EDMONTON - With Calgary in the driver's seat after taking Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Edmonton Oil Kings know they need to be better.
Step 1: Shot selection.
The Oil Kings controlled the shot clock with a 35-19 advantage Thursday, but Hitmen netminder Chris Driedger's night was made easy by a litany of perimeter shots. As a result, initial attempts were easily swallowed up and rebound opportunities were entirely non-existent.
The Oil Kings opted out of a morning skate and instead held a team meeting at 10:00 a.m. at Rexall Place.
"They have a solid goalie back there and they've got a good back end, but our shot selection wasn't the greatest," said veteran forward TJ Foster, who was held off the scoresheet in the Game 1 loss. "We hit him in the chest a lot and, not taking anything away from him because he made some good saves, but we made it easy on him and we've got to have a better shot selection."
Sporting a 1.74 goals-against average and .946 save percentage, Driedger is now 9-0-2 in the post-season. But he's only part of the problem.
Alex Roach and Jaynen Rissling, in particular, are mountains on Calgary's back end. According to Foster, their presence shouldn't be an issue as long the Oil Kings are committed to grinding in the dirty areas.
"We have to get a better interior presence," he said. "They have a lot of big, strong defencemen that are very good at keeping us to the outside and forcing those perimeter shots. But to beat that, we've got to move in quick and stand our ground. If we can do that and move the puck quickly, we'll create more time and space to get the puck on net."
"This time of year you're not going to score that pretty goal," added Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "We're stubborn that way. When you have a lot of perimeter shots and everything is coming from the outside, when you get this far in the playoffs, goalies are going to make those saves."
A quicker start might in order, too. Calgary's Victor Rask opened the scoring 1:25 into Game 1, putting the home side behind the eight ball early and silencing the 6,337 in attendance at Rexall Place.
Zane Jones put the Hitmen up 2-0 with a power-play goal early in the second period, before Trevor Cheek and Henrik Samuelsson each tallied to force overtime.
Curtis Lazar had a chance to end it in the opening minute, but his short-side shelf attempt grazed the crossbar and stayed out.
"I saw the shot and didn't see it come out," said Foster, who was on the rush with Lazar. "I thought for a split-second that it went off the post and in. Then on the shift right after, Eddie Kulda put a shot on Driedger and he had no idea where it was, but it hit him square in the pads.
"You could say it wasn't our night, but you've got to fight to make it your night."
Heading into Friday's Game 2 at Rexall Place, home ice advantage has already shifted to the Hitmen. The Oil Kings aren't panicking, but they have little interest in taking a 2-0 series deficit down to Calgary.
"If we take this one tonight, then we're in the same situation to the one we were in with Kootenay," said Cheek who, after scoring in Game 1, has now recorded six goals and 11 points so far in the playoffs. "We'd take that and we have to make sure we put together a full 60 minutes tonight."
"They're going to be hungry tonight to go up 2-0, so we've got to make sure we come out even harder to make it a 1-1 series heading to Calgary," added Laxdal. "A quick start would be huge for us to try and get the energy in the building. Last night we battled back and gave ourselves a chance, which is a good sign, so for tonight we need to step up our game an extra 10 percent."
Driedger and Oil Kings MVP Laurent Brossoit will start in goal. Brossoit struggled in Game 1, allowing three goals on 19 shots, but promised a rebound effort after last night's loss. Laxdal also announced this morning that Dysin Mayo will be made a healthy scratch and will be replaced with Ashton Sautner on defence.
Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. MT.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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