Knights snipers refine aim

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

Daniel Erlich knows he could've been the Game 1 hero against Windsor.

Not Spitfires power-play king Ryan Ellis and his overtime point blast.

So after being denied by a sprawling Andrew Engelage's blocker with 50 seconds left in a tied game, the little London Knights sparkplug made a vow to himself for the rest of this OHL Western Conference final.

"The next time I have one of those, I won't miss it again," Erlich said. "The puck was rolling a bit. I tried to get it over him. It just didn't work out."

In between drills of yesterday's brief workout, Erlich flipped pucks from close range into a net occupied by London starting goalie Trevor Cann.

He hit the net every time.

But similar marksmanship can't be attributed to many of his mates heading into Game 2 tonight at the John Labatt Centre. All three London goals in the series opener were works of art.

"Yeah, but it doesn't matter because we didn't win," Erlich said. "We didn't score enough."

One of the big reasons they didn't was they couldn't hit the broadside of a barn on several of their shots.

"Guys try to pick corners," London assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "I think it's as simple as that. They try to be too fine. In a game like that with the pressure on, they try to pick a spot to shoot instead of making sure the puck hits the net."

In hockey, shots on goal have become a bit of a dinosaur statistic. The more accurate reflection is revealed by quality scoring chances.

But there's still one commandment that stands the test of time: you can't score if you don't hit the net.

Force the goalie, especially one under the gun the way Engelage has been in these playoffs, to stand on his head.

Phil Varone failed to do it often enough. So did usually pin-point shooter John Tavares.

Instead of making Engelage make saves, they bailed him out by rattling it off the glass.

"He (Engelage) had a lot of critics going in but I don't know why," Varone said. "I thought he played pretty well. He stopped John (Tavares) on a couple of chances. I missed a few of mine.

"We had (34) shots but we need to get more on him. There's no doubt we can play with this team. We just had a couple of bad breaks."

Some, they made themselves by missing the net.

Pat Kane hardly did that two years ago in his lone London season two years ago. The Chicago Blackhawks star scored 62 goals as a Knight largely because his laser beams always found the intended target.

"We talk about (shooting accuracy) all the time," Varone said. "When you're thinking about scoring all the time, that's when you usually don't. So that's what I try to . . . not think about and that's when they usually go in."

It helps when the puck isn't bouncing. The Knights are a puck possession team and the Windsor ice surface left a lot to be desired, especially late in the game.

"The ice was pretty bad," London defenceman Kevin Montgomery said. "But both teams played on it so it's no excuse."

Montgomery breathed a brief sigh of relief after his stick broke late in the third period, giving Windsor chance to end the game.

"I was just making a pass and the stick just shattered," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

But he still has faith in the rest of his lumber.

"The stick technology has really improved," London equipment manager Chris Maton said. "When they first came out a few years ago, you'd see a ton of them break on shots. But you hardly see that anymore . . .

"What must've happened is Kevin's stick got slashed earlier in the game and then it's just like a pane of glass, a car windshield. Once you get a chip, it becomes the weak point and pretty soon, you have a crack running all the way across."

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Knights vs. Spitfires

Series: Windsor leads best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final 1-0

Game 2: Tonight, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Game 3: Sunday, 4 p.m. at Windsor

Game 4: Monday, 7:05 p.m. at the JLC


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