MEDICINE HAT — The Red Deer Rebels’ penalty kill was a killer Sunday night.
The Medicine Hat Tigers clicked on three of four power-play opportunities en route to a 3-1 Western Hockey League victory over the Rebels, who actually held a 39-33 advantage in shots.
“That was really the difference in the hockey game. Our penalty kill didn’t get the job done,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin, whose squad struggled to fend off opposing power plays last season and have carried that weakness over into the current campaign.
The Rebels, in fact, are now ranked 20th in the 22-team WHL in penalty killing with a 74.1 per cent success rate. Red Deer finished 21st in that department last winter at 74.7 per cent.
“It really just comes down to execution,” said Wallin. “They (Tigers) didn’t do anything that we didn’t go through before the game. They did exactly what we expected they were going to do and we didn’t execute properly. “One one goal we backed in on the rush. We gave them the blueline and our own defenceman tipped (the puck) into our net. On the second goal they made a tic-tac-toe play where our defenceman didn’t get off the net and our forward didn’t take his man who was crashing to the net. Those are two things we go through all the time, but we just didn’t execute properly, for whatever reason.”
The Tigers led 1-0 after one period on a late man-advantage tally from Emerson Etem, who doubled Medicine Hat’s margin with another power-play goal at 7:45 of the middle frame. The host squad struck for yet a third extra-man marker five minutes later, the goal going to Tomas Kundratek, and the Rebels answered back with a power-play strike of their own at 7:34 of the third period, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins converted a feed from Willie Coetzee.
The Rebels outshot the Tigers 14-8 over the final 20 minutes, but Medicine Hat netminder Tyler Bunz proved to be an obstinate obstacle.
“We had some quality opportunites, but we ran into a hot goaltender,” said Wallin, who got a 30-save performance from Darcy Kuemper. “We seemed to be a bit snake-bitten around the net. We had some chances in tight where we were jamming away and we didn’t seem to be able to really be strong on the puck and get it upstairs. We had a lot of second whacks and those type of opportunities, but weren’t able to capitalize on them.”
On a positive note, the Rebels weren’t run out of the old Medicine Hat Arena as was the case in a 9-2 thumping on Oct. 23.
“No question, I thought we did a lot of good things,” said Wallin. “It’s a tough building to play in. They’re a quick team and things happen fast in the building. The boards are lively and it can be an intimidating place to play. It’s always loud and the crowd is a bit surly. But it was a much better game that the previous one we played here. If we get a couple of penalty kills tonight it could have gone the other way.”
On an extremely negative note, Rebels overage forward Nathan Green suffered a suspected broken ankle when a linesman fell on him during a scrum at the conclusion of the game.
Wallin’s crew also lost defenceman Colin Archer to a head injury earlier in the game and, with Justin Weller already absent due to a rib injury incurred in Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Spokane Chiefs at the Centrium, the Rebels were down to four regulars and converted forward Jordie Deagle on the blueline.
The extent of Archer’s ailment is unknown, while Weller is listed as day-to-day.
• Green’s ninth goal of the season midway through the third period was the winner as the Rebels edged Spokane on Saturday.
Adam Kambeitz and Landon Ferraro also scored for Red Deer, while Tyler Johnson notched both goals for the visitors.
Kuemper made 34 saves to earn first-star honours, while Michael Tadjdeh stopped 20 shots for the Chiefs.
Forward Lane Scheidl made his Rebels debut on Saturday night, less than 24 hours after being acquired from the Vancouver Giants in a trade that sent Connor Redmond to the west coast.
The Rebels return to action this weekend at the Centrium with a Friday meeting with the Moose Jaw Warriors and a return date with the Tigers 24 hours later.