GDB 10.0: THERE & BACK AGAIN *UPDATED*
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo, a happy but somewhat naive hobbit, is tasked with taking a grueling journey to destroy the evil One Ring. The destruction of the ring is a job that all but ensures death, yet Frodo volunteers to do it anyhow. It’s a beautiful story of kinship, trial, tribulation, endurance, and determination. Oh, and a lot of walking… and a lot of talking. Following in the footsteps of his uncle Bilbo, Frodo wanted nothing more than to succeed on his mission there, yet make it back again for the sake of his friend Sam (who clearly had yet to experience the love of a woman).
What I’m getting at here, is that the new Hobbit movies were terrible…
Just kidding. What I’m actually getting at is that the Hurricanes have embarked on one seriously grueling Western road trip.
While we can be sure they will make it back again, how successful they will be remains in question. Step one is a win tonight in Edmonton.
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Let me begin by saying, to those reading in Edmonton, this game day post may look familiar… and it should. I unabashedly have employed the Oilersnation formula. I’m a bigtime Oilers fan and I think the guys over at ON have done a brilliant job. Obviously Canes Domain has it’s own vibe and method, but I want to give credit where credit is due. Hopefully Wayne doesn’t sue us for all we’re worth… I swear on the Baby Nuge that we love you Oilers Nation.
Tonight the Hurricanes face off against the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Oil Kings have been a resounding success since they entered the league as an expansion franchise in 2006. They weren’t a strong team for the first three seasons and it was a grind for everyone involved. But through hiring top end talent in the front office and a brilliant drafting and development model, by year five, the Oil Kings were a force. Edmonton went on to make the WHL final three years in a row, winning it twice, and going on to win the Memorial Cup once.
Most of the high end talent from that championship team has now moved on. Guys like Curtis Lazar and Griffin Reinhart are exemplary of the elite level the Oil Kings reached for a three year stretch. As fans here in Lethbridge know, the WHL is a league with a unique ebb and flow. Edmonton is now in year two of transitioning back to competing for championships. While they weren’t horrible last season, the Oil Kings benefitted greatly from the outstanding play of Tristian Jarry and still only managed to scrape into the playoffs. A great result for a team in transition, but one that may not be replicable this year.
To this point, the Oil Kings sit at 3-6-2-0. The goaltending hasn’t been the strength it’s been in the past, and as Oilers fans are aware, sub par goaltending exposes weaknesses all over the ice. With that said, the Oil Kings have been competitive in the early going. They have already been involved in five overtime games (Lethbridge played in its first last night) and have played tight games against strong teams in Moose Jaw and Brandon. So while Edmonton is not the powerhouse it was two years ago, the Oil Kings are well managed and will continue to be a formidable opponent.
The Hurricanes have played well in Edmonton in the past. Last season the Hurricanes, more specifically, Stuart Skinner, stole two wins from the Oil Kings at Rexall with lights out performances in goal. This is a much better Hurricanes team than what we saw last season. If they are able to stick to their game, Lethbridge stands a good chance to start of a brutal road trip with a big win.
THE OTHER SIDE:
I had a chance to have a quick conversation with Guy Flaming of the Pipeline Show this afternoon to tee-up tonight’s matchup. Guy is part of the Oil Kings play by play on TSN 1260 Edmonton and has a wealth of knowledge on the WHL. Here’s what he had to say:
BROCK – Hi Guy! If you could, I would love to get some overall impression on the Oil Kings so far this season. Maybe if you could, chat quickly about their strengths and weaknesses thus far?
GUY – Okay. Well I would say their biggest weakness for sure is that they can’t score. They don’t have anyone to put the puck in the net behind Brett Pollock and Lane Bauer. They are pretty limited in the guys they’ve been able to find a way to put up some points – so I would suggest that’s their biggest problem. Their second biggest problem has been discipline. They take too many penalties and at the wrong time… and the wrong players taking them. It’s the guys they need on the back end on the PK. Irving’s been guilty of it, Mayo, was in the early games of the season, taking penalties at the wrong time. Those are guys they rely on to kill penalties, so they’re shooting themselves in the foot. I would suggest those are problems with the team thus far…
BROCK – So the counterpoint to that would be, is there anything they have been doing well and can build on?
GUY – Ya. There are a few things. Thier depth hasn’t been bad. They just can’t score… they’re in games. They keep the games tight. Their defensive plays been… fairly good. Their PP actually been better than it’s been for the past number of years, and I have no idea how that’s even possible. They can’t score 5 on 5, but on the powerplay they’ve been okay. Their penalty kill has been just average. When I talk about their depth, they can put up the third line and it’s going to be as effective as the second or first line, just, they’re not gonna score. But that’s been the case as every other line. They’re not white knuckling it on the bench just putting guys out and hoping they don’t get scored on. They’re pretty reliable that way. Patrick Dea in net has been very good. Alec Dillon has been very average, and that was not the way it was supposed to go. There was allot of hype around Alec Dillon and they were hoping he would be able to come in and there wouldn’t be a huge drop off from what Jarry was giving them last year. That hasn’t been the case. They will need better from him, whereas Patrick Dea in his starts has been, for the most part, I think he had one bad game on the road, I believe in Swift – but he’s been very very good. I don’t know who’s going tonight. I don’t know who’s going tonight for Lethbridge as a matter of fact… kind of a similar situation isn’t it? Skinner was supposed to be the guy and Sittler’s been unreal.
BROCK – Ya and you know, I can’t speak to the Oil King’s goaltending because I haven’t had a chance to see them play yet, but I know with Skinner, it’s actually a little misleading as far as his numbers go. He hasn’t played that many games, and the ones he did play he played against Kelowna, and I don’t need to tell you.. they can score some goals. Then he played in the second game of the season against Medicine Hat where they had about a forty-minute ceremony and he got shelled right off the bat. So I think his numbers are a little skewed. But, you’re not entirely off base. Having Sittler start 75% of the games is definitely not the way people had written up before the season. I heard Corey Graham on the station (TSN 1260 Edmonton) talking about how the Oil Kings can’t necessarily afford to give Dillon the time it’s gonna take to get comfortable and find his game.
GUY – Yes. That’s fair. Fact it they’ve (Edmonton) got ten or eleven new faces on the team this year. They’re not all 16 year old rookies but, for instance, Dillon’s 19 but he’s new to the league. Dario Meyer, the Swiss import, he’s 18 but new to the league. So they have allot of new faces and I think it takes time for a team to gel. So, while I think they will get better, in the short going, the lines have been changing all the time. They are looking for chemistry. But it’s definitely a work in progress. A guy like Kehler is supposed to be a big goal scorer in coming in, and I think he’s only got one so far. He’s got four points. They need guys like that to be much better and maybe it just takes them a month and a half, and then they start getting hot. The short term pain though… is fairly significant.
BROCK – So what guys tonight, are you gonna be watching? On both teams, what are some points of interest and players you are looking for more out of?
GUY – Well, from Edmonton’s perspective, Dario Meyer has been getting better and better every game. The production hasn’t been there but he is getting lots of opportunities. Now we’re just wondering when it starts to click and when he starts finding the back of the net. So he would be one. Bauer is their best player right now, so he’d be one. I also mentioned Kehler. He’s one I’d like to see find the back of the net. So there’s three. I have no idea who’s playing in net, but either way, he’s gonna be a key for the Oil Kings tonight. For Lethbridge? I’m curious to see Burke. Where did he come from? So ya, I’m interested to see him. And on our show, we like Giorgio Estephan allot. He’s come in-studio with a couple of times the last couple of summers. Maybe even three summers in a row now. Looking forward to seeing him. I remember last year, after the (Lethbridge) coaching change, he really took off. Good to see him firing on all cylinders. So those are a couple guys, and again, whoever’s in net for Lethbridge. Even if it’s Skinner.. I’d kinda like to see Sittler play, but if Skinners in net… against the Oil Kings, he’s unbelievable.
BROCK – Yes. He had those two games last year, where he stopped almost fifty in the one, and almost fifty in the other right?
GUY– Ya. Lethbridge wasn’t even in the game except for him, and they ended up winning.
BROCK – Awesome. Well Guy, I really appreciate you taking a couple minutes just to chat.
You can hear more from Guy on TSN 1260 or by going to thepipelineshow.com . You can also find him on Twitter @TPS_Guy.
Projected Line Up:
The top two lines are pretty much carved in stone at this point. It has been brilliant to watch the lines develop and remain consistent. The Hurricanes have been producing scoring chances with such consistency, Kisio has been able to keep trios together from the first game on. I expect the Hurricanes to eventually fall on hard times and struggled (as all teams do) to generate offense. When that time comes, Kisio will need to break-out the blender and mix things up. For now, look for more of the same.
I am going to guess Davis and White draw out of the lineup tonight in lieu of Sheen and Vandervlis. Vandervlis is a Red Deer guy and I’m sure he would love a chance to play in Edmonton with family in the house. While neither played poorly, White and Davis struggled to generate offensively last night. It’s great that White, Davis, Sheen, and Vandervlis are proving to be capable two-way players. It gives the coaching staff flexibility and confidence in their squad as injuries inevitably happen. That said, from an individualistic perspective, one of those players will need to start excelling at something specific before he becomes a lock night in and night out. So far I’m not sure we’ve seen it from any of them. For example, if Ryan Vandervlis can become a force in the face-off dot, he would become invaluable to the team and likely draw into the lineup more often. Winning draws is not a strength of this years Hurricanes. The bubble forwards will need to find a way to fill those kinds of gaps if they want more ice time.
I’m not sure we will see a change tonight. One of the adjustments we saw last night was that Nielsen played more with Reagan. The move makes sense as it increases the talent level in the top four. Rather than pair Nielsen with one of the bubble defenders, giving him more time with an underrated player like Brady Reagan will, in theory, raise the play of both. Overall, the defensive pairings continue to be fluid. Outside of Pankewicz regularly skating with Atwal, the rest of the defenders are continually moving around. Nielsen gets double duty while Skeoch and Merezhko are deployed situationally.
One way or another, I think Nick Watson will be on the ice tonight so look for one of last night’s defenders to take a seat in the press box.
I would be floored in we don’t see Stuart Skinner get the start tonight. Not only is Edmonton his hometown, but he has proven to play exceptionally at Rexall in his short WHL career. It was almost exactly a year ago that Skinner burst onto the scene with a legendary performance against the Oil Kings. Jamal Watson scored in a shootout and Lethbridge undeservingly escaped with a victory.
When Stuart Skinner is the one coming off your bench for the second game of a back to back, you know your goaltending is looking solid.
Game Day Prediction: The Hurricanes come into Edmonton fired up from a thrilling OT victory over the Broncos and beat the Oil Kings 5 – 2.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: Stuart Skinner will put together a lights-out performance and carry his team the distance.
Not So Obvious Game Day Prediction: Before the game, Bellerive will bump into Connor McDavid in the bowels of Rexall. Conner will bless Jordy with his heavenly hockey powers and Bellerive will explode for eight goals on the Western road trip.
What do you think? Who are you excited to watch tonight and what will be the outcome. Comment below.
Don’t forget to check out the sponsor of all this season’s game day articles, Graham Reimer of Dominion Lending here in Lethbridge. I personally know and vouch for the amazing work he does. If you need any advice or help with a mortgage or want to look into getting one, I cannot say enough good things about Graham and the Mortgage Crusher team.
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