That your goaltender has to be one of your best penalty killers isn’t just a common belief in the hockey world, it’s a downright fact.
It should come as no surprise then that the Red Deer Rebels’ ability to erase opposition power plays has improved as of late with the emergence of netminder Rylan Toth as a dependable, everyday stopper.
Toth, who through the first few months of the season struggled with inconsistency, has been a rock in recent weeks, allowing just 20 goals in his last 10 outings while posting a trio of shutouts.
The 19-year-old sits fifth among Western Hockey League netminders with a 2.61 goals-against average. He also possesses a respectable .914 save percentage and with five shutouts is just one back of league-leader Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips in that department.
“He’s coming on and finding some success, but the biggest thing with Rylan is he’s been consistent night in and night out and that’s something that might have been missing earlier in the season,” Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt said Thursday.
Toth agreed that he’s been performing at a higher level since the Christmas break.
“Definitely,” he stated. “The first half of the year I did a lot of over-thinking … just worrying about so many outside perspectives. Basically, I was just hurting myself.
“Since coming back from Christmas I’ve just tried to simplify things and have fun. I’ve been trying to play my game and not complicate it too much … just take it one game at a time and enjoy it.”
Now that he’s regained the form he showed through most of the second half of last season, Toth is feeling better about himself because he’s playing with a higher level of self-assurance.
“Confidence is a big thing at that position,” said Truitt. “When you know that you’re playing well and things are kind of going right, you’re not looking for answers, you’re finding the answers. You’re just playing.”
Red Deer’s penalty killers have also found their groove in recent games. The Rebels allowed just two power-play goals — both in a 4-0 loss to Brandon — in their recent three-game trip into the East Division and were six-for-six on the penalty kill in Wednesday’s 6-1 thumping of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“That was a big confidence booster for the team,” said Toth.
“The penalty kill has been doing a real good job, I like what we’re doing. It makes it a lot easier for me when we pressure the other team’s power play.”
That he’s consistently contributing to the overall team effort has Toth in a smiling mood.
“Last night, with the score 6-1, you might not be thinking of the goalie too much,” he said, neglecting to give himself props for turning aside 28 shots, including a handful that were high quality.
“But the game in Moose Jaw (a 1-0 overtime victory Jan. 13 in which he made 25 saves) … that definitely felt good to be able to give the guys confidence that sometimes we’ll only need one (goal) to win.”
The Rebels host the Swift Current Broncos tonight, then take on Everett Saturday at the Centrium.