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Langley-based Giants put focus on improving special teams

Giants goaltender Ryan Kubic certainly can
Giants goaltender Ryan Kubic certainly can't be blamed for the team's sub.-500 start to the WHL season. He's been a game star in three of the team's last four contests.
— image credit: Black Press files

by Steve Ewen
Special to the Langley Advance

The Vancouver Giants' record might be better if they had somehow managed to spend more time playing at even strength.

The Giants carry a 7-10 record into their next game, a Friday tilt (7:30 p.m., TSN 1040) against the Kelowna Rockets (9-8-0-0) at the Langley Events Centre. Heading into Wednesday's action across the Western Hockey League, the Giants were ranked 20th in penalty killing (18 goals against, 66 times short, 72.3 per cent success rate) in the 22-team loop.

They also ranked 19th on the power play (9-for-59, 15.3 per cent). Vancouver is the only team to rank in the bottom five in both categories.

It's no secret the Giants had to spend considerable practice time early in the year working on their overall defensive play. They were 1-7-0-0 to kick off the campaign and allowed five or more goals on four occasions in that span.

They have surrendered five or more goals only once since then, and have a 6-3-0-0 mark in that term to show for it. Now, it's going to be interesting to see if coach Jason McKee and his cohorts can get special teams trending in the right direction.

"There are lots of moving parts, lots of guys involved," said McKee. "We have to keep working on it.

"It's just matter of repetition. "We had a lot to work on early. Our 5-on-5 game wasn't close to where it needed to be. All our time was put into that and our 5-on-5 game is leaps and bounds better."

Penalty killing success is often tied to goalie play, but McKee was quick to praise the efforts this season of starting netminder Ryan Kubic.

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CAPTION: Ryan Kubic

Kubic, in his second season as Vancouver's No. 1 option in the crease, has been a game star in three of Vancouver's last four contests. If you're picking the Giants' most valuable player to date, he'd have to be in the conversation. He's 7-8-0-0, with a 3.09 goals against and .902 save percentage.

"I had heard lots of good things about him," said McKee, who's in his first year at the helm of the Giants after moving up from the Alberta Junior A league's Spruce Grove Saints, "and he's been a real positive all year for us. He's given us a chance, and that's what you want from your goaltender."

Recent history in the WHL suggests the penalty kill is the more important special teams assignment. The bottom four teams in the league last season in penalty killing missed the playoffs, including the Giants (77 per cent), who were 19th. In 2014-15, it was three of the last five teams that missed the post-season, including the Giants (76.8 per cent), who were 18th.

Only two of the bottom seven teams in the power-play rankings last season missed the playoffs. The Giants (22.1 per cent) had the league's 11th best man advantage mark. In 2014-15, three of the last five teams on the power play didn't advance to the post-season.

- Steve Ewen is with The Province

• Click here to read more stories from The Province

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