The Red Deer Rebels’ power play blew a fuse Tuesday night at the Centrium.
The Rebels were a mere one-for-seven with a man advantage, their only power-play goal — off the stick of Ivan Nikolishin — coming on a first-period five-on-three. As a result, the Regina Pats, who came into the contest with the worst penalty kill in the Western Hockey League, walked away with a 3-2 win in front of 4,608 fans.
“Our power play wasn’t very good tonight. We got a break on the five-on-three when (Nikolishin) shot the puck and we had a good screen in front, but five-on-four we weren’t sharp,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
The Pats opened the scoring when Adam Brooks swatted a loose puck past Rebels netminder Rylan Toth at the 12-minute mark, then were assessed three consecutive penalties prior to the first intermission, upping their total to four — as opposed to none for the Rebels — in the opening frame.
But Red Deer cashed in just once, with Nikolishin sniping his 16th goal of the season at 18:04 with a wrist shot from the high slot. From there, the Regina penalty kill was three-for-three as the Rebels’ man-advantage units struggled to complete passes and generate much zone time.
“It was one of those games you can’t lose because your power play isn’t where it needs to be,” said Sutter. “We had four power plays in the first period and an extended one late in the game (for the final 2:50) but never had a chance to get a timeout because there were no whistles.”
Rykr Cole restored the Pats’ lead early in the second period, racing down the left wing and beating Toth with a rising shot to the far side of the net. Sutter replaced Toth with Trevor Martin a few seconds later and sent his starter back in after a brief spell.
Conner Bleackley pulled the Rebels even at 4:59, cashing a rebound after Regina stopper Tyler Brown had turned away two shots, but Taylor Cooper replied for the visitors just 13 seconds later with another goal Toth wanted back. Cooper scored from close range, his low shot finding the far corner.
And that was it for the scoring, although the Rebels mounted some serious pressure late in the middle frame, but consistently misfired or passed instead of shooting.
The Pats were outshot 9-6 in the third period, but held a 36-35 edge overall and were full marks for their win.
“We knew they were going to play hard, they always do. They’re a team that has good speed,” said Sutter. “But we had some good opportunities at the end of the second, we had five quality scoring chances and got nothing out of it. You have to capitalize on those opportunities. We had two-on-ones and three-on-twos. We had shots from right in the slot and put them over the net. Those types of things will kill you at the end of the night.”
Brown also played a major role in the outcome and was selected as the game’s first star for his efforts.
“He’s been good for us this season. I had to pull him in one game but otherwise he’s been very consistent, very good,” said Pats GM/head coach John Paddock.
While his counterpart wasn’t impressed with his team’s showing, Paddock had nothing but kind words for his club.
“I’d say that was our best game of the season,” said Paddock. “We played with a lot of energy, we had our feet moving all night.”
Sutter likely wasn’t watching any game film prior to the Rebels boarding the team bus for a five-hour trip to Cranbrook, where they will take on the Kootenay Ice tonight.
“It’s not hard to figure out why we lost tonight’s game. Our penalty kill was good (four-for-four) but we didn’t work hard enough on our power play,” said the Rebels boss. “I don’t like a power play that’s going to be passive and play perimeter hockey. You have to generate chances by getting pucks to the net.
“You might get the odd break like we did on that five-on-three, but you don’t score many goals like that. Five-on-four we were too cute. Again, it’s stuff we talk to the guys about. Our power play was fifth-best in the league going into this game, but it let us down tonight. “
• Red Deer has four players on the latest NHL Central Scouting list for players to watch as potential picks in the 2016 NHL entry draft. Defenceman Josh Mahura is listed as a ‘B’ prospect, projected as a second- to third-round pick, while rearguard Austin Strand and forwards Brandon Hagel and Jeff de Wit are ‘C’ prospects (fourth- to sixth-round selections).
The Rebels wrap up a two-game road trip Friday at Medicine Hat, then return home to face the Pats in a rematch 24 hours later.