Coming off an emotional week in which the team mourned the loss of good friend Kale Williams, the Red Deer Rebels are now looking at a week of opportunities.
Opportunities such as moving into fourth place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and/or opening some space between themselves and their closest pursuers.
“It’s a big week coming up for us,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Monday, on the eve of tonight’s 7 p.m. home-ice engagement with the Regina Pats. “We’ve been able to win some games at home lately and we have to continue to play well here and get points.
“Look at the standings. We have a chance to move further ahead of teams and the Regina game is the game in hand we have on a lot of teams, so we need to take care of our own business.
“That’s the biggest thing — keep winning at home.”
The Rebels, who trail the fourth-place Prince Albert Raiders by a single point and have played one game less than the next four teams — Medicine Hat, Swift Current, Kootenay and Lethbridge — down the line, will play three games on the weekend. The Rebels are at Lethbridge Friday, host the Raiders Saturday and take on the Tigers Sunday at Medicine Hat.
If their penalty kill continues to excel as it has for most of the season, the Rebels will give themselves a better than even chance of winning more than their share of the contests.
“Our detail has been good and we’ve done a real good job with our execution,” said Sutter, in reference to a penalty kill that’s ranked third in the league with an 85 per cent success rate. “It’s not a complicated penalty kill by any means. It’s about reading some situations, but it’s mostly about positional play.
“When we get a chance to pressure, we pressure. But mostly, it comes down to execution . . . executing it the right way.”
Another reason for the Rebels’ lofty penalty kill percentage is their reasonably regular habit of staying out of the box.
“You can’t be a team that’s taking seven or eight minor penalties a night and think you can get away with it,” said Sutter. “There are nights we’ve done that and we’ve had to be sharp on the penalty kill right away.
“Something that we as coaches have stressed is being a more disciplined team and we’ve done a pretty good job that way. We can’t be taking penalties in the offensive zone. We’ve got to be tighter and better at that. But our average now is three to four penalties a game, which is a significant difference over what it was.”
l Winger Cory Millette, who’s been idle since suffering a concussion Jan. 9 at Swift Current, was cleared Monday to commence with cardiovascular training.
“He’ll start riding the bike and if that goes well he’ll skate on his own right away and could possibly have a full practice with the team by the end of the week,” said Sutter.
The Rebels bench boss, however, didn’t venture a guess as to when Millette will return to the active roster.
“He needs time to get himself into shape,” said Sutter. “He hasn’t been on the ice in a long time and he needs to work on his game conditioning and skating. I like our lineup the way it is right now. He’s going to have to work to push somebody out of it.”