Staying alive with the penalty kill
Rarely will a power play carry a team's hopes and dreams. A bad penalty kill, however, can turn those dreams into a nightmare.
Just ask the Edmonton Oilers.
One of the big reasons for the improved play of the Camrose Kodiaks of late has been their much-improved penalty kill, which until late on Sunday had killed 31-consecutive penalties.
The effort kept the Kodiaks in their games against the Okotoks Oilers and Calgary Canucks on the weekend before falling in extra time in both contests. The penalty kill was directly responsible for the Kodiaks securing two points and keeping pace in the ultra-competitive Alberta Junior Hockey League South Division.
"The big thing for us right now is playing for the guy next to you," said veteran Kodiaks forward Matt Dykstra. "We take a lot of pride in our penalty kill and we got it done pretty well (Sunday)."
In their 3-2 overtime loss against the Oilers on Saturday, the Kodiaks killed all five Okotoks power plays. In their 6-5 shootout loss to the Canucks on Sunday, they killed their first seven penalties, and 10 of 11 overall on the night, adding a shorthanded marker in the second period.
Since their penalty kill streak started in the second period against the Olds Grizzlys on Dec. 12, they didn't allow a power play goal against in six games before that streak was broken at 5:42 of the third period on Sunday by the Canucks' Cooper Johnson.
In that time, their penalty kill improved from 81.14 per cent to 84.62 per cent, bumping the Kodiaks up to fifth in the AJHL and third in the South Division.
It has been a whole team effort of sacrifice to improve the kill, highlighted by Cale Chalfoux blocking a shot with his neck in overtime on Sunday with Zach Webb staring down an open net on the man advantage.
"Guys are buying in," said associate coach Nigel Dube. "It just shows the dedication and the commitment of the guys and what they are doing for each other and the commitment to the game. They're doing everything they can and they're doing it in the proper ways and it's paying off."
The penalty kill unit has also required an all-hands-on-deck approach with the injuries the team has had to weather this season.
Matt Dykstra has played a key role on the unit this year with other skilled forwards like Nic Correale, Kyler Kupka, Jacob Kendall and Brock Bremer. On Sunday Dykstra even managed to create offence off of the kill, as he forced a turnover deep in the Calgary zone, stopped on a dime as the Canucks defenceman slid passed, and found a fresh Kupka skating hard down the middle of the ice. Kupka buried the puck past goalie Kolby Matthews to tie the game at 3-3.
Dykstra has had a big season offensively in his fourth AJHL campaign with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 39 games, despite constantly rotating line mates due to the Kodiaks injury issues.
"He's the kind of player that when you set fire to he goes," said Dube. "He gets after it and he's got leadership … and as much as he does that, we expect that from him. He stepped up tonight, he wanted the puck on his stick and he did good things when he had it."
The weekend was all about fighting for the Kodiaks, in a figurative sense. They entered the weekend in sixth place in the South Division, one point ahead of the Canucks. With the congestion in the standings they can still finish as high as third place in the division and secure home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
In Saturday's game against the Oilers, Nick Sutter scored on the power play at 8:42 of the third period to buy more time. Unfortunately for the Kodiaks Nick Blankenburg scored 33 seconds into the three-on-three session to win the game for Okotoks.
On Sunday against the Canucks, the Kodiaks were down 3-0 after 20 minutes but fought back to tie it mid-way through the second period. In the third, they found themselves down 5-4 before Brock Bremer scored at 16:11 to tie the game. Bremer scored the lone goal for Camrose in the shootout, but Michael Clarke and Zach Russell scored for Calgary to win the game.
"You never want to spot a team three goals, by any means," said Dube. "We got the first one and you could just see the lights back and we fought. That's a huge mentality. In the playoffs we're going to play Game 1 and Game 2 on back-to-back nights and you've got to be able to do that."
The Kodiaks are on the road for the next couple of weeks, playing the Canucks on Friday at 7 p.m., the Brooks Bandits on Saturday at 7 p.m. and the Drumheller Dragons on Tuesday at 7 p.m.