The Edmonton Oil Kings have gotten a boost from their third line of Mads Eller, Riley Kieser and Luke Bertolucci and that’s help translate into wins for a team that started the series down two games to none. Edmonton has since tied their WHL final series with the Portland Winterhawks at 2-2 heading into a big game five tonight.
Although that third line hasn’t scored many goals, they’ve been contributing heavily on the penalty kill and in the face-off dot while providing energy. The head coach says he feels like it’s a matter of time before it becomes critical mass with that line contributing more on the score sheet.
“I think it’s very important to have that third line, they’re your energy guys,” Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “They’re going to score in the series. They’re getting close. Obviously, Bertolucci scored a huge goal for us in game three but Mads Eller, Riley Kieser, those kids score at the most opportune times just because they work so hard. Their contributions penalty-kill wise and Riley Kieser on face offs, has been outstanding. That’s a line that they kind of wear you down. They’re not flashy, they just have that great work ethic and they get pucks to the net and find ways to get goals and I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up scoring a goal tonight for us.”
With the help of their third line, the Oil Kings have not allowed a power-play goal since game one. That was a 4-on-3 tally in the second period on May 3. Since then, Portland is 0-for-11 on the man advantage.
“I think we’re just trying to bring that energy,” Kieser said. “Every game we’re competing hard and trying to battle against their top lines and trying to be good in our own zone and that will reflect in the offensive zone. Just trying to get energy for our team and stuff like that.”
On the road, in a pivotal game five and with the series tied, secondary scoring from that line would really bring the energy for the already surging Oil Kings.
The Edmonton Oilers have signed draft pick Bogdan Yakimov, 19, to a three-year entry level contract. The Oilers selected Yakimov in the third round, 83rd overall, in last year’s draft.
Yakimov is 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 220 pounds. He spent this past season with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik in the KHL where he tallied 12 points (7-5-12) in 33 games.
The Oilers’ first-overall pick in 2012, Nail Yakupov, also played for Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (2012-13).
When the Edmonton Oil Kings came back from being down 2-0 early to eventually take game three of the WHL final by a score of 3-2, it showed quite the resiliency. With Portland seemingly on the attack, the Oil Kings didn’t backdown and eventually pushed back, controlling the pace of the second period and scoring three-unanswered goals in the game to beat Portland.
It was a surprise in last night’s post-game press conference when the players and coach said it was the backup goaltender who had an impact on the game, without even seeing one minute of ice time.
“What wasn’t he doing? I guess that’s the real question,” Curtis Lazar said of goaltender Tyler Santos. “Just to see what he’s been able to do this season in his role, he’s always out there, he doesn’t always get the ice time he deserves but he’s the emotional leader on the bench just keeping us positive, chirping the other team, getting that mental edge and having fun with it. It was really neat to see. He brought us all together but he also allowed us to relax and just have some fun out there.”
Santos has played just 13 games this season for Edmonton and none in the playoffs. But his presence was felt on the Oil Kings bench last night as Santos cheered on the team, provided motivation and energy to his teammates. This isn’t anything new for Santos, who head coach Derek Laxdal says has been a great teammate longer than just last night.
“I actually brought him in the other day, two days ago, and we just talked about how great of a teammate he’s been,” Laxdal said. “He hasn’t played a lot for us this year and he comes in the dressing room every morning, he’s positive, he’s ready to go and the practice that he puts in. He’s out there scrimmaging every day with the black aces and finding his way. Here’s a kid that’s been a great soldier for us and a great teammate, a positive vibe in our dressing room and he’s been great on our bench. It’s good to see him get a little bit of love last night from the guys.”
Being the backup can be a tough pill to swallow. Obviously you’d like to be on the ice and helping your teammates but Santos has found a different way to be involved and help the Oil Kings win games.
“It’s not an easy role being back up and not getting many touches,” Laxdal said. “Obviously the ride and the experience that he’s experiencing right now, I’m sure he’s enjoying it but you have to have that glue, you have to have that type of character in your dressing room and he’s been a big part of that.”
Over the course of these 2014 WHL playoffs, Oil Kings centre Curtis Lazar has traditionally played his best games in the opening contest of each series. In game ones this post-season, Lazar has seven points (2-5-7) in four games. This series has started off slow offensively for Lazar however, with him not recording a point until last night’s crucial game three win over Portland.
As the “heartbeat of the team,” according to his head coach, Lazar is an important piece for Edmonton as they look to knock off Portland. Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said last night after the win that Lazar is starting to look like himself.
“I had a chat with Curtis this morning and we just talked about his first two games,” Laxdal said last night. “When Curtis is playing well what does he do? Smiles. I said, get that smile back in your game. I thought he got that smile back tonight and with that comes the energy in Curtis’ game.”
Lazar says he’s feeling more comfortable.
“I’m gripping my stick a little less tight,” he said. “I’m just enjoying myself out there. It was a big game for us last night but also for myself, for my confidence standpoint. I was really happy with my play, I’m contributing in all ways and I’m looking to build off my performance last night.”
In a series like the final where it could wind up being a long and tough battle, having Lazar build momentum the deeper it goes could be huge for the Oil Kings. That doesn’t necessarily only mean point production for the centre.
“Momentum,” Lazar said. “It’s a scary thing in the playoffs and if I can continue to improve each and every game it’s going to really benefit our team. I key in on those little details and the statistics, the goals and assists are good and all but the blocked shots, the face offs and all other things too, I’m really keeping an eye on those stats as well.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings are undefeated on home ice in these 2014 WHL playoffs. Down 2-0 in their WHL finals series to Portland, the club is excited to be back home and have a chance to even up the series with game three tonight and game four tomorrow night in Edmonton.
“I’m excited to get going,” forward Curtis Lazar said. “Our fans have supported us all season. I mean, we’re comfortable here. We’re used to the environment, we’re used to the ice and I think we’re going to have a pretty good push back tonight.”
The Oil Kings are 8-0-0-0 in these playoffs at Rexall Place and have a comfort level associated with their pre-game routines in Edmonton.
“Kid’s are sleeping in their own beds, they get the chance to prepare the best way and they have that ritual of coming to the game tonight as they’ve done in all of the playoff games,” Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “For us, it’s just a matter of we’ve got to focus on what we do and there’s some areas of the game that we can get better at, i.e. turnovers, i.e. bad penalties, more shots to the net, a little bit more intensity in our game and those are things that are easy to change. It’s just a mindset, sharpening up those little details of the game.”
“It’s definitely nice to be home,” added forward Mitch Moroz. “Both teams are better at home and they look forward to being on home ice. We’re hoping to take advantage of it and make a series of it and get the first one here at home.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings have been outscored 8-3 in the first two games of their best-of-seven WHL finals series against the Portland Winterhawks. Edmonton’s head coach Derek Laxdal told the media this morning, in advance of a pivotal game three at home, that the team needs their top forwards to ramp it up a notch.
Henrik Samuelsson scored the lone goal for the Oil Kings in game two and Laxdal said he may have been the team’s best forward in that game. But it’s time for the team’s other top forwards to step up.
“I thought he’s taken a step in his game,” Laxdal said of Samuelsson. “I thought he was our best forward in game two. We need some of our other top forwards to step up tonight. Obviously, Reid Petryk has only got five or six points in the playoffs and he needs to take a step tonight. Mitch Moroz, I don’t think has a point in the last six games, he needs to take a step. Even Curtis Lazar, he’s the heartbeat of the hockey club. He needs to match the intensity of Henrik Samuelsson. These players know. We’re not calling them out, they know what they have to do and we’re going to need everybody on board tonight.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings head into tonight’s game three down 2-0 in their WHL finals best-of-seven series against the Portland Winterhawks. This is the first game of the series for Edmonton on home ice. With the last change, Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal will try to get the match ups most beneficial to his club.
“Having the last change will play into our favour,” Laxdal said. “Obviously, we want to try and get the match ups on the ice that we want. We really want to try and create some energy in our game tonight. We know they’re going to come back with (Chase) De Leo’s line and (Nicolas) Petan’s line every second shift so for us, we really want to make sure we have the right guys on the ice and put the right guys in the right situations but we really want to create some energy in our game tonight that gives us a little bit of confidence against Portland.”
Oil Kings forward Curtis Lazar is one of those players who could benefit from having the last change.
“We’ll see,” Lazar said. “I’ve been using the shutdown role for the majority of the playoffs and we sort of got away from that down in Portland. Whenever my name is called I’m going to go out there and try and put my team in a position where we can win.”
Lazar is tied for second on the team in scoring throughout the playoffs with 17 points (7-10-17) in 16 games.
In a pivotal game three in their WHL finals series against Portland, the Edmonton Oil Kings would sure like to grab the early lead. This would turn the tables on the Winterhawks who scored 2:50 into the first period in game one and twice in the first four minutes of game two.
“I think those games look a little differently if we don’t spot them two and three goal leads,” Edmonton forward Mitch Moroz said. “That’s hard to battle back from. I know we’re a resilient team but when you get down against a team like Portland, who’s always on their toes and turning the puck up, you are behind in the fight and you’ve got to find it in yourselves to get yourself that early lead. That’ll be the game plan tonight.”
Although scoring the first goal would be nice, Edmonton Head Coach Derek Laxdal told the media this morning that even just keeping the game close would be a success.
“It’s not about scoring the first goal, it’s about keeping the game close and within striking distance,” the head coach said. “Even when we were down 2-0 after the first five minutes the other night, I didn’t mind where we were. We had a lot of hockey left to play in that game and if we get the first goal it gets us to 2-1 and now the game is close. But when it gets to 3-0 we start chasing that game and we have to start opening up a little bit. But we want to keep the game close. If we get the first goal tonight then so be it. It will create a little confidence and a little energy in our team.”
It’s pretty much a do-or-die game for the Edmonton Oil Kings, down 2-0 in their WHL finals series against the Portland Winterhawks. These next two games at home are pivotal for the club, who’s looking to even things up tonight and tomorrow night with wins in games three and four.
Head Coach Derek Laxdal says if his team wants to even things up heading back to Portland, they’ll need to do so as a unit.
“I think it’s got to be a band of brothers,” Laxdal said. “It has to have that band-of-brothers approach. It’s not going to be one player, it’s not going to be Tristan Jarry, it’s not going to be Henrik Samulsson. It has to be 20 guys believing in the same direction tonight and that was the message in the meeting this morning. We have to make sure we step up. We’re not going to win the game in the first minute, we’re not going to lose the game in the first minute so go out and play, get your feet wet, don’t just dip your toes in, jump right in.”
Down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series against the Portland Winterhawks, the Edmonton Oil Kings will look to take advantage of their own home ice as the series comes home for games three and four tomorrow and Wednesday. The Oil Kings haven’t lost a game at home all playoffs (8-0-0-0).
“I don’t think we’ve lost a game here throughout the playoffs so far,” Curtis Lazar said. “That goes to show that we love playing for our fans and on our home ice and it’s no different than any team in the league.”
Lazar continued, “Our focus right now is game three and we’ll play it like a 0-0 series and that’s our main point. You’ve got to win on home ice just like Portland, they did their job down there and it’s a matter of us doing ours up here.”
Going down 2-0 in the series was a tough pill to swallow but now the Oil Kings have a chance to tie things up with two strong games at home.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Griffin Reinhart said. “It’s never easy to play against Portland, especially in their atmosphere that they have. They’ve got a great crowd out there and we’ve got to come here and take advantage of our home ice and try to even the series out.”