Plymouth the best of OHL’s west

By: Chris Messina

@cmessina85

Who’s the best in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference?

The London Knights have won the regular season crown already, but that doesn’t mean they are the best team today. They are really good, but so are the Plymouth Whalers.

The Whalers' hot streak could mean more than the Knights' overall record heading into the playoffs.

The Whalers are red-hot right now having won 12 of 13 games and they aren’t showing signs of slowing up. What maybe makes the streak more impressive is they aren’t winning close hockey games and they aren’t just beating bad teams. They have outscored their opponents 78-25 during this run.

London has built up enough capital to win the regular season title. That happens when you are able to go nearly two months without losing a game like they did when they reeled off 24 straight wins from November 2 to December 31. The Knights fell just short of the CHL record of 25 in a row, set back in 1983-84 by the Kitchener Rangers.

Often it’s not the best team that wins in it all, it’s the hottest team and right now that is Plymouth. To be fair there are still several games left and the Knights have been bitten by the injury bug. They’ll definitely get a boost when they have Bruins prospect Seth Griffith back from injury along with defenseman Scott Harrington, a Penguins prospect that played for Canada at the World Junior Championships this year.

The Whalers went through a bit of the same thing around Christmas time when Stefan Noesen was suspended for 10-games because of a bad hit. They also didn’t have Vince Trocheck prior to acquiring him in early January from the Saginaw Spirit. He’s been on fire since being flipped from one Michigan team to another as he’s had points in 23 of the 24 games he’s played and 50 points overall.

Then you throw Rickard Rakell into the mix, he’s also been on fire since return from the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks. He played four games with them before being scratch for a number of games and then in mid-February they decided not to burn the first year of his entry level deal and to return him to junior. The Swede has been on a mission since has he’s racked up 14 points in 8 games since.

Maybe the biggest difference between the Knights now compared to a year ago is their vulnerability, or at least what is perceived to be vulnerable. Shortly after their streak ended they four in a row in late January before matching the feat again in early February. That skid last month included a loss to Erie Otters, the second worst team in the OHL.

Maybe that is a good thing though, losing a game or two here and there can keep give a team some perspective and not let them get to far out in front of themselves. Not to say they were ever complacent before, but maybe now that they have lost a couple of games they are that much more focused. Coaches say it all the time; it can be difficult to get the message across when the team is winning games.

There are a few other teams in the conference that are looking good as well, both Owen Sound and Kitchener have good squads while the Soo Greyhounds have looked like a completely different teams since making a coaching change in early December.

The playoffs are going to be fun to watch when they start. The strength and depth of the West aren’t going to make it easy for either London or Plymouth; both will have their work in front of them if they are to meet up in the third round. That is why they play the games because if it was all done on paper it wouldn’t be worth watching.

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