The current market leaders could run into some challengers.
March 08--The Erie Otters are back to their high-scoring ways on offense.
It took only two games to make that happen.
The Otters have scored 17 goals in consecutive routs of overmatched West Division teams, with banged-up Windsor being their latest victim in a 6-1 victory in front of 5,639 fans at Erie Insurance Arena. In the process, the Otters (48-14-2-0) set the franchise's single-season record with 284 goals, topping the mark of 281 held by the 2010-11 club.
"We know we can score goals," said rookie Dylan Strome, who posted the first two-goal outing of his of OHL career. "If we just keep the game simple and follow (head coach Kris Knoblauch's) game plan, then we're going to score goals. I think a lot of teams know that. So they're showing us respect on defense. ... We're finding that groove now."
Windsor (36-25-3-0) took a 1-0 lead on Ben Johnson's goal 8 minutes, 22 seconds into the game. But the Otters dominated on the shot chart.
It was only a matter of time before they turned those shots -- 19 in the opening period and 41 overall -- into goals. Connor McDavid's first of two goals and four points, which tied the score at 1 at the 15:57 mark, sparked a three-goal outburst to end the period. Strome capped it with a wrist shot that beat goaltender Dalen Kuchmey just before the buzzer sounded.
"(Jake) Evans was yelling shoot," Strome said. "I think their team thought I was just going to dump it in or something, and they backed up. I just saw a lane and shot it, and (I was) lucky enough that it went in. I was pretty pumped. It was a pretty good goal to get the boys going. But I think we had a good effort all around."
The Otters overwhelmed a Spitfires defense that already was plagued by injuries before Friday's announcement that Slater Koekkoek will undergo season-ending surgery to repair a dislocated right shoulder suffered Thursday against Saginaw. Koekkoek, one of the league's top two-way defensemen and a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, had 15 goals, 53 points and a plus-44 rating in 62 games this season. "Koekkoek is a big part of their team," McDavid said. "We've got to get on them if he's not playing."
A fourth straight win pulled the Otters within three points of first-place Guelph with four regular-season games left in the race for the league's regular-season championship and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Storm lost at home to Owen Sound 6-2 on Friday. The third-place Otters also remain one point ahead of fourth-place London, which won 10-5 in Kitchener on Friday. The Otters play Kitchener today in a 7 p.m. home game, while London plays in Owen Sound. The Storm are idle.
"It looks good going into the playoffs," Strome said. "So hopefully we keep it up the last four games. Brown had three assists to give him a league-best 121 points, while Fox scored to become the first player in club history to reach 60 goals. Fox also needs one point to join Brown in the Otters' 100-point club. McDavid reached the 90-point mark.
"We had to challenge them and really set the pace (and) play with a lot of speed," Knoblauch said. "I thought we did that. We didn't make it easy for them."
- News and notes: Adam Pelech (two assists) joined Chris Campoli (66 points in 2003-04) as the only defensemen in Otters' history with 50 points in a season. He needs four assists to tie Campoli's record of 46 set that season. ... The Spitfires moved center Brady Vail, their second-leading scorer with 79 points to defense to fill Koekkoek's spot.
VICTOR FERNANDES can be reached at 870-1716 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/goeriehockey. Read the Shootout hockey blog at GoErie.com/blogs/shootout and post comments.
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