The Red Deer Rebels close out their regular-season schedule with two meaningless games tonight and Saturday versus the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
Whoa . . . let’s back up a bit.
The games might be insignificant in the sense that neither team can move up or down in the standings — with the Oil Kings having clinched top spot in the Eastern Conference and the Rebels having nailed down fourth place — but they will serve as timely tune-ups for the playoffs, scheduled to open in one week.
“They are important games for us in the sense that we want to continue to do things right. We don’t want bad habits to creep in,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose club is 7-2-1-0 in the last 10 games. “We want to keep our confidence level up to where it is.”
To that end, Sutter’s home-ice roster tonight will mirror the lineup that will take on either the Swift Current Broncos or the Prince Albert Raiders in Game 1 of a conference quarter-final next Friday at the Centrium.
As for Saturday’s roster at Edmonton . . . not so much.
For the second half of the home-and-home at Rexall Place, Sutter plans to replace No. 1 netminder Patrik Bartosak with Bolton Pouliot and will rest his top line of Rhyse Dieno, Turner Elson and Brooks Maxwell and the blueline pairing of Mathew Dumba and Brady Gaudet.
“Depending on how we play Friday, we’ll do something different in Edmonton,” said the Rebels bench boss. “Some of our other players, like (defencemen) Riley Boomgaarden and Kevin Pochuk will get a chance to play.”
For tonight’s game, the Rebels’ top line will remain intact while newcomer Jordan DePape will join the second unit with Tyson Ness and Wyatt Johnson. The other lines will have Joel Hamilton between Matt Bellerive and Dominik Volek, and Conner Bleackley centering Cory Millette and Cody Thiel.
“Again, the biggest thing for us this weekend is just making sure that our structure is where it needs to be, along with our work and intensity,” said Sutter. “Those are the biggest things we’ll be looking at.”
Sutter will also be focusing on his club’s special teams, in particular the power play. While the Rebels’ penalty kill is the league’s third-best, the club’s man-advantage units are operating at a mediocre success rate of 17.3 per cent, which is 17th overall.
“We want to work on our special teams during these two games. Our penalty kill has been pretty good this season, but we have to continue to improve our power play, although its been better lately,” he said.
“Through this recent stretch, the last 10 to 15 games, our power play has scored some pretty key goals for us. It has to provide momentum for you in a good way. It can never be a momentum-changer going the other way.”
l The Rebels’ first-round playoff opponent won’t be determined until Saturday.
The Raiders currently sit fifth in the conference, two points up on the Broncos, who take on the lowly Regina Pats tonight and Saturday in a home-and-home set.
Prince Albert, meanwhile, closes out with a pair of home games against the surging Saskatoon Blades tonight and Saturday.