Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oil Kings remain in top spot with two game split

The Western Hockey League's Christmas break could not have come at a worse possible time for the Edmonton Oil Kings. Despite missing captain Griffin Reinhart and David Musil from their lineup, Edmonton had managed to reel off five straight heading into the break, including their first two wins of the year over the Calgary Hitmen.

Apparently no one let the boys now it was the usual 7pm game time on Thursday night, as they forgot to show up for the opening five minutes of play and found themselves down 3-0 early on. Netminder Tristan Jarry, who had yet to allow more than three goals against in any game this season, was not sharp and looked as though he could hardly stop a beach ball.

Jarry was pulled after the second Rebels goal, in favour of Laurent Brossoit, who promptly stopped a breakaway on his first shot against. Yet head coach Derek Laxdal decided to do his best Mike Keenan imitation, swapping goalies all of sixteen seconds after making the original change. It was a move that would prove rather costly but obviously one that had the following night's re-match in mind.

In Jarry's defence, he had been outstanding for much of the season and the Rebels held a 12-1 lead on the shot clock...after five and half minutes of play. It was far from a goaltending only issue. To Edmonton's credit, from that point on they poured it on. Cutting the lead to one before the period was out and scoring late in the second to make it a 4-3 game, heading into period three.

Unfortunately for them, it would ultimately come down to the goalies. The stellar performance of Red Deer netminder Bolton Pouliot was the difference. The Oil Kings peppered the Rebels tender with fifty-five shots over the final five-five minutes of play but were unable to find that all important equalizer, to put them over the top.

Matt Dumba's late third period point blast sealed the deal and helped bring Edmonton's winning streak to an abrupt end. Fortunately for the Oil Kings, they did not have to wait long to repay the favour, as the two sides squared off in Red Deer on Friday night.

In what was a complete role reversal, Edmonton jumped all over the Rebels with a three goal outburst of their own and proved to be far too much for Red Deer to handle. Stephane Legault opened the scoring at the 2:02 mark, sliding home a loose puck behind Pouliot, with an early icebreaker.

Just under four minutes later, T.J. Foster would score his second in as many nights, wiring a laser off the crossbar and in, to make it a two goal bulge. Michael St. Croix would make it 3-0, finishing what is starting to become a norm on the Oil Kings power play, a three-way passing play between St. Croix, Foster and Dylan Wruck.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Edmonton pushed back to make a game of it at Rexall Place but the Rebels would not be so lucky.

The Oil Kings continued to pour on in the middle frame,  firing another eighteen shots on Pouliot and the Red Deer netminder stopped them all but Henrik Samuelsson's nifty finish on a two-on-one break, which was more than enough to bury the Rebels on this night.

Joel Hamilton would break Brossoit's shutout bid, with a shorthanded goal at the nine second mark of period three but that did little to slowdown the high flying Oil Kings.

Legault would add his second of the night, with a shortie on a breakaway, and Klarc Wilson would close out the scoring with his fourth on the campaign. After a disastrous start and outcome in the series opener, coach Laxdal could not have asked for a better response from his squad over the last five period of action.

The weekend split leaves Edmonton with a three point lead over the Hitmen in the Central Division and four points clear of the Prince Albert Raiders for top spot in the Eastern Conference. The defending Western Hockey League Champions will finish off what has been a memorable 2012, when the play host to the Brandon Wheat Kings on New Year's Eve at 6:00pm.

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