With the WHL playoffs looming on the horizon the Red Deer Rebels find themselves looking to get back into the win column in a hurry.
After dropping all three games of their most recent homestand at the ENMAX Centrium last week, the Rebels are looking to make the most of their remaining games this season as they head out on a five game road swing this week.
“I’d say every game is important right now, doesn’t matter if it’s tomorrow or we play on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday. It doesn’t matter really where the games are at, we’ve got to find ways to win ‘em right now,” said Rebels’ Owner, GM and Head Coach Brent Sutter after a 4-1 loss to the Swift Current Broncos last Friday night.
The month of February hasn’t been kind to the Red Deer squad, who have posted just a single win in the six games since dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Feb. 1st.
Coming into last week’s games, the Rebels were fresh off a brief trip to Saskatchewan where they posted a 6-3 win over the Prince Albert Raiders before dropping a 4-2 decision to the Saskatoon Blades the following evening.
Four days later they were back on the familiar Centrium ice for a rematch with the Hurricanes. Aside from a valiant effort from goalies Lasse Petersen and Riley Lamb, the Rebels turned in a lacklustre performance in the Wednesday evening showdown, allowing their divisional rivals to cruise to a 7-3 victory.
Sutter didn’t pull any punches when asked about his team’s effort in the game either.
“Brutal. Right from the opening face-off. Total lack of respect to the front of our jerseys, lack of respect to our fans. Just brutal. Not enough effort, guys not playing hard enough, guys not competing hard enough. We’re lucky guys, lets face it. That should have been a 15-3 game tonight if it wasn’t for our goalies,” said Sutter, who actually left his perch atop the Rebels’ bench to stand at the bench door throughout the third period of the game.
Contributing to the loss, Sutter said, was an unwillingness to play their systems, undisciplined play and sloppy special teams. Red Deer allowed four goals on eight penalty kill opportunities in the contest.
“Look at the penalties we took tonight. It’s a joke. We had guys taking penalties in the offensive zone, slashing guys, hooking guys. Everything we show them on video and everything we go through with them. It gets old after awhile and I’m tired of it.”
Friday night’s loss to the Broncos didn’t do much to ease that frustration either, though the coach was happier with his team’s effort in the 4-1 defeat.
“I thought our intention was in the right place here tonight. Certainly a significant difference tonight from our last game,” Sutter said, noting that some costly turnovers ultimately led to the Broncos victory.
“With turnovers you allow two on ones inside your own blue line and it’s tough.”
Sutter also stressed the need for consistency from his players down the final stretch of the season, noting the team needs to be more focused and more disciplined in how they play if they want to get back above the .500 mark.
“I thought we had been really inconsistent with that. I talked to them about that at that point in time and I told them if they’re not they’re going to end up being a below .500 hockey team and they’re going to be pushing to try to find a playoff spot and that’s where we’re at right now,” he said, referring to something he told the players after returning from Christmas break.
If he was looking for more effort from his squad, Sutter got it on Saturday night as his team battled the Regina Pats, the number one ranked team in the CHL, to overtime before former Rebel Josh Mahura potted the game winner.
“You can’t question our effort. Our effort was outstanding tonight. We played hard and that’s all you can ask from the group is to play hard and stick together and we’ll get ourselves out of this,” the coach noted after the game.
Goalie Riley Lamb returned to the form he showed in the early parts of the season, making 47 saves including some truly spectacular ones on his way to a first star selection on the night.
“He was outstanding,” Sutter said of the 17-year-old rookie goalie.
Now the Rebels will look to get back to their winning ways as they try to hold onto the third and final playoff spot in the WHL Central Division, beginning with a stop in Seattle on Tuesday night to take on the Thunderbirds. That game was not over at press time.