The Red Deer Rebels are riding a five-game winning streak, but a successful team’s work is never done.
Especially when that successful team is still not firing on all cylinders.
Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin decided his squad needed a tune-up this week, specificially in the areas of intensity and pace.
“We had a real good day yesterday, we really cranked up the intensity in practice,” Wallin said Tuesday.
“That will kind of be the focus here again today. The theme yesterday was just increasing our battle level and the pace of our game and we’ll be getting back to that again today.”
The 8-3-0-0 Rebels, who take on the Kootenay Ice tonight in Cranbrook and then host the Everett Silvertips Friday, often looked like the second-best team on the ice while recording narrow wins over visiting Kamloops, Moose Jaw and Portland on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
“Going back through the games again and watching details, I thought we really had a passive mentality which started from our back end,” said Wallin.
“We’re typically a team that does a good job through the neutral zone of forcing teams to dump the puck and also making it tough for teams to get into our end of the rink. Our defencemen were really passive on our gap control and as a result you can get into that mentality and mindset and it kind of finds its way into your entire game.
“So you’re kind of backing off, you’re on your heels. You get the puck and you don’t take care of it.
“You’re not making strong plays so you struggle getting out of your end. Then when you get the puck into the offensive zone, you’re not forechecking because, again, you’re in that passive mindset.
We really just have to get moving and get our feet going, get our battle level up and start digging for pucks. We have to tighten up that way. I don’t think it’s a tactical thing in any way shape or form. I think it’s a mindset and we have to raise that level.”
Of course, when a team is on a five-game roll there are clearly sunshine moments, most notably the ability to steal victories with the aid of a hot goaltender (Patrik Bartosak).
“That was one positive that I did take out of the weekend — that we were finding a way to win those tight games,” said Wallin.
“There are going to be times though the season when you’re not at the top of your game, when you’re not clicking the way you want to and yet you still have a job to do and still want to win games.
“I like that fact that we’ve found ways to win, that we’ve found ways to score those timely goals. And Patty has played solid for us . . . he’s given us a chance to win every game he’s played.”
On that note, the notion that Bartosak will start each of the next three games — including a Saturday tilt at Lethbrige — might be a stretch. Bolton Pouliot has played just 60 minutes this season — during an unfortunate 7-2 loss at Prince Albert — and his next turn has to be fast approaching.
“We want him (Pouliot) to get a start soon, but that will be on an earned basis,” said Wallin. “Patty has played well, he’s had some big games against good teams, so while we want Bolton to play more he’ll have to earn that.”