you might as well make the other guys on the Knights do the work and prove they can score on a regular basis.

The Otters also have to stay out of the penalty box. It is customary in the opening games of the playoffs that teams prove they aren't going to be pushed around. That sometimes leads to unnecessary penalties.

If the Otters take too many, the Knights will bury them on the power play.

As for the Knights, they don't need to do anything more than what they've been doing the last month.

Especially . . .

"Don't turn pucks over. Dump it in instead of trying to make fancy plays," Aarssen said.

Toss in the get the kind of goaltending Trevor Cann has provided recently and that ought to do it. That should be good enough to get it done in five.


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