The Oil Kings just keep clicking and now with wins in four of their last five games, the team is getting extremely close to clinching a playoff spot with 18 games still remaining in the regular season. That fact alone shows just how successful this season has been.
Once they do clinch, it will be interesting to see how they handle certain things. ‘Load management’ has become a big buzzword in the sports world but it will be worth keeping an eye on how the coaching staff balances resting their key players while also making sure the team is playing at their best once the playoffs begin.
On Tuesday night, the Oil Kings weren’t focused on resting or clinching the playoffs, they were concentrated on taking down the Brandon Wheat Kings, a team that had won ten of their last eleven games and is quickly starting to look like a team that could be a very tough out come playoff time.
After falling behind 1-0 early on, the Oil Kings responded with a pair of quick goals, both coming courtesy of 20-year-old forward Riley Sawchuk. The first goal came on the powerplay, but the second was the result of their dangerous top-line doing what they do best. The trio of Guenther-Sawchuk-Neighbours combined for seven points in this game and was a massive reason the Oil Kings came away with two points.
“What’s there to not like about them?” said Head Coach Brad Lauer, “They have a little bit of everything. Jake Neighbours’ competitiveness and drive, Dylan Guenther’s skill and speed, and then Riley Sawchuk just complement them really well with his skill and vision.”
“We talk lots and I can’t give enough credit to them, with me being a young guy, they include me in everything. We have lots of chemistry and we hope to continue that,” said rookie forward Dylan Guenther.
Guenther also scored a goal that will go down as one of the nicest goals scored by the Oil Kings this season. He scooped up the puck in the defensive zone, just avoided a hard hit at his own blueline, and then walked past three Wheat Kings defenders before tucking the puck past Jiri Patera.
“I had a lot of speed, I saw their guy come off the bench and he was trying to line me up but I just dodged him. Then I saw both their d-men and thought ‘hey, maybe I’ll go through them’ and I got the puck through and maybe a lucky break,” said Guenther after the game.
— Liam Horrobin (@LiamHorrobin) January 29, 2020
Vlad Alistrov also chipped in a couple of beautiful goals. When he gets a little bit of time and space, you can see why he is one of the most gifted and creative players on this roster. Both of his goals showcased that wonderfully.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) January 29, 2020
Once the Oil Kings got the lead, they really didn’t let up at all. They were the better team for the final 50 minutes of this hockey game, keeping the hottest team in the league quiet. The Wheat Kings had combined to score 17 goals in their last three games and the Oil Kings held them to just two on Tuesday night.
A big reason for that was the play of Beck Warm, who turned aside 31 shots, but Matthew Robertson was also really good tonight. He did a great job of keeping top NHL Draft Prospect Ridley Greig in check, playing hard and physical all night. He even jumped up in the rush and managed to score his 11th goal of the season.
Right now, Edmonton has 75 points on the year and is ten points up on the Lethbridge Hurricanes for the top spot in the Central Division but it is worth noting that the Oil Kings have three games in hand on the Hurricanes. If they can hold off the Hurricanes though, they should have top spot in the East wrapped up. The top team in the East Division is the Winnipeg Ice and they only have 59 points.
While having more games played than any other team in the league may give you a false sense of security in the standings, it also means that you’ll play fewer games than anyone else through the rest of the season. That goes back to my ‘rest vs rust’ comment.
Not only have the Oil Kings have played the most game in the WHL, but they’ve also played the most road games with 26. That means their schedule for the rest of the season will feature more days off and more days at home than anyone else in the league. More time to rest and also more time to practice is no doubt a huge benefit.
“It’s huge. We can really improve on some stuff that we haven’t been able to because we’ve been playing so many games and really touch up little details of our game. It’ll be a big couple of weeks here,” said Guenther when asked about the extra time on home ice.
Next up for the team as they continue their six-game road trip is a Saturday night tilt against the Winnipeg Ice, a team that Corey Graham described as this year’s Edmonton Oil Kings in a sense that they’re a young group that has really surpassed most outside expectations on them. It should be a fantastic tilt as the Oil Kings will look to stay hot at Rogers Place, where they’ve grabbed points in 15 straight games.