The Red Deer Rebels have racked up more than their share of penalty minutes this season, but extra time in the box hasn’t resulted in extra goals against.
The simple explanation is that the Rebels’ penalty kill is the best in the Western Hockey League at a sparkling 86.7 per cent success rate.
“We do spend a lot of time working with our penalty kill, including watching a lot of video,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose team hosts the Kamloops Blazers tonight at 7 p.m. at the Enmax Centrium.
“I think it really helps when you know who your four defencemen are killing penalties, which pairs are working together and are in synch. You work with four defencemen and four forwards, and some nights you use six forwards depending on how many penalties you’re killing. And of course your best penalty killer is always your goalie.”
Netminder Rylan Toth has been particularly sharp while the Rebels have been short-handed, which Sutter insisted hasn’t been the case as often as the club’s 475 penalty minutes — the sixth-highest total in the league — would indicate.
“The amount of minor penalties we’ve taken this season hasn’t been that bad,” he said, pointing to two fight-filled games — at Seattle and at home versus Swift Current — as the primary reasons the club’s sin-bin minutes have piled up.
“We try and keep our minors to no more than four or five in a game. There’s been the odd game when we’ve taken more than that, but overall our discipline has been a lot better in that area this season. It has been the majors that have ran our minutes up, mostly due to a couple of games. Other than that we’ve been below average with (taking) minor penalties.”
Sutter also credited his team’s shot-blocking capability as a reason for the penalty kill success.
“Penalty killing is a lot about blocking shots, not giving up high-percentage shots and making sure you keep certain areas shut down,” he said.
Meanwhile, defenceman Austin Strand and forward Adam Musil will be in the Red Deer lineup tonight despite being listed as day-to-day on the WHL weekly injury report.
In the event that Strand had been unable to play, Austin Shmoorkoff — due also to the fact Haydn Fleury is attending the Canadian national junior team final selection camp — would have drawn into the lineup against the Blazers.
Instead, the 17-year-old will have to wait to make his 2014-15 Rebels regular-season debut.
“It’s a situation where he knows his role here and he knew what it would be when we brought him back,” said Sutter, who recalled the Edmonton native from the junior A ranks Nov. 12.
“He understands it and his practice habits have been really good. We’ll have no problem with putting him at some point if need be.”
Rearguard Nick Charif, meanwhile, is back practising after missing 20 games with a lower body injury and could join the club for a two-game trip this weekend.
The Rebels are in Moose Jaw Saturday and Brandon Sunday.
“We’ll see how he is over the next few days here and he’ll be re-evaluated by a doctor before we leave on our trip Friday,” said Sutter. “We’ll determine at that time whether he will make the trip with us.”
Sutter admitted, however, that he does not have a definite return date for the 19-year-old rearguard.
“We don’t know when he’ll play, we just know that he’s progressing, that he’s at a point where he’s taking part in full practices,” said the Rebels boss. “He’s been feeling good after practices so he might play soon, or there’s still a chance he might not play until right after Christmas.”
• The Lethbridge Hurricanes fired general manager Brad Robson Wednesday, one day after cutting ties with head coach Drake Berehowsky.
Former Rebels head (1992-95) and assistant (‘98-2000) coach Peter Anholt was serving as the ‘Canes assistant general manager and will assume both the GM and head coaching duties.
“Going forward and seeing where we were as an organization we felt a change was necessary that was in the best interest of our players, shareholders and fans moving forward,” said Hurricanes board president Doug Paisley in a press release.
The community-owned ‘Canes are last overall in the WHL with a 6-19-3-1 record and haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2009.