Knights will have to neutralize high-scoring opponents

Knights defenceman Nikita Zadorov is ready for the start of the Memorial Cup in London, Ont. (Derek...

Knights defenceman Nikita Zadorov is ready for the start of the Memorial Cup in London, Ont. (Derek Ruttan/QMI Agency/Files)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:38 PM ET

LONDON, ONT. - Anthony Mantha has 81 goals in 81 games this season.

The big Val d'Or star buried the winner in the final minute of Game 7 Tuesday night in Baie-Comeau to send the Foreurs packing for London and the Memorial Cup.

He and his mates are the Knights' first giant defensive test Friday night at Budweiser Gardens.

Nikita Zadorov isn't exactly biting his fingernails out of concern.

“He (Mantha) is getting a lot of points this year, but it doesn't matter,” the Knights' star blue-liner said. “We've got a pretty good D-corps here and we're going to shut him down.”

This tournament will prove once and for all if the Hunters did enough to address the club's back end this season.

A year ago in Saskatoon, the Knights had Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington, Tommy Hughes and Zadorov on defence. They still gave up nine goals to Halifax and couldn't contain Portland star Ty Rattie.

This time around, the offensive weaponry is equally impressive.

Val d'Or was the only team in the Quebec league to score 300 goals.

Guelph, of course, led the Canadian Hockey league with 340.

The Edmonton Oil Kings scored 290 times, good enough for third in the Western league. Their biggest feat, though, was holding high-flying Portland's top four snipers to three goals in seven playoff games.

No one resembling the Saskatoon Blades are entered in this Cup.

“Here, it's going to be harder,” said Zadorov, who went man-to-man with Mantha at the world juniors. “All the teams are at a different level – the highest in junior hockey. I think it's awesome and you have to start games well. Good teams aren't going to let you come back a lot. Here, you have one game and it's a lot like world juniors.

“You have to win to live or you lose and die.”

The Knights believe they checked out in the second round so quickly because they ran out of healthy bodies at the worst possible time.

That won't be a problem here.

They should be able to work the corners and front of the net with Zach Bell and Brady Austin back. Zadorov, Dakota Mermis and Alex Basso, who logged marathon minutes in the five-game loss to the Storm, will be freed up to join the rush.

“It gives the guys who were playing a lot in Guelph the chance to go back to a normal game again,” Mermis said. “It should help us. We were definitely disappointed to lose, but that time allowed us to get in the best shape possible and let other guys get healthy, too.”

The Foreurs have to find a way to ramp up their emotions again in a hurry. That won't be easy.

“We played Guelph and we know how good they are defensively,” Mermis said. “It's up to us to watch the film on Val d'Or now and learn their tendencies so we know what it'll take to shut them down.

“We'll know them inside-out by Friday against what we'll have to do and I'm sure they'll know what they have to do against us, too.”

The Knights were fourth in team defence in the OHL this season.

That was, all considering, a pretty good finish.

But if they're fourth in defence at this Cup, they're in a world of hurt.

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

OFFENSIVE WIZARDS

(Four of the best goal-scoring teams in junior hockey are here for the Memorial Cup. Cue the red light).

Guelph: 340 regular-season goals. Columbus first-rounder Kerby Rychel has the hot stick.

London: 316 goals. The Knights need a healthy Max Domi, but they still have plenty of scoring depth.

Val d'Or: 306 goals. Detroit prospect Mantha is on fire, but don't sleep on their young second line.

Edmonton: 290. Henrik Samuelsson, son of Ulf, led the way with 95 points. But Curtis Lazar had 41 goals in 58 games.

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