You could almost feel the collective sigh of relief that the Oil Kings let out when the horn sounded Sunday night at Rogers Place.
The 6-3 win over the Kootenay Ice ended Edmonton’s eight-game losing skid.
“There was a bit of everything over this stretch. Some games we played well and should have won and some games we deserved to lose. It starts to affect the trust and the belief. Tonight was really big for us” said Assistant Coach Luke Pearce following the win.
While the losing streak was far from ideal, I believe the team learned some very important lessons over the tough stretch. One issue during their long road trip out to the east coast was starting games on time. It was almost a given that the Oil Kings would concede the first goal of the game and have to play catch up for the rest of the game.
On Sunday, it was finally the Oil Kings who would strike first. Just 1:56 into the game, Andrei Pavlenko fired home his sixth goal of the season.
“That was huge. Chasing the game is never good so getting the first goal out of the way and then keeping the momentum going from there was key for us tonight,” said Captain Trey-Fix Wolansky.
“You can tell we play a different game when we’re ahead. We’re more confident with the puck. It’s hard to chase games all the time so it was nice to change that up,” added veteran defenseman, Conner McDonald.
Kootenay, who should be battling with Edmonton all year for one of the final playoff spots in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, didn’t go away. They tied the game up just over seven minutes after Pavlenko gave the home side the lead and all night it seemed as soon as the Oil Kings would start generating some momentum, the Ice would pull themselves right back into the game.
Edmonton bent at times, but they didn’t break, and a big reason for that was goalie Dylan Myskiw. He stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced on Sunday and made some massive stops at key points in the game.
While I wouldn’t say goaltending was a problem over the course of the eight-game losing streak, it wasn’t exactly a strength. That changed on Sunday, and if this team wants to compete for a playoff spot, they’ll need their goalies to come through the same way Myskiw did against the Ice.
The teams’ powerplay had a strong night as well, striking three times. Defenseman Connor McDonald, who quarterbacks the teams top unit, recognized how important it was for their powerplay to be firing on all cylinders.
“It was good for the confidence of the first unit. Dare I say, you can see us figuring it out a little and hopefully, we can keep that trend going,” said McDonald, who added two points of his own.
It was a solid team win, as ten different players recorded points in the effort. Offensive depth hasn’t been a strength of this team all season. On most nights, it’s honestly just felt like “The Trey Fix-Wolansky Show”, that changed on Sunday.
“At every level, trying to get secondary scoring and getting contributions from other guys is really big,” added Assistant Coach Luke Pearce.
The losing streak is over, but the work is far from done. The Oil Kings had the entire week to not only practice but recover from what was a tough stretch of both travel and hockey.
The win before the five days between games was something that the team saw a lot of value in.
“(The streak) was a cloud over all of us. It’s nice to have a little more cheer and morale in the room. We got to be ready for a good week of practice, but everyone is excited that the slump is over,” added Conner McDonald.
Now, their break is over and the team is staring down another tough stretch. They’ll play three games in three night starting with another matchup against the Kootenay Ice from Cranbrook, BC tonight.
While the Ice beat the Oil Kings in overtime earlier this month, Edmonton has enjoyed some recent success against them, going 4-0-1 over their last five meetings.
Once the game tonight ends, they’ll hop on the bus and travel roughly seven hours back to Edmonton for a Saturday night affair against the Saskatoon Blades before capping off the weekend with a Sunday evening game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Three games in just under 72 hours against two teams (Lethbridge and Saskatoon) that sit ahead of them in the standings, and another that is only two points behind them for one of the Eastern Conference Wild Card spots.