TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Quintin Lisoway is part of a Brandon Wheat Kings penalty-killing unit that is showing signs of improvement.
A thorn in the team’s side last season, special teams have been a strength for the Brandon Wheat Kings this fall.
Heading into tonight’s game against the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Wheat Kings are in the middle of the pack in the Western Hockey League in power-play efficiency, although their mark of 24.4 per cent would rank them in the top five most years if sustained for an entire season. Meanwhile, their penalty-killing unit, the WHL’s worst last season, is humming along with an 83.9 per cent success rate, fourth-best in the league.
Head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon said improving the special teams has been one of the priorities for the Wheat Kings this season.
"It was an area where we needed to make improvements and, disregarding that, it’s just an aspect of the game where teams can gain advantage," he said.
"We want our penalty kill to have a positive impact on the game and I think most nights right now it’s done that for us. And our power play has been pretty effective through the seven games. I think as time goes on, it’s harder to maintain those numbers so it’s something you really have to work at."
The Wheat Kings have outscored their opponents 10-6 on special teams, whereas they’ve been outscored 20-17 while at even strength. Those four goals may not seem like big difference, but considering Brandon’s last five games have all been one-goal contests going into the final minute of the third period, a goal or two here or there at pivotal moments can add up quickly.
"Something that’s not reflected in the stats is what your special teams do in critical situations: tie games, third-period game situations, that type of thing," McCrimmon said. "So that’s part of it too."
While it’s still too early for grand statements regarding their performance, the job done by Brandon’s penalty killers has been particularly notable given the team’s struggles in that area in recent seasons. The Wheat Kings haven’t killed off more than 80 per cent of their penalties, or finished in the top half of the league in that category, since 2007-08, before a single member of the current team had even been drafted into the organization.
"The penalty kill means a lot to the team, it can make and break it," said Quintin Lisoway, who centres one of the Wheat Kings’ penalty-killing units. "I think the penalty kill has definitely improved over last year and I’m actually happy to be a part of it, too. I take pride in killing penalties, having to block shots and stuff like that."
Lisoway has helped to ease his penalty-killing partner, Taylor Cooper, into the role this season and he said there are some subtle keys to the job that can be learned with experience.
"I think knowing when to pressure and knowing when not to pressure, that’s a big thing," he said. "Knowing to be in the right place at the right time, knowing to just stick with the guys you have and really you’ve just got to work together when you’re in your own zone."
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon D Ryan Pulock practised without restrictions Thursday after missing Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury and looks like a good bet to return to the lineup tonight … Matthew Gourlie of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald tweeted that newly acquired D Jesse Forsberg is not expected to play for the Warriors tonight.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 11, 2013