Coming off a road trip that saw them play some very inspired hockey against some top-tier teams, the Oil Kings returned home looking to put a few notches in the win column.
First up were the Victoria Royals, who once again offered a tough match-up, with only one regulation loss in their first ten games.
Despite the tough competition, this was one of the more complete efforts I’ve seen from the Oil Kings this season. Special teams, goaltending, and all 18 skaters were solid and it resulted in them not only keeping pace with the Royals but outplaying them for long stretches of the game. They constantly out-battled Victoria at both ends of the rink, and that’s something this team should be very proud of.
A bad turnover did put the Oil Kings down 1-0 early and despite Victoria eventually grabbing a 2-0 lead, the Oil Kings continued to press and were rewarded as Colton Kehler threw home his fifth goal of the season. Ty Gerla then tied things up early in the third and the Oil Kings were able to bring one of the best teams in the WHL to overtime.
In the extra frame, both Travis Child and Griffen Outhouse made some jaw-dropping saves but it was a brutal turnover by Trey Fix-Wolansky with just five seconds left that allowed Matthew Phillips to win the game for Victoria.
A heartbreaking result, but when you look at the game as a whole, Oil Kings fans should be more than thrilled with the effort this young team put forward. It only allowed their confidence to soar even higher.
With points in three straight and their confidence levels soaring, Edmonton welcomed the Prince George Cougars to Rogers Place for a Friday night affair.
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. The Oil Kings had played their best hockey in recent memory over their previous five games but weren’t getting the results, only winning one of those games. Then they go up against a less skilled Prince George team and look pretty average for most of the night, but end up grabbing the two points.
Tomas Soustal was the hardest working Oil King in my eyes and was seemingly generating offense every time he was on the ice. That hard work was rewarded in the third as he forced his way into a shorthanded breakaway before being hauled down by a Prince George defender. Given a chance at a rare shorthanded penalty shot, #11 made no mistake sliding the puck five-hole to give the Oil Kings a lead.
This was a back and forth contest, with the Oil Kings holding three different leads throughout the game. Despite constantly finding ways to pull ahead, Prince George continued to answer the bell, tieing the game up all three times before sending it to overtime.
The game did eventually find its way to a shootout when Soustal once again beat Cougars goalie Isaiah DiLaura, a goal that proved to be the winner.
Like I said, this game wasn’t the best from an effort standpoint, something Steve Hamilton noticed as well, “I felt like we were a little heavy in the legs today” he said during his postgame availability “there’s going to be days you feel like a racehorse and days you feel like a plough horse and if you’re feeling like a plough horse you got to have a real good hockey mind and I think that prevailed”.
Next up were the Spokane Chiefs, another incredibly tough test for Edmonton. To build off of the great horse analogy by Steve Hamilton, the Oil Kings didn’t look like racehorses or plough horses in this one, they looked like a group of dead horses.
The Chiefs were relentless physically and smothered a young Edmonton squad during their few trips to the offensive zone.
Edmonton was simply out-skilled and outworked in this contest and it reflected on the scoreboard. Two goals from both Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Hudson Elynuik propelled Spokane to a 6-0 win.
“I don’t think there were many facets of our game today where we were sharp,” said Head Coach Steve Hamilton following the blowout loss, “we didn’t have any juice in our game”.
Colton Kehler, who seemed frustrated with his performance and even dropped the gloves in the third period, echoed the Coach’s frustration, “We had no traction in our game from the start. It’s not acceptable.”
The Oil Kings finish the week at 1-1-1, which isn’t poor by any standards, but it’s clear there are areas they need to improve in.
- I felt like in each game, the team’s best period was the third period. They outshot their opponents 34-27 in the final frame. Could their starts be better? Of course, but I’ve been thrilled with their play late in games.
- I’ll touch on it more in my three stars, but Travis Child looked more confident in net. If he can continue with these types of outings, the Oil Kings will continue to grab points.
- After ragging on it for most of the season to this point, the team is finally looking better in the faceoff circle. As a team, they finished this week at 51% and I didn’t notice them being dominated physically in the dot.
- I wrote about in my weekend preview, but for the majority of this past week, they had four lines clicking. Everything fell apart against Spokane, but other than that, I liked the way Steve Hamilton was able to trust every forward unit.
- Their defensive core doesn’t have that lock as a #1 d-man in my eyes, by Colten McDonald, Will Warm and Matthew Robertson are all starting to become impact defenders in their own way. I’m continually impressed by these three.
- Special teams once again was a problem for this team. The power play looked better at times, but they went 1/11 (9.1%) and the penalty kill finished at 70%. Not good enough.
- Not just bad numbers wise, but there were many moments where the power play could have swung momentum and came up short. Specifically, early in the game against Spokane, they failed on two separate man advantages. Same for the penalty kill, who gave up a back-breaking fourth goal to Spokane and a tying goal late against Prince George.
- The team gets caught standing still in their own end far too often. It really cost them against Spokane and it almost did against Prince George. At times, it seems once the other team puts on some pressure, the Oil Kings just freeze up. They have a full week now to continue working on these facets of their game.
- I don’t want to call out any one player in particular. But sometimes, there are some key players who opt for the “cute” play. Does it work sometimes? Sure. But there are certain players who need to be better at picking their spots.
1ST STAR – TRAVIS CHILD
The 20-year-old Albertan was acquired in the off-season to give this team a stable presence between the pipes. He didn’t accomplish that through his first few starts, but over the past ten days he’s given the Oil Kings exactly what they’ve needed which is a calm, veteran goaltender who can make saves at big moments in the game and bail out a young defense when needed.
Child spoke about getting into his comfort zone with a new club, “There’s always a little bit of an adjustment period whether it’s playing the puck or getting used to how everyone plays but I think we’re all settled in now”.
The numbers haven’t climbed up yet, but if he continues to look as poised as he was this past week, I have confidence in his ability to give this team solid performances.
2ND STAR – TOMAS SOUSTAL
Soustal picked up two assists in the game against Victoria and was by far their best skater in the win over Prince George. Both his size and skill were on full display against Prince George when he stole the puck for a shorthanded breakaway, forced the Cougars defender into a bad spot and earned himself a penalty shot. On the penalty shot, he showed off his silky hands and tucked the puck five-hole to give the Oil Kings a lead. He’s the definition of a complete player in my eyes.
He capped off an already impressive night against Prince George with the shootout winner and was named the first star of the night.
“He’s just able to manage situations with his size and strength and he’s got a lot of poise” said the Oil Kings Head Coach “He’s really embraced being a 20-year-old on a young and I think that was equally important to what he brings on the ice is who he’s been off of it”.
He’s had an incredible impact since being acquired at the start of the year, and this week was more of the same from Soustal.
3RD STAR – MATTHEW ROBERTSON
He didn’t have a big impact on the scoresheet, but Robertson deserves some credit for his steady play over the past three games.
He’s quarterbacked the second powerplay unit wonderfully, and at even strength, he’s been paired with Will Warm and taken on some rather tough assignments. He skates, he can move the puck and isn’t afraid to get a little mean in his own zone.
A lot of the talk around this team will be growth, which is why I wanted to shine a little light on Robertson, who’s just 16-years-old. He had a very strong week and is a player who will only continue to get better as he matures. Expect to see #22 on the Oil Kings blueline for a long time.