EDMONTON, ALTA. – Make it three in a row for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Oil Kings (19-16-3-2) got 32 saves from Tristan Jarry, a power-play goal for the first time in five games and their third straight win on home ice as they defeated the Kootenay Ice (21-18-0-1) 3-1 Saturday night at Rexall Place.
“We got a good response tonight from our group collectively. I think it’s part of building our team is taking our lumps and being able to respond,” said Oil Kings head coach Steve Hamilton, who wasn’t pleased with the team’s performance in a 3-2 win over Lethbridge Friday night.
The Oil Kings, dressing just 17 skaters (including two affiliated players) and 10 forwards due to injuries, illnesses and Mads Eller’s involvement in the World Juniors, locked down the Ice’s offence to preserve a one-goal lead until late in the game.
“That was a good team effort with the short bench,” Hamilton said. “I thought guys were much more aware of our plan again and our execution was much better.”
Things could have gone the other way with the Oil Kings leading 2-1 late in the game and the Kootenay net empty if not for a terrific defensive play from Brett Pollock on Jaedon Descheneau.
The Kootenay Ice’s leading scorer had the tying goal on his stick, bearing down on Jarry on a two-on-one with a chance to knot the game 2-2 in the final minute when Pollock swooped down, lifted Descheneau’s stick and flipped the puck up through the neutral zone to Lane Bauer, who instead put the game out of reach with a backhand into the empty net.
“I had good positioning and I saw them get a break. We don’t want to let them back in the game in the last minute. I ended up being on the right side,” Pollock said. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t even see Bauer streaking down the wing. I just tried to get it out.”
“We acknowledged in the room that we weren’t getting the same back-check from our guys that we got tonight,” Hamilton said. “Brett was a great example of going that extra mile, picking his pocket at the last second … that was a clutch moment.
“I also think Luke Bertolucci’s penalty kill four-on-three when he blocked a half dozen shots — that was clutch timing.”
Pollock also opened the scoring for the Oil Kings, firing a wrist shot from the right circle on a first-period power play that beat Kootenay goaltender Wyatt Hoflin 10:16 into the game. It was Edmonton’s first power-play goal in 13 chances after going four straight games without a goal with the man advantage.
“It was wonderful to be able to get a lead and have our power play contribute,” Hamilton said with a smile.
Matt Alfaro tied the game for the Ice midway through the second period as Tyler King’s point shot was stopped by Jarry’s blocker, but deflected right into the Ice forward’s midsection and back into the Edmonton net.
Davis Koch regained the lead for Edmonton four minutes later, beating Hoflin with a long shot and giving an assist to Kobe Mohr for the 15-year-old rookie’s first WHL point. It was the third straight game an Oil Kings rookie had scored in a bottom-six role after Tyson Gruninger and Brayden Brown found the net in the past two contests.
“I look at Brayden Brown and Davis Koch: a month ago, they’re probably feeling differently about their game and they’re probably feeling differently how they stand in this league,” Hamilton said. “You look now, and they both look like confident guys out there. They’re looking to make plays, and that’s an important part of the transition into a thriving role in our league.”
Edmonton was perfect on the penalty kill for the sixth straight game, holding the Ice’s power play 0-7 on the evening. The Oil Kings have now killed 31 straight penalties.
Jarry stopped 32 of 33 shots for his 13th win of the season, while Hoflin made 29 saves in a losing effort.
The Oil Kings will be back in action on Friday as they kick off a three-games-in-three-days road trip through the East Division against the Regina Pats.