Friday night saw the Erie Otters travel to London, Ontario and Budweiser Gardens for a likely preview of the 2016 OHL playoffs.
The Knights came into the game on a nine-game winning streak while the Otters had their own motivation. The once undisputed best junior team in the country is looking to clinch first place in the OHL, and the road to get there goes right through London.
Matthew Tkachuk grabbed a nice goal for his London Knights. Max Jones would be a standout this game grabbing a pair of goals, and Christian Dvorak also found a way to get himself on the game sheet.
For Erie Friday night, Alex DeBrincat, Brett Neumann and Kyle Pettit all put the puck in the back of the net, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Knights would go on to win the game 4-3.
A Preview Of The Playoffs
London currently sits in the top spot in the OHL with 105 points through 67 games. Erie is close behind with 103 points in the same amount of games.
As luck would have it, the final game of the regular season for both squads comes against each other today in Erie.
Erie needs a regulation win on home ice if they want to win first place in the OHL while London needs a win in regulation, overtime or shootout, an overtime loss or a shootout loss to claim the Hamilton Spectator Trophy. Whoever finishes first will play the Saginaw Spirit while the loser will play Owen Sound in the opening round of playoffs.
Tonight’s game could be a good preview of what’s to come in the 2016 OHL Playoffs as London and Erie will most likely meet each other in the OHL Western Conference Final.
Am told @ErieOtters have maybe 15-20 tickets left total for tonight's finale. $25 to get in for those precious few left.
— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) March 19, 2016
Keys To Victory
For Erie, Devin Williams has to be good in between the pipes for the Otters tonight. The overage tender is one of just four goalies in the OHL to play over 3,000 minutes. He comes into the game with a goals-against-average of 2.37 and a save percentage of .915, rivalled by just one other goalie in the entire OHL- Tyler Parsons, coincidentally London’s star goalie.
Parsons has been incredible for the Knights this season, allowing no more than two goals in the past 12 games. He comes into tonight’s deciding game with a goals-against-average of 2.31 and a save percentage of .922.
The usual powerhouse players of Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk have to be good for the Knights.
Tkachuk’s rallied 30 goals and 76 assists, good enough for 106 points this year while Marner comes into the game with 116 points on the season (39 goals, 77 assists). Not to mention the fact that the 18-year-old’s riding a high right now after grabbing his 300th-career OHL point Friday night, scoring a pair of goals and an assist. Marner became just the 14th player in London Knights franchise history to accomplish such a feat.
Only two players have more points in the OHL than Marner and one of them is the Maple Leafs prospect’s teammate in Christian Dvorak. The 20-year-old has 52 goals and 69 assists to his credit thus far, he’ll be relied upon heavenly tonight and throughout the postseason.
But don’t discount DeBrincat who’s just one point shy of the 100-point barrier. Mix that with the fact DeBrincat’s draft eligible for this upcoming NHL Entry Draft, he’ll be incredibly motivated to have a strong performance against arguably one of the best London Knights teams we’ve seen in a while is something that could be a deadly combination.
Last game of the reg season, let's get the EIA going tonight #ottos
— Ivan Lodnia (@ivan_lodnia) March 19, 2016
And do we even need to mention Dylan Strome, who leads the Otters in scoring with 37 goals and 71 assists. Strome was great against London Friday night, and it wasn’t even his best performance of the season. Dale Hunter’s squad will definitely need to keep a close eye on him today.
The Knights have won three straight against Erie,
If Erie can contain Tkachuk and Dvorak, who’ve given the Otters the most trouble this season, they should have a very good shot of coming out of the game with two badly needed points.
But the Knights have an incredibly deep roster, and if Parsons comes up big today, and some of London’s scorers can get the puck past Williams, London should be able to get the win.
Ben Smith covers the CHL for The Hockey Writers. He also writes for HockeyNow Magazine, FlamesNation and SB Nation.