Blazers burn up Rebels
The Red Rebels were stuck in neutral on Tuesday night against a team that has raced to the top of the overall Western Hockey League standings.
The result, then, was predictable, as the Kamloops Blazers cruised to a 4-0 win before a gathering of 4,557 at the Centrium.
“I just thought we were flat,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin.
“We knew coming into the game that Kamloops is at the top of the league for a reason. They have a good hockey team and if we had any chance we were going to have to outwork them and I didn’t think we did that tonight.”
The Blazers took advantage of their sluggish hosts by notching two goals in each of the second and third periods.
“We didn’t move our feet, we didn’t win enough battles,” said Wallin. “We didn’t generate enough and in the third period we ended up shooting ourselves in the foot by taking four minor penalties.”
If there was a bright spot for the Rebels, it was their penalty kill.
The Blazers entered the contest with a power play clicking at a 34 per cent success rate, but were zero-for-six with a man advantage on Tuesday.
Not that Wallin took any solace in that statistic.
“We allowed them to score easily. Every goal that they scored was off a mental error or a soft breakdown and that’s just not good enough,” said Wallin.
After a scoreless opening period in which the visitors held an 11-9 edge in shots, Colin Smith potted his seventh goal of the season just 94 seconds into the middle stanza, out-battling a pair of Rebels in front of the net and sliding the puck under Bolton Pouliot.
Tim Bozon made it 2-0 10 minutes later — his shot from the faceoff circle glancing off Pouliot’s stick and into the net — and Chase Souto potted his first of the season at 4:03 of the third period when Pouliot couldn’t handle a rebound.
Bozon closed out the scoring with his second of the night at 8:30, taking a pass from Smith and beating Pouliot after breaking in alone from the high slot. Pouliot was yanked at that point after making 26 saves and Patrik Bartosak stopped all five shots he faced the rest of the way.
Blazers goaltender Taran Kozun made 32 saves to record the shutout.
The Rebels, who put themselves in a deeper hole by being assessed all four infractions called in the final frame, had trouble moving the puck all evening.
“It’s tough to make hard passes and execute when you’re not moving your feet. The game happens quickly around you when you’re standing still and we had a lot of guys who were standing still tonight,” said Wallin. “When we did execute passes guys were missing them. They were missing passes that were right on the tape.
“I just didn’t think we moved our feet at all. We weren’t moving with the puck, we weren’t moving without it. We had guys standing still on the forecheck waiting for the next guy to do it. You don’t have success when you don’t work.”
For Wallin, the most disappointing aspect of the setback was the fact the Rebels managed to win three games on their recent six-game East Division road trip by simply outworking their opponents.
“On the road trip we got our work ethic up to where it needed to be,” said the Red Deer bench boss. “We were skating, we were moving, we were competing. That’s fallen off a bit here right now.”
Rebels captain Turner Elson was every bit as critical of the team’s play as Wallin, if not more.
“We were soft out there. We didn’t move our feet, we didn’t lay the body, we created no forecheck,” he said. “It was just a soft game on our part and we have to get back to what we know we can do. We’re not the most skilled team, we have to be able to work teams to the ground, be a work-hard team and be gritty out there and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Asked if he was concerned that the Rebels seemed unprepared to face a top-notch opponent like the Blazers, the captain responded: “It’s concerning. I’ve tried my best to help get these guys going and feel like I’ve done a good job that way. It’s just a matter of their own preparation, I can’t do their preparation for them. I know I haven’t been at my best either and have to focus on what I have to do as well.”
While the Rebels suffered their second setback after winning three in a row and fell to 5-7-0-1, the Blazers improved to 9-0-0-1.
“We played hard. Obviously we didn’t give up a goal and that’s how we play,” said Kamloops veteran forward Brendan Ranford. “We play good defensively and can also get opportunities to put the puck in the net.
“We have three lines that can score every night and our fourth line is really good defensively. We just played hard tonight and overall it was a good victory for the guys.”
• The Rebels were minus the services of defenceman Kayle Doetzel and Wyatt Johnson, both out with injuries. Healthy scratches were defenceman/forward Cody Thiel, rearguard Riley Boomgaarden, forwards Chad Robinson and Colten Mayor and affiliate goaltender Grant Naherniak . . . The Molson Cup three stars were (1) Smith, (2) Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury and (3) Bozon . . . The Rebels return to action on Friday against the visiting Kootenay Ice.