Giants 6 Rebels 2
Maybe it was just one of those games in which anything that can go wrong, goes wrong.
Whatever, the Red Deer Rebels looked nothing like the stingy club that had won five of its previous six games.
The Rebels’ special teams were anything but, their goaltending and overall defensive play was somewhat spotty, and the end result was a 6-2 Western Hockey League loss to the Vancouver Giants Wednesday before an official gathering of 4,061 at the Centrium.
Red Deer started strong, as former Giant Andrej Kudrna connected eight minutes into the contest, wiring a shot past netminder Mark Segal from directly off a faceoff in the visitors zone. But the lead was erased when Brendan Gallagher poked a rebound past Rebels starter Kraymer Barnstable at 16:46 with the Giants on the power play, and just 65 seconds later James Henry scored on a deflection of a point shot.
“We’ve been stressing getting out to a good start and I thought we did that tonight,” said Rebels defenceman Cullen Morin.
“I thought that was our best start since the Christmas holidays. We got one early and things were looking good and then we made a couple of mistakes and they ended up with the lead. We were still in good shape, but we just made a few too many mistakes tonight against a good hockey team.”
The Giants extended their lead to 3-1 late in the second period on Gallagher’s second of the night and 26th of the season, off another point-shot deflection. Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin replaced Barnstable with Darcy Kuemper at that point, and just 56 seconds later Morin took a cross-ice pass from Brett Ferguson and beat Segal to the top corner.
Whatever momentum Red Deer gained on Morin’s goal was erased in the final minute of the period when the visitors got a power-play marker from Craig Cunningham with Kuemper screened by teammate Alex Petrovic.
“We did start the game in the right frame of mind. We came out working hard and established the way we wanted to play early,” said Wallin. “We got the first goal, but then we made a few mental mistakes. Both of (Vancouver’s) first two goals were off mental mistakes and after that I just didn’t think we battled through adversity the way we needed to.”
Barnstable was back in the Red Deer net to start the third period and gave up unanswered goals to Garry Nunn at 3:42 and former Rebel Connor Redmond — his first of the season — five minutes later.
Wallin suggested that at times his team was almost in awe of the Giants.
“They’re a good hockey team and they’ve been a good team for a few years and I think we gave them too much respect,” said the Rebels bench boss. “We gave them too much space in our own zone. We were standing around watching too much instead of playing and we gave up too many soft goals tonight, almost as many as we gave up the last five games.
“You have to keep pucks out of your net, you can’t give up six goals. We let them score too easy.”
The Rebels were zero-for-eight on the power play and gave up two goals on three Vancouver man-advantage opportunities.
“They’ve got a good penalty kill, second-best in the league,” said Wallin. “They pressure and just battle real hard and when they have opportunities to out-number you on the puck they do that.
“They do a good job of being in shooting lanes and were cheating on our guys at the point. They just make it tough to get pucks to the net.”
That being said, the Rebels created several chances on the power play, but were robbed by Segal time and again. The Giants stopper made a dazzling glove save on Ferraro and stopped Willie Coetzee on a three-on-one, both in the first period, and in the middle frame took a goal away from John Persson and absolutely stoned Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back to back.
Segal finished with 33 saves, while Barnstable stopped 19 of 24 shots and Kuemper was beaten on the lone volley he faced.
“Red Deer really pushed hard early, but our specialty teams were good and our penalty kill was good because of our goalie,” said Giants head coach Don Hay, whose club opened a four-game trip on a positive note.
“This is a game we felt was really important for us to play well in. I don’t think we played that well, but we played one of those greasy type of road games and took advantage of our opportunities.”
The Rebels return to action Friday against the visiting Swift Current Broncos.
“It’s a quick turnaround. We have to have a good practice tomorrow and get ready for Swift Current,” said Morin. “That’s a team we’re battling with for the playoffs right now so it’s like a four-point game.”