Photo Credit: Twitter.com/EDMOilKings

Wild first half comes to a close for the Oil Kings

If you’ve been keeping up with the Edmonton Oil Kings this season then you’ve been reading phrases like “rollercoaster ride”, “streaky”,  and “consistently inconsistent”. There are plenty of cliches you can use to describe how the first few months of the season have gone and they’re all accurate. This team has basically been riding lengthy streaks, both good and bad, since the season began.

After a brief slump, the team has now grabbed points in five consecutive games and they’re putting forth some impressive efforts against some strong teams.

This current run was highlighted with an overtime loss to the Prince Albert Raiders on Wednesday. It might sound weird to say that a loss can be considered a bright spot, but this was just a straight up fantastic hockey game.

Despite the fact they were without star players Brett Leason and Ian Scott, who are away at World Junior Selection Camp, the Raiders are still a very deep and dangerous team. The Oil Kings are missing a pair of players as well, as Andrei Pavlenko and Vlad Alistrov are both currently at the Division One World Junior Championships with Belarus. While they aren’t the high-end players that Prince Albert is missing, they’re still meaningful pieces for this Oil Kings team.

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On Wednesday, the Oil Kings were looking to hand the Raiders their first home loss of the season.

The Raiders got on the board less than two minutes into this one but the Oil Kings evened it up quickly thanks to a goal from Conner McDonald. It was a back and forth affair. Edmonton eventually grabbed a lead but a quick pair of goals put the home side up late.

Despite the fact that Prince Albert rarely gives up the lead, the Oil Kings weren’t done. Vince Loschiavo would tip home a Matthew Robertson shot with just seven seconds to go and send this one to overtime.

Edmonton had a handful of solid looks in the extra frame, but the Raiders would end things three minutes into OT and improve to 15-0-0 on home ice. The Oil Kings wouldn’t get a win, but this was the most entertaining game of the year and the team should be proud of how they stuck with the best team in the CHL.

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One of the reasons the Oil Kings have been able to string together solid performances is their secondary scoring. It sounds weird to complain about the team’s ability to get offense considering the fact that they’re second in the WHL in goals scored but finding offense from guys not named Trey Fix-Wolansky has been a struggle at times this season.

When they lose, it seems like all their goals involve Fix-Wolansky, when they win it’s been a much more diverse scoresheet.

In their last four games, in which they are 3-0-1, they have had 11 different goal scorers. Trey Fix-Wolansky has still contributed seven points, but their ability to produce hasn’t rested solely on his shoulders.

Away from the scoresheet, I’ve noticed a handful of players really elevate their play. Carter Souch, Scott Atkinson, and Wyatt McLeod have all been playing some fantastic hockey as of late.

I also wanted to touch on Dylan Guenther, the first overall pick in this summers Bantam Draft. The 15-year-old made his WHL debut last month, but also got into a handful of games over this past week and even notched his first career goal against the Regina Pats. He rarely looked out of place, which is very encouraging for a player that young. You can tell he thinks the game well and has those natural offensive instincts that star players have.

He’s played five games now, so he’ll go back down to Bantam for the foreseeable future, but we should see him again at the end of the year once his club team is done. All-in-all, a very positive stint from Guenther.

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The Oil Kings a young and inexperienced team, I’ve been harping on that all season, so learning curves were expected. These last set of positive strides are very encouraging and if they can continue to build heading into the mid-season break, they could be setting themselves up for a really solid second half.

Another reason their second half could be even more successful than the first half: their schedule.

First off, they’ve already played 34 games and will be at 36 before the holiday break hits. Considering that some teams in the league have played as few as 28 games, a more relaxed second half of the season should benefit this team. They’ll simply have more days for rest and practice.

Another interesting note, of their first 34 games, 21 have been on the road and just 13 have been at home. That will even out in the second half as they will have the exact reverse home/away splits.

Through the first half of the season, they’ve been a much better team on home ice compared to on the road. They have a record of 8-5-0 at Rogers Place compared to an 8-7-6 record when they’re the visiting room. Their road record is still impressive and they’re taking full advantage of the “loser point”, which can often be the difference between a team making or missing the playoffs.

A random side stat: the Vancouver Giants have played just ten games on the road as a result of their city hosting this year’s World Junior Championships.

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Saturday, the Oil Kings will host the Calgary Hitmen and then the Kootenay Ice on Sunday. A pair of teams lower than Edmonton in the standings, so there is a great chance to end the first half of their season on a high note.

The team will then have a 12-day break between games before embarking on the second half of their season, which is looking like it could lead to a playoff berth.