Pre-playoffs caution key for Knights

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:39 PM ET

Vladislav Namestnikov has 28 goals for the London Knights this year.

He has three games left to reach 30, a number that would look awfully good to NHL scouts poring over the Russian rookie forward’s first-round worth.

But the 18-year-old is slender in build, has never played this much hockey and just took a stick in the throat late in Saturday night’s loss in Owen Sound.

The Hunters need him fresh and healthy for the playoffs.

So even though seventh place is still technically up for grabs, what do you do?

Rest him at some point this weekend or keep plowing forward?

“I feel good,” Namestnikov said. “It’s not up to me. Whatever the coaches decide, whatever’s best for the team, that’s what they’ll do and I’ll be OK with it.”

Same goes for captain Stephen Sanza. He’s logged a lot of minutes.

And don’t forget star goalie Michael Houser. He’s been stuck at 29 wins for a while now.

Go for the milestone or give him a break?

“We’ll wait to see what happens,” London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen yet. We end on the Sunday against Kitchener and they don’t have any spot to clinch anymore. They might come here and rest Ryan Murphy, Gabriel Landeskog, Jerry D’Amigo and about six other guys.

“If it makes sense to rest some guys, we will, but we don’t have a lot of extra guys to put in there.”

In past seasons, the Knights had first place socked away and could afford to play some young guys in some meaningless contests.

But this year, the team is full of young guys who need every experience they can get.

And the Knights are in the midst of a six-game losing streak. It’s a little tough on the confidence to enter the playoffs on a nine-game dive.

“This is an extremely important weekend for our team,” London forward Colin Martin said. “We’re looking to get a couple of wins here and feel good going into the playoffs.”

That might be what trumps the rest fest.

That might be why they push hard as they can for seventh instead of accepting the fate of eight.

“At this point, it doesn’t really matter where we finish,” Namestnikov said. “We know we’re in the playoffs.”

They can still face top seed Owen Sound, Saginaw or Windsor in the first round.

If it’s the Attack, who the Knights have beaten three times this season, any excitement about that?

“I guess it would be good,” Namestnikov said. “We’re just trying to be ready for whoever we face.”

Last weekend when they met, there was fighting and big hits — and even a slew-foot by Andrew Shaw on Ryan Rupert — so there’s no doubt someone could get hurt.

The same teams play Saturday again at the Bayshore.

“Of the six (straight) losses, that was our best game,” Beaulieu said. “The kids worked hard all game. But make no mistake — that Owen Sound team is good. They’re first for a reason.

“Whoever we play, we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

The Knights likely need to win all three this weekend to have a chance at passing Guelph. The Storm play Owen Sound Friday and are at Plymouth Saturday.

The Knights’ thinking right now is to start Igor Bobkov in Owen Sound on Saturday night and leave Houser ready for Kitchener on Sunday afternoon.

Rookie defenceman Mike Moffat (ribs) tried to practise Wednesday but it was too soon.

Other than him and overager Kyle DeCoste, who’s out for the season with shoulder woes, the Knights are in relatively good shape for the playoffs.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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