The Red Deer Rebels and Edmonton Oil Kings played ‘circle the wagons’ Wednesday at the Enmax Centrium.
The Rebels were the cowboys.
The Oil Kings outshot their hosts 54-15 while cruising to a 4-1 Western Hockey League win before a recorded gathering of 4,573, atoning for last Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to visiting Red Deer in a big way.
Netminder Patrik Bartosak was far and away the best Rebel, turning aside 45 of 49 shots — including 24 of 25 in the second period — before giving way to Taz Burman with nine minutes remaining in what amounted to a mercy pull by Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“Well, it was just a reflection of the way the last two to two and a half weeks have been for us,” said Sutter. “Our goalie has given us a chance in every game and we’ve scored one goal in each of our last three games.
“We’re going through a pretty tough period right now and at a bad time. A while ago we were nine points up on a playoff spot and we’ll probably wake up tomorrow morning sitting in ninth place (in the Eastern Conference). It’s been tough. There’s a lot of things that we lack and we just can’t seem to get a grasp on wanting to change it. Look at tonight, for two periods of the game we weren’t even close. We had a lot of turnovers again and lost a lot of one-on-one battles.”
Curtis Lazar staked Edmonton to a permanent lead 8:52 into the contest, taking a bouncing puck off the skates of Rebels defender Haydn Fleury and beating Bartosak from the edge of the crease.
“Getting that early one gave us a bit of confidence,” said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal, whose club remained tied with the Calgary Hitmen — 6-4 winners at Moose Jaw Wednesday — for top spot in the conference with three games in hand.
“Bartosak has been outstanding against us the last two games at home (including a 50-save performance last Friday) and clearly the difference between the two teams. So we had to generate more traffic and get to him early and we did that tonight.”
Edgars Kulda notched the eventual winner early in the middle frame, busting down the right wing, squeezing through a check along the boards and flipping the puck over Bartosak while cutting to the net.
Brandon Ralph upped the count to 3-0 at 2:32 of the final frame before Adam Musil potted the Rebels lone goal six minutes later. Defenceman Nick Charif did the heaving lifting on the rookie forward’s eighth of the season, carrying the puck end to end and hitting Musil with a perfect pass that he redirected past Oil Kings netminder Tristan Jarry.
Just 57 seconds later, however, the visitors restored their three-goal cushion as Henrik Samuelsson cashed a rebound off the end boards with Red Deer rookie Meyer Nell serving a slashing penalty.
For the Rebels, their so-called best players were clearly not their best players. That’s been a familiar tone during the club’s ongoing stretch of futility.
“I know our 16- and 17-year old players are going to go through tough times. They’re getting better and they’re learning,” said Sutter.
“But we’re not getting a lot outside of that as far as our older guys go. When you’re having to play 16- and 17-year-olds against other team’s 19- and 20-year-olds, it makes it tough.”
As Sutter was meeting with the media, the Prince Albert Raiders were up 3-0 at Spokane and primed to move into an eighth-place tie with Red Deer with a game in hand. And sure enough, the Raiders pulled out a 4-1 victory to open their five-game U.S. Division trip.
“We have to find a way to get a spark out of these older guys. Right now there’s like a sense of acceptance to be this way,” said Sutter. “There are so many reasons to not want to be that way — where we are in the standings, how we’ve been playing at home and the fact we’ve won one game in our last 11.
“When times are tough all teams need to have their veteran players take it over and we’re not getting that right now.”
• Rebels forward Wyatt Johnson engaged Edmonton tough guy Mitch Moroz in a scrap a mere eight seconds into the game and the first period feature two more fights. “Red Deer was a little more feisty tonight and I thought our guys did a good job of standing up to it and responding,” said Laxdal. “It was a typical Red Deer team in their building. They’re going to defend home ice and I thought our guys did a good job with the battles.” . . . The Oil Kings were one-for-seven on the power play, while Red Deer was zero-for-three . . . The Rebels host the Vancouver Giants Friday and entertain the Swift Current Broncos Saturday.