I hope your Christmas was a good one. It was quiet at the Siedlecki household this year, but after a nice break away from the rink, it'll certainly feel good to get back into the swing of things this week. It'll be a busy week for the Canes' as well as they play four games over the next six nights leading into the new year. Tonight the Hurricanes play the Oil Kings in Edmonton and on Wednesday the Oil Kings will make the return visit to Lethbridge. On Thursday, the Hurricanes head back up north to play the Rebels in Red Deer and then on Saturday, the Canes' return home to play host to Swift Current for a New Year's evening game to kick off 2011.
First things first though. After nearly half the season in the books, the Hurricanes will finally take on the only divisional opponent they've yet to face this season. The Edmonton Oil Kings and Lethbridge Hurricanes will battle each other twice over the next three nights and a total of six times between now and the the middle of March. Another one of those little quirks in the schedule, but given how things have gone for both teams this season, it maybe highlights the importance of these head-to-head matches between these two teams.
The Canes' and Oil Kings are two teams going in different directions heading into the unofficial second half of the season. Lethbridge goes into this game with just two wins in it's past 13 games, while Edmonton has been one of the hottest teams in the WHL over the past five weeks with 7 wins in their past 10 games. Edmonton leads the Hurricanes by 3 points in the Eastern Conference standings. If the Canes' can pull out two wins against Edmonton this week in regulation, they would move a point clear of Edmonton and back into the playoff race, but if the Oil Kings pull off back-to-back victories in regulation play that would give Edmonton a 7 point lead on the Canes'. These game are huge. Both teams have played 34 games up to this point in the season.
The Hurricanes are hoping the time off during Christmas will give this group a chance to re-group, re-charge, and re-focus. Maybe the biggest key for this team going into the second half of the season will be staying out of the penalty box. That's been the Canes' biggest challenge this year. They head into tonight's action with 737 PIM on the year, the most in the Eastern Conference. The next few weeks will be interesting too for a lot of teams, including the Hurricanes with the WHL's trade deadline two weeks away. I expect the Hurricanes will attempt to acquire a player or two before the January 10th deadline. It all depends on what they are looking for and what they're willing to give up. As Brad Robson told our Hurricanes This Week talk show a few weeks ago, both Head Coach/GM Rich Preston and Assistant GM Robson have been talking to teams around the league for several days (before the break). How big of a splash the Canes' will make remains to be seen. Robson indicated at that time they would continue talking with teams until the deadline hits.
As for Edmonton, they are lead by Michael St. Croix, Jordan Hickmott, and Dylan Wruck. St. Croix and Wruck lead the Oil Kings in plus/minus. St. Croix is a +13 while Wruck is a +11. These are key games for both teams, but given the Canes' are trying to catch the Oil Kings in the standings, that magnifies things a bit more for Lethbridge.
Tonight's game from Rexall Place is a 7:00 (MST) start. The pre-game show on CJOC at 6:30.
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