SHAWINIGAN, Que. — For two periods at least, the real Saint John Sea Dogs showed up Monday night to down the Edmonton Oil Kings 5-2.
The defending MasterCard Memorial Cup champs' pair of Minnesota Wild prospects factored into four goals with Zack Phillips' two tallies sandwiched around Charlie Coyle's primary assists on a pair of second-period goals. With the win, the tournament picture might be swimming into focus. Or at least it will following Tuesday's Edmonton-London Knights tilt. Saint John seems to be finding its second wind while Edmonton has to have short-term memory loss before the second leg of its back-to-back games. On with the post-game questions!
How close was this to a textbook Saint John performance?
This tournament is so closely matched that blowouts just are not going to happen. Every game has had a one-goal margin with two minutes to play in regulation. It probably helped sustain interest in the telecast across the country but only Laurent Brossoit in goal and the ice conditions kept this close. Saint John had a 21-12 edge on the Cam Charron Chance-o-Meter, including 16-8 across the final 40 minutes. By late in the third, the Oil Kings looked rubbery-legged.
"The first period, I would say, was about a five out of 10," said Sea Dogs centre Stephen MacAulay, whose work on the nominal third line with birthday-boy goal scorer Ryan Tesink and Maxime Villemaire helped wear down Edmonton. "The second period we started to play well. That was about an eight. The third period was a nine. It wasn't as good as we can go, but we'll take it."
Who knows why Saint John has trouble finding the on switch. Coach Gerard Gallant said he decided less was more during the first intermission, when the game was level at 1-1.
"I was pretty disappointed," he said. "I didn't say much but the kids knew I was disappointed. You don't work all year to come here and have four periods like our first first four periods."
Soon enough, they got an adrenaline shot courtesy willowy Ryan Tesink. The St. Louis Blues draft pick, who's listed at 6-foot and 166 pounds, got a 19th-birthday spanking when Edmonton's 6-foot-4, 202-pound Griffin Reinhart wallpapered him into the glass.
"I thought the guys got their legs in the second and third period, they started to jump," Gallant said. "For me, I thought it all turned around when Ryan Tesink got run over in the corner "I think the guys said, you know what, if that guy's going to pay a price like that and compete the way he is — 175 pounds — I think the guys followed from there."
Can Edmonton recover in time for Tuesday's matchup vs. the London Knights?
The Oil Kings' ballyhooed balance had Victoria Day off. Save for a Kristian Pelss tip-in goal, their top line was rather quiet as a chance to take control of the round-robin went slip-sliding away. It's a little like when they missed their first chance to oust Portland in the WHL final and had to regroup to do so in Game 7, their second crack. But Laxdal wouldn't use the Portland series as a convenient example of his team's resilience.
"There's a lot of factors involved here," he said. "I thought Curtis Lazar, Henrik Samuelsson and Stephane Legault were outstanding for us. I thought the [Jonathan] Huberdeau line [with Charlie Coyle and Danick Gauthier] was outstanding for them. We're a team that needs all 20 guys. We had some passengers tonight. We need some guys to step up and respond.
"We just need a little more push from some more players," he added.
How much will London's added rest factor into Tuesday's game?
The CHL did what it could to keep Centre Bionest cool on another 30C (86F) day in the Maurice Region. The building felt a few degrees milder.
"London is rested, we played tonight under some hot circumstances," Laxdal said. "It was humid again in the rooms but there's nothing we can do about it. Other teams are changing their style a bit. Do we have to change our style? You betcha.
"I guess the only positive about tonight, it didn't go into overtime so we can get back to the hotel, we can rest, relax and try to reenergize for tomorrow night,"
Was there an inkling that Huberdeau would bounce back?
The reigning Memorial Cup MVP blew out the flickering flame of Saint John's comeback hopes with a double minor with 2:04 left in the London loss. Midway through the second period, he brought the crowd out of its seats by taking a beauty cross-ice pass from Coyle, getting behind future NHL first-rounder Reinhart and turning Brossoit inside-out to score. In other words, the type of play Sea Dogs followers now see as routine.
"I don't think he was happy with his game the other night, took a couple penalties he wouldn't ordinarily take," MacAulay said of Huberdeau. "Everyone knew he would come back. He's our captain, he's our leader. Everyone was pumped when he got the breakaway."
What was the Oil Kings' undoing? Besides Laurent Brossoit letting in a goal from a bad angle early, it was also two turnovers at the offensive blueline that led to first two Sea Dogs markers. The second happened in an eyeblink, with Coyle making a one-touch pass that sprung Huberdeau free.
That's the kind of play London can go to town on. Laxdal noted that unlike some defensive-minded teams, the Knights look for the odd-man rush instead of dumping the puck behind the net and forechecking.
"The first goal, we don't get the puck in at the blue line, they come down, they shoot one from the goal line, the puck goes in," Laxdal said. "The second one, we don't get the puck in at the blue line, they hit Huberdeau on a breakaway and it makes it 2-1. So we're kind of behind the 8-ball. We shot ourselves in the foot.
"I'm not going to blame it on the ice. I blame it on our stubbornness with not wanting to get pucks deep and establish a forecheck. We're playing a London team that thrives on turnovers so we better learn quick."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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