Rebels once again come up short against Tigers
Tigers 4 Rebels 1
The Medicine Hat Tigers have been to the Red Deer Rebels this season what kryptonite is to Superman.
The Tigers got a 49-save performance from first star Mads Sogaard and were three-for-three on the power play in a 4-1 Western Hockey League victory over the Rebels on Friday before 3,720 fans at the Centrium.
Medicine Hat is now 4-0 this season versus the Central Division leading Rebels, whose suffered their 10th regular-time loss in their final game before Christmas.
“I thought for two periods, outside of a handful of guys we weren’t very good. We were checked out,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“We were outworked for two periods and our specialty teams were just a reflection of our five-on-five play. It’s disappointing to play this way our last game before the break.”
Chris Douglas got the Rebels on the board 5:33 into the contest when, from the right circle, he one-timed a pass from Zak Smith, who fed his linemate from behind the net.
As it turned out, it was the only goal Sogaard would surrender on this night. The first-year Tigers netminder entered the game with a .927 save percentage against the Rebels and his numbers spiked on Friday.
With Josh Tarzwell sitting out a Red Deer bench minor, Josh Williams pulled the visitors even before the period ended, taking a cross-ice pass from James Hamblin and beating goalie Ethan Anders all in one motion from the left circle.
The Tigers pulled away with two middle-period man-advantage markers, Their second goal was basically a rerun of their first as Hamblin pulled the trigger on a feed from Williams at the 10-minute mark.
Then, with Tarzwell off for hooking, Williams gave Medicine Hat a two-goal cushion just over six minutes later, catching the top corner through a screen.
“They move the puck well but you look at the goals they got, right through the seams,” said Sutter. “Our forwards weren’t doing their jobs, that’s what it was basically . . . their details killing penalties weren’t good tonight.”
As Sutter pointed out, the Tigers, whose power play is a dizzying eight-for-15 versus Red Deer in 2018-19, was successful on Friday partly due to their success in the faceoff dot.
“Outside of one or two faceoffs we started (the penalty kill) without the puck,” said the Rebels boss. “When you’re short-handed and the other team wins the faceoff, they start right away on the power play.
“Faceoffs are a big part of the game and tonight our faceoffs weren’t very good.”
The Rebels cranked up their attack and pelted Sogaard with 19 shots in the third period, but Sutter found little solace in that.
“We had some quality chances. Let’s not kid ourselves, their goalie made some big saves,” he said. But we chased the whole second period. We hardly even had the puck on our sticks in the second period.”
Bryan Lockner closed out the Tigers production with a empty-net goal in the final minute.
The victory was the fourth in succession for the visitors, who sit fourth in the Central Division but are just five points back of Red Deer.
“You measure your group against top teams, not against teams that aren’t at the level of other teams,” said Sutter, “and we’ve had some guys in the last 10 games or so not play as well as we need them playing.
“They’ve gotten out of their roles and how they have to play. When you play a good team, and Medicine Hat’s got a good team, you’re going to get nailed for it.”
The Rebels are idle until Dec. 28 when they host the Vancouver Giants.
“After Christmas we have to reset and refocus,” said Sutter. “We’re still a team being hunted, we’re not the hunters.
“We have to stay in that mindset but to do that we need everyone dialled in and focused after Christmas . . . making sure that we play to our capabilities, that players play as they can and the teams plays like it can.”
Notable: Anders made 34 saves in suffering just his sixth regulation-time loss of the season . . . Selected as the game’s second and third stars were Williams and Douglas . . . Red Deer was zero-for-two on the power play . . . Rebels defenceman Alex Alexeyev suited up just three days after being taken to the hospital following to an awkward hit into the boards delivered by Kamloops Blazers forward Zane Franklin. Alexeyev leaves on Saturday to join Team Russia in Victoria, which along with Vancouver will host the upcoming World Junior Championship.