By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The forecast for tonight at Interior Savings Centre is for heavy speed, an abundance of scoring chances and intermittent scoring.
Guy Charron, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, is hoping the weatherman is wrong.
“They are a dynamic type of team,” Charron said of the Edmonton Oil Kings, who will oppose the Blazers tonight. “You cannot play run-and-gun hockey with them.”
The Blazers, who are 40-12-4 and riding high atop the WHL’s overall standings, have six 20-goal men. The Oil Kings, who are 37-12-7 and leading the Eastern Conference, have four of those, with two others at 19.
Yes, these are two of the WHL’s three highest-scoring teams.
Edmonton has scored 244 goals, a per-game average of 4.36 that leads the WHL. In the same number of games (56), the Blazers have 226 goals, an average of 4.04, which is No. 3. (The Portland Winterhawks are scoring 4.27 goals per game.)
Edmonton’s defence, which is surrendering 2.66 goals per game, also has been slightly better than that of Kamloops, which is at 2.73. (The Tri-City Americans are No. 1, at 2.57, with the Kootenay Ice at 2.61.)
When Charron looks at the Oil Kings, he sees a team that more resembles the Americans than his own Blazers.
“Edmonton’s defencemen are very involved, moreso than ours are,” Charron explained. “They don’t need a lot of opportunity to put the puck in the net. . . . They have speed.”
While the Blazers were sweeping the Kelowna Rockets in a weekend home-and-home set, winning 5-4 in overtime here on Friday and 3-2 there on Saturday, the Oil Kings were splitting two games with the Cougars in Prince George. Edmonton lost the opener 5-4 in OT and then put up a 5-0 shutout.
“This will be another big test for us,” offered Kamloops forward Dylan Willick, who had two goals in Saturday’s victory. “They lost the first one in Prince George but came back hard and showed why they are one of the best teams in the league. It should be an interesting matchup.”
Charron said he watched Edmonton’s 5-0 victory and felt Prince George was holding its own until . . .
“Two breakdowns . . . two goals,” Charron said, “and Prince George was down 2-0.”
It is those mistakes Charron is hoping his club is able to keep to a minimum tonight.
“The success we’ve had against teams like Tri-City that are explosive has been because we have been able to have a close-checking game and tight defence,” Charron said. “If we don’t do that against Edmonton, we are going to have difficulty.”
If/when the Blazers have difficulties, it will be up to goaltender Cam Lanigan to cover for his teammates.
This will be Lanigan’s fourth start in the last 12 games. His last appearance was in relief on Friday when he took over from Cole Cheveldave after the first period. The Blazers were trailing 4-1 at the time.
“Cam will play against his old team and hopefully it will motivate him,” Charron said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Lanigan was acquired from the Oil Kings for goaltender Jon Groenheyde on Nov. 4, 2010. This won’t be Lanigan’s first start against his former team — he stopped 21 shots in a 5-2 victory here on Nov. 12.
“You always want to play against your old team,” Charron said. “You hope it’s not additional pressure. But every game he has played (lately) he has showed from the early stage that he’s on his game.”
After practice on Monday, Charron sounded more concerned with his club’s starting form of late than he was with its goaltending.
“We haven’t started well,” Charron said, adding that he isn’t able to “pinpoint” any one thing.
“I don’t know what it is,” he continued. “But, in saying that, our second and third periods have been pretty good.”
JUST NOTES: Game time is 7 o’clock. . . . The Blazers have won eight in a row at home and 14 of their last 15. . . . With the exception of F Jordan DePape (shoulder), who has been out since Oct. 10, the Blazers are healthy. Asked if there now was competition for playing time, Charron replied: “Oh yeah . . . oh yeah.” . . . Blazers F Brendan Ranford was named the WHL’s player of the week yesterday. He had eight points, including three goals, in three games, all victories, last week.
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