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Winning streak has Kings battling for first place


A three-game winning streak pulled the Dauphin Kings into a temporary tie for first place, Saturday.
The Kings began the streak with a 6-3 win over the OCN Blizzard, Tuesday in OCN and it continued when the Pride swept a home-and-home with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines over the weekend.
Dauphin scored two power-play goals in the third period to erase a one-goal deficit in a 3-2 win, Friday in Waywayseecappo.
On Saturday in Dauphin, hometown boy Bradyn Smelski banged home a loose puck with 6:19 left in the third period and Brennan Kitchen made 24 saves to blank the Wolverines, 1-0.
Saturday’s win pulled the Kings into a tie with the Portage Terriers atop the standings, but the Dogs regained sole possession of first with a shootout win over Virden on Sunday. A Steinbach Pistons win over the Blizzard on Sunday allowed them to move one point ahead of the Kings into second, dropping Dauphin to third with a 9-5 record.
Kings head coach and general manager Doug Hedley said Saturday’s win was not one of the team’s best games this season.
“But I think Brennan Kitchen was outstanding. Big saves, especially late in the game,” he said.
Dauphin’s penalty kill was at its best in both games against the Wolverines, killing off all 16 power play chances Waywayseecappo had.
“We were shorthanded way too many times. Our penalty kill unit was outstanding. When your goaltender is your best penalty killer, you know you’re having a good night. And he was definitely our best penalty killer,” Hedley said.
“A lot of guys got into shooting lanes and we stayed tight and found a way to get it done.”
Hedley felt the Kings played a better game on Friday.
Waywayseecappo jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but Avery Smith made it a one-goal game before the first intermission. Bryon Fobair and George King connected on the power-play in the third period to lift the Kings to the victory.
“Our sword was sharper (Friday). We had better passes, better support. After they got the first two goals, we pushed back and did a lot of good things, especially in the third period,” he said.
“I thought our shutdown, our defence was very good in the neutral zone. Really tough on pucks and winning races everywhere. When you win two games in a row, you’ve got to be happy. At the same time, I think we can get better.”
The three wins featured a marked improvement in the team’s defensive play, allowing just five goals in the three games and limiting the shots against to under 30 in each contest. The Kings had only done that three times in the previous 11 games.
“I think that comes from the fact that the guys are buying in and they’re defensive awareness is a lot better now. Instead of just taking off and everybody gets focused on the puck and we’re moving around, giving up odd-man rushes, now we’re punching out and we’re getting pressure on the puck. We’re taking walls away and we’re shutting down the middle. We’re shutting down teams with speed,” Hedley said.
“Wayway has got some speed. They work hard. And we shut them down, speedwise. And the same thing with OCN. That’s a tough building to win in. It doesn’t matter what their record is, they come at you hard. So you really have to make sure you stay the course. The team structure was very good the last three games.”
Saturday’s game marked the return of defenceman Landon Russell, who played up front with fellow rearguard Marc-Antoine Couture. The two defencemen played forward due to suspensions to forwards Riley Buller and Jaxon Heeney following an altercation at the end of Friday’s win in Waywayseecappo. Leeam Tivers is still out with an injury and Smith had a sore leg after getting hit with the puck, Friday.
“I thought they gave us some energy. They played very well and had some opportunities. I was very happy with them. Sammy (Mouland) played well in the middle,” Hedley said.
The Kings are waiting to find out if either Buller or Heeney will be out for more than one game.
Dauphin has an easy schedule this week with only one game on tap, a home tilt with the Winkler Flyers, Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The focus for the Kings will be to get a little sharper and move the puck better.
“When teams play like Wayway does, very similar to us, we just need to make sure that we use the weak side a little bit more and start getting some speed away from the puck,” he said.
After a road-heavy start to the season, the Kings will be playing at Credit Union Place more. Eight of their 13 games in November will be at home, where they are undefeated at 4-0.
“As long as we play well at home, they could have some fun,” Hedley said.
Kings court: After starting the season with five straight wins, the Wolverines have gone 2-6-1-0 . . . Dauphin’s quirky schedule will see the team play the Winkler Flyers and Swan Valley Stampeders in the next five games. The Kings are home to Winkler, Oct. 26, in Swan Valley, Oct. 30, home to Winkler again, Nov. 2, and Swan Valley, Nov. 3 and in Swan Valley, Nov. 7. Dauphin will also visit Winkler, Nov. 16 and 17, giving them four games against the Flyers in a 10-game span.

Doug Zywina