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May 2 2012 at 7:04 AM
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N. W. Bruin  (Login NW_Bruin_GM)

Penalties biggest downside to Oil King’s positive WHL playoff performance

Laxdal wants to limit opportunities for Winterhawks’ potent power play

By Chris O'Leary,

May 2, 2012

Edmonton Oil Kings’ Griffin Reinhart is hit in the head by the skate of Moose Jaw Warriors’ James Henry during the third period of the WHL Eastern Conference final at Rexall Place, in Edmonton on Friday April 27, 2012.

Photograph by: Larry Wong ,

EDMONTON - There was plenty for the Edmonton Oil Kings to be happy about during their 12-1 playoff run to the Western Hockey League final.

The still-young group has looked like veterans while disposing of the Kootenay Ice, Brandon Wheat Kings and Moose Jaw Warriors, respectively, over the last six weeks.

Goaltender Laurent Brossoit and his .945 save percentage and 1.62 goals-against average show the potential the Calgary Flames recognized when they selected him in the sixth round of last year’s NHL entry draft.

Forward Curtis Lazar has boosted his stock for next year’s draft after emerging as the Oil Kings’ leading scorer in the post-season with 16 points.

Edmonton’s depth may be the most impressive aspect. Suspensions and injuries haven’t slowed the team down. When one piece of their puzzle isn’t available, another body jumps in and seamlessly fills the void.

If there is one area that head coach Derek Laxdal would like to see his group improve when the puck drops for Game 1 against the Portland Winterhawks on Thursday is penalties.

“We need to stay out of the penalty box. We took too many undisciplined penalties in the last series,” Laxdal said before Tuesday’s practice.

“I thought our power play (against Moose Jaw) was pretty solid. I thought our five-on-five play wasn’t too bad. I thought our offence dropped a little bit and that will happen naturally in the playoffs when things tighten up. But with this series here, we expect it to open up a bit with Portland and it’s going to be a great test for our group.”

If there’s a bright spot to the Oil Kings’ 85 penalty minutes in the Eastern Conference final against Moose Jaw, it’s that the Warriors managed only three power-play goals over the five games. The Oil Kings have allowed only five power-play goals through 13 playoff games.

That figures to change against Portland, though. The Winterhawks’ power-play unit led the WHL with 104 goals during the regular season. Edmonton was a distant second, with 78.

“Our special teams have been outstanding,” Laxdal said. “You’re going to see real good power-play here: (with Portland’s Ty) Rattie, (Sven) Baertschi, (Joe) Morrow, (Troy) Rutkowski. They can move the puck around with (Brad) Ross in front of the net, and their second unit is just as potent. They’ve got some weapons there.”

Edmonton defenceman Keegan Lowe spent a good portion of the Moose Jaw series killing penalties. The 19-year-old agreed with his coach, saying the Oil Kings have to be more disciplined.

“We were in the box a lot in the last series and, specifically, I remember the games at home,” Lowe said. “I think in Game 2, we were in the box in the second period six times or something.

“Our strength of our team is our depth. When we’re in the box for the whole period, we’re not using our depth to our advantage and certain guys kill, not everyone kills. The guys who are killing get tired and worn down and the guys that don’t kill are sitting on the bench for up to a whole period, so it kind of ruins the flow of the game for our team.”

“You have to make sure that you stay out of the box and keep that energy,” Laxdal said. “We want to play five-on-five, that’s where the strength of our hockey club is. If we have to defend or if we have to go on the power play, we’re good enough to make some strides, but we have to play five-on-five hockey.”

Wruck out for season

Oil Kings forward Dylan Wruck will not be taking part in the league final, Laxdal said on Tuesday. The 19-year-old from Saskatoon missed the entire third round of the WHL playoffs after injuring his shoulder in Edmonton’s Game 4 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings.

“We had an MRI,” Laxdal said. “We think it might have been a previous injury. We know what’s wrong with him and it’s a matter of when it gets fixed and when it doesn’t.”

Later Tuesday, Oil Kings radio play-by-play announcer Corey Graham posted on his Twitter account that Wruck would miss the remainder of the season and would require surgery to repair his shoulder.

Wruck first injured his shoulder in the Oil Kings’ final regular-season home game against the Red Deer Rebels. He sat out the final three games of the season before rejoining the lineup in the playoffs.

Wruck scored 21 goals and 59 assists in 66 regular-season games. He had a goal and three assists in eight playoff games.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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