The London Knights are getting better.
But it's still not leading to wins.
The OHL's last-place team dropped its sixth straight game, 3-1 on Memorial Cup banner-raising night before 4,870 Thursday in Windsor.
They have staggered to a 1-7 record and have only scored 14 goals in those eight contests. They're in the midst of one of the worst starts in franchise history with a difficult weekend ahead.
"We had real good sticks on pucks, forcing turnovers more than we have the first five or six games," London assistant coach Dylan Hunter said. "The boys competed."
They led 1-0 early, stayed out of the penalty box and fired 25 shots over the final 40 minutes of the game.
But Windsor's two best players -- goalie Mikey DiPietro (28 saves) and captain Aaron Luchuk (two goals) killed them.
Luchuk's winner came with five minutes left in the third period after a puck trickled through Knights starter Tyler Johnson.
The Knights' big guns up front had little response.
"We know what kind of goalie we're going up against," Hunter said. "He's rock solid in there. We were getting our chances and made him scramble as much as we could. He made big saves on us. That extra (goal) would've given us more confidence.
"We just couldn't get it."
The Knights have made trades, scoured the junior landscape for more help and pulled out every trick in the Dale Hunter handbook to get a win.
The moral victories are wearing thin.
"Just build on the good things you're doing," Dylan Hunter said. "Keep up on the blue-collar things in the game and you'll get rewarded for it. "
The wait for that win, of course, is agonizing.
NO SHOWS: The Knights stayed in their dressing room during the Spits' pre-game ceremony. It wasn't a slight, they said.
"People will talk like that," Hunter said, "but when it's 15 minutes (puck drop was delayed by 13 minutes), it's a long one."
If it was in the five-minute range, London would've been on the visiting bench.
NEW D-MAN: The Knights need a defenceman older than 18 to anchor their blue line.
They're not sure if Victor Mete (Canadiens) or Brandon Crawley (Hartford) will ever return, so they brought in overage defender Shane Collins, formerly of the Western league's Prince George Cougars, to add some experience.
He was minus-2 with a shot on goal in his debut.
"He handled himself real well," Hunter said. "He had rough travel over here and got in early in the morning, then took a crash course in what we're doing. But even if it's different leagues, it's still pretty similar."
The Knights sent a 14th round pick this year to Barrie, who has first crack at OHL waiver claims and grabbed Collins off the wire.
"We did a lot of homework on him through scouts I know and people who watch the (WHL)," London GM Rob Simpson said. "He was a third-rounder in their league. He skates and moves pucks well and is strong defensively in his own end. We liked a lot of the feedback we were getting and heard he had good character and was a good example for younger d-men."
The Knights are full of younger rearguards and the coaches in charge of them -- Rick Steadman and Dylan Hunter -- were mainly forwards in their playing days.
The hope is Collins, a hard worker in the weight room and on the ice, will handle some of the minutes and situations some of the rookies are being forced to play without many trusted veterans on the back end.
The 20-year-old from Rosetown, Sask., grew up on a farm, too, so that should endear him to the Hunters.
OVERAGER ISSUE: Collins' presence creates a surplus of last-year major junior players in London. The Knights now have four and are only allowed to dress three per game. For now, one of the three forwards -- Sam Miletic, Tyler Rollo and Adrian Carbonara -- will have to sit out.
On Thursday, Carbonara drew the short straw.
Miletic is a potential 40-goal scorer. The Knights called Carbonara a "big part" of what they were doing this year and Rollo is right back where he started in Peterborough when the Petes had too many 20-year-olds.
"We have four on our roster and we'll stick with that (for now)," Simpson said. "We'll take some time and evaluate where our team is."
There are still OHL teams under the overager limit -- namely Niagara, Oshawa, Ottawa and Barrie. As a whole, it's a thin year for 20-year-olds in the league and that's why London had to go outside the province to get one.
SHERWOOD BACK: Kole Sherwood's return to Flint is a major boost for the Firebirds. He scored 33 goals and 85 points on the team's first line last year. It also helps the Knights, who receive Oshawa's second-round pick in 2020 once the winger plays one more OHL game. The grand total London received for Sherwood, a free agent signing, was three second rounders. Of course, the Knights could use his scoring touch in the lineup right now. It's a little surprising Sherwood isn't in Cleveland with the American league team, but the Blue Jackets brass figured some more seasoning in junior wouldn't hurt. Basil McRae, the ex-Knights GM, is part of that Columbus decision-making group.
STEPPING UP: The addition of Collins doesn't mean the Knights' younger players can relax. They are still a major component of this team -- and hope for the future. At some point, a few of the kids have to show everyone they are capable of being standouts in the league.
"At different times, some of the young guys have shown really well," Simpson said. "We've seen good games out of (goalie) Jordan Kooy. In Saginaw, He was great there. Josh Nelson has scored some goals for us. (Alec) Regula has looked good at times. (Billy) Moskal and (Liam) Foudy have shown some spurts. It's consistency every night that's needed to take the next step and be good now. We need all those younger guys to play a bigger role than maybe they would've in the past with the depth of our where our team had been."
NEW THREADS: The Knights are wearing custom sweaters Friday to highlight the Dream Lottery, which supports London hospitals, as part of specialty jersey charity night. The dream lottery logo is on the crest with the Knights helmet on each shoulder, plus a heck of a lot of golden stars on the waist and sleeve areas.
PRUST SIGNING: Former Knight Brandon Prust will sign autographs at the Bud concourse Sunday from 1-2 p.m. in support of his Prusty4Kids charity before London faces Owen Sound. The rugged winger, who had a tryout with the Kings this fall, has skated with the Knights recently and is still looking to play pro this season.
Spitfires 3, Knights 1
Windsor goals: Aaron Luchuk (2), Cole Purboo
London goal: Harrison Cottam
Next: The same teams meet Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Budweiser Gardens.
At Windsor Family Credit Union Centre
Spitfires 3, Knights 1
1. Aaron Luchuk, Spitfires.
2. Michael DiPietro, Spitfires.
3. Luke Boka, Spitfires.
1. London, Cottam 1 (Turko, Whittaker) 11:19
Penalty – Jones, Ldn (slashing) 15:42.
2. Windsor, Luchuk 7 (Staios) 5:02
Penalties – Henault, Wsr (slashing) 5:40, MacDougall, Wsr (interference) 11:24, Regula, Ldn (delay of game) 18:31, Purboo, Wsr (slashing) 18:37.
3. Windsor, Luchuk 8 (MacDougall, Boka) 15:00
4. Windsor, Purboo (unassisted) 19:13 (en)
Penalty -- Purboo, Wsr (slashing) 4:10.
Shots on goal by
London4 14 11—29
Windsor14 11 8—33
Goal: London: Johnson (L, 0-4). Windsor: DiPietro (W, 5-2).
Power plays (goals-chances): Ldn 0-4. Wsr 0-2.
Referees – Joe Celestin, Darcy Burchell. Linesmen – Chris Chapman, Brad Horan.
Read also other news of London here.