After getting past the Medicine Hat Tigers in six games, the Oil Kings had some waiting to do. Their opening round series ended on Sunday, but the other Central Division matchup needed seven games to determine a winner.
On Tuesday night, the Calgary Hitmen rolled into Lethbridge, completed the upset of the Hurricanes, and punched their ticket to Edmonton for round two of the WHL playoffs.
It’s been well documented that the Oil Kings have dominated within their own division this season, winning close to 80% of their games within the Central, posting a total record of 27-2-5. They’ll have a chance to continue that dominance against a Hitmen team that they’ve been very good against this season, going 7-0-1 against their provincial rival.
The series will get going Saturday night from Rogers Place, so let’s take a closer look at how these two teams matchup.
THE REGULAR SEASON
The Oil Kings won the Central Division going 42-18-8 while the Calgary Hitmen finished third with a record of 36-26-6. Offensively, these two teams were pretty even. The Oil Kings scored 259 goals (5th in the WHL) while the Hitmen scored 255 (7th in the WHL). Throughout the first part of the season, the Oil Kings relied heavily on Trey Fix-Wolansky to handle the bulk of the scoring but they developed some tremendous depth scoring late in the season that really helped propel them to a strong finish. The Hitmen, on paper, had a bit more of a balanced attack. The Hitmen were led by Mark Kastelic and James Malm, who both had 77 points, but they also had eight players hit the 40 point plateau while the Oil Kings had just six.
Preventing goals was a different story for these two teams. The Oil Kings gave up 196 goals against which was the 6th least in the league while the Hitmen have allowed 240 which is the 6th most in the WHL.
For the majority of the season, the Oil Kings went with a tandem of Dylan Myskiw and Todd Scott. Both goalies had their struggles but they both also had some tremendous runs of success. The two goalie system has carried over into the playoffs with both Scott and Myskiw winning games in round one. After chatting with Assistant Coach Luke Pierce, I expect the Oil Kings to not hesitate to rotate between the two goalies once again in round two.
The Hitmen have run with rookie Jack McNaughton for most of the season. As most rookie goaltenders are, McNaughton can be unpredictable. His 3.25 GAA and 0.888 save percentage in the regular season aren’t great, but he has the raw talent necessary to get hot and change the outcome of a series.
Things are no doubt close, but I will say that in every aspect of the game whether it’s scoring, defending, goaltending, or special teams, I give a slight edge to the Oil Kings.
HOW DID THEY GET HERE
Despite dropping the first game of the series to Medicine Hat, the Oil Kings really outplayed the Tigers in all but one game. They had to beat a very good goaltender in Mads Sogaard but they slayed the literal giant and I think that makes them a very confident group heading into round two. The Oil Kings have a very talented group of players and when they get their confidence going they’re one of the most dangerous groups in the league.
In round one, they were led by Vince Loschiavo who had six goals and four assists, including the series winner in game six. “Vinny Big Goals” has been tremendous, but they’ve gotten strong play from trey Fix-Wolansky (4-3-7), Quinn Benjafield (3-5-8), Conner McDonald (1-7-8), and even Carter Souch (3-2-5).
The big guns are rolling and they’re getting some support from the bottom parts of their lineup.
For the Hitmen, they scored an incredible 29 goals in their seven-game series against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. They were led by their captain Mark Kastelic who had five goals and two assists and Carson Focht who picked up seven points of his own.
A big surprise was Dakota Krebs who only had 25 points in the regular season, but picked up a goal and six assists in the opening round. The Hitmen will need to continue to get production from him as well as rookies Josh Prokop and Ryder Korczak who combined for five opening round goals.
The Hitmen offence is rolling, but the Oil Kings are a more proven team throughout the regular season. That combined with the fact I trust the veteran Myskiw more than I trust the rookie McNaughton is a big reason why I believe the Oil Kings will get past the Hitmen and the series might not be too long either.