Special teams play clearly favours Hitmen in this Battle of Alberta

SCOTT FISHER

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

If the Battle of Alberta comes down to a struggle between special teams, this series will be a short one.

The Hitmen own the top powerplay in the league (30.2%) and the second-best penalty-killing unit (86.6%).

The Oil Kings finished near the bottom of the league in both categories. Their powerplay ranked 17th (17.4%) and the PK was 15th (78.9%).

The disparity between the Central Division rivals was evident in Game 1 of their series Thursday night at the Dome when the visitors came up empty on eight opportunities with the man advantage.

The Hitmen converted on two of six chances.

Edmonton bench boss Steve Pleau said his team needs to play 5-on-5 as much as possible.

"I'd rather play a game against Calgary where they'd get three (penalties) and we'd get one," Pleau said.

"(Game 1) wasn't scripted very well for us."

The Hitmen opened the door -- albeit just slightly -- for the underdog Oil Kings by taking three straight penalties to start the game.

But the WHL regular-season champs killed off all three, scored on their first powerplay, and then shut the door on two more Oil Kings man-advantages.

And that, as they say, was the ol' ball game.

"I thought our last few powerplay chances, we put some pressure on them, which we need to do," Pleau said.

"We didn't score, but we hand end-zone possession, we did have some shots and we did a good job there.

"But we have to capitalize on opportunities."

Foucalt on fire

The Hitmen made the biggest splash at the WHL trade deadline by acquiring league-leading scorer Joel Broda.

And while that move paid dividends in the playoff opener as Broda potted a pair, Hitmen GM Kelly Kisio made another deadline move that has also proven to be a boon.

When he acquired winger Kris Foucault from the Kootenay Ice for little-used forward Ryan Fox, most saw it as a depth move.

Foucault, a Calgarian who had four assists over 40 games with Swift Current and Kootenay, wasn't expected to see much ice.

But the 18-year-old played himself into the lineup, and the ways he's played, he won't see the pressbox again.

Foucault had 16 points in the final 22 regular-season games, and scored the nicest goal in Thursday's post-season opener.

"That was a big goal for our hockey club," said head coach Dave Lowry of the goal that gave his team a 2-0 lead and sparked a three-goal outburt.

"It was at a critical time. That's what we expect and that's what we need."

Playoff experience payoff

The Hitmen have 349 games of playoff experience on their roster. Coming into the series, only two Oil Kings had appeared in the WHL post-season: C Brenden Dowd suited up for three games with Kamloops while G Torrie Jung played 47 minutes with Kelowna.

Edmonton coach Steve Pleau joked his team's "playoff experience is 400 times more after (Game 1)."


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