Jason Swyripa fires a shot at goalie Corbin Boes in Wheat Kings practice Monday at Westman Place. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
Easy to overlook while they were rolling through the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, a flagging power play has suddenly become a major area of concern for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The Wheat Kings are only 2-for-22 with the man advantage during the playoffs, a woeful success rate of 9.1 per cent that ranks them 14th among all teams in the post-season and last among the eight clubs that advanced to the second round.
The Wheat Kings are 0-for-5 in the first two games of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Edmonton Oil Kings and having suffered a pair of one-goal losses, Wheat Kings head coach Cory Clouston said his team needs more out of its power play, starting with Game 3 tonight at Westman Place.
"We need to get a goal or two here in the next game, if and when we get our opportunities," said Clouston, whose club had the third-best power play in the WHL during the regular season. "It’s got to give us momentum if nothing else. It’s not even giving us momentum. … In playoffs, goals don’t come easily on the power play and we’re going to have to make good on our chances."
Clouston points out that part of the Wheat Kings’ problem is excellent penalty killing by the Oil Kings, who were second in that area during the regular season and have only allowed one power-play goal so far in the playoffs.
He acknowledges that Brandon’s power play needs to improve in all facets, although he does believe the team is on the right track, offensively.
"We scored three goals last game. Often in the playoffs, that’s enough," Clouston said. "We had our chances. We had a fourth goal, we felt, that (the officials) disallowed. So to me, you score three, four goals in the playoffs, that should give you a real good opportunity to win."
Tonight’s game is pivotal in the series. With a win, the Wheat Kings would be down 2-1 with a chance to tie the best-of-seven in Game 4 at home on Wednesday. A loss, and they’ll face potential elimination instead.
Captain Mark Stone said the key for the team will be keeping focus, which was an issue in the second period in Game 2 on Saturday when Brandon gave up all four Edmonton goals in a span of less than five minutes, including three goals in 2:27 that turned a one-goal lead into a two-goal deficit.
"I think we’ve been playing pretty well over the last number of periods, but there was a few letdowns in Game 2 that really cost us the game," he said. "Up 2-1 and (then) down 4-2 like that, you just can’t have those lapses."
ONE-TIMERS: One of Brandon’s power-play chances in the series was an advantage that lasted only 17 seconds at the end of Game 1 on Friday … Although their power play has struggled, the Wheat Kings have done a solid job while shorthanded, killing off nine of 10 penalties over their last five games … Brandon C Paul Ciarelli left the ice limping after falling late in Monday’s practice … As of Monday, the Wheat Kings had sold only about 2,900 tickets for tonight’s game after averaging more than 4,100 fans per game during the regular season. The box office opens today at 8 a.m. … Portland LW Sven Bärtschi is the WHL player of the week after notching three goals and three assists to help the Winterhawks win the first two games of their series against Kamloops … Portland LW Oliver Gabriel has served one game and is awaiting a final ruling on his suspension stemming from a Game 1 collision with Kamloops G Cole Cheveldave … Medicine Hat RW Emerson Etem has had his suspension finalized at one game — which he has already served — after taking a kneeing major in Game 1 of the Tigers’ series against Moose Jaw.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 10, 2012