By Evan Daum

It seems the only thing standing between the Edmonton Oil Kings and another run at the WHL title now resides solely in the mirror.

Gone are the caveats about health, or players being away trying their hand at cracking an NHL roster. Enter increased expectations.

But even with defenders Martin Gernat, who is back from off-season shoulder surgery and Griffin Reinhart, who returned to the lineup after being cut from the New York Islanders camp, in the lineup together for the first time this season, it was the Medicine Hat Tigers who skated away with a 2-1 win Friday night at Rexall Place in front of 8,481 fans.

“I thought that Med Hat had a pretty good, honest work ethic and I just don’t think our guys responded to the energy level,” Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal explained. “We’re just not generating any offence – really perimeter and I know the guys are frustrated.”

“Sometimes you go through those psychological, energy funks that you have as a team and I think that’s kind of hit us right now. And we’re not scoring a lot, we’re not generating a lot of quality scoring chances.”

“I didn’t think our back end was sharp tonight. I thought we bobbled a lot of pucks and you generate a lot of your offence and a lot of your flow through the back end and we looked just a little bit out of sync.”

Edmonton’s loss to the Tigers, who, with the victory, improved their record to 21-22-2-1 on the season, was the first time all season the Oil Kings had every piece they could’ve hoped for heading into the season at their disposal. They also had David Musil and Trevor Cheek in the lineup.

“Every team has off games. It has nothing to do with us having a full lineup and not being used to playing with each other, or not,” defencemen Keegan Lowe pointed out. “The fact of the matter is it’s only a couple guys that we were missing, or just came back now. For the most part, the bulk of our team has been together all year, so we can’t say it was that. We just didn’t have our best game.”

Despite that luxury, however, Edmonton came out on the wrong end of the scoreboard for a second consecutive night, less than 24 hours after Laxdal had called out his squad for being outworked in a 4-1 loss to the Rebels in Red Deer.

“They’ve played pretty hard for (me) all year here and you’ve got to be careful coming down on them, but I kind of rotated guys a little bit in and out here tonight. When guys weren’t playing well I bumped them down,” Laxdal pointed out. “Our guys are trying to work hard, it’s just sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”

Just like it had been a night earlier, Friday saw the Oil Kings skate into the locker-room behind the eight ball after 20 minutes.

A five-on-three power-play marker from Medicine Hat’s Trevor Cox past Edmonton’s Tristan Jarry 14:41 into the opening frame got the scoring started. The home side had paid the price with both Gernat and Henrik Samuelsson serving time in the penalty box.

After centre Elgin Pearce stretched the Tigers lead to 2-0 just over midway through the second, the Oil Kings got a glimmer of offensive life courtesy of Lowe’s 11th of season.

The veteran blue-liner’s goal, however, would be all the offence for the Oil Kings on the night, as 20-year old Medicine Hat goalie Cam Lanigan shut the door in the third. He stopped 12 shots in the frame to lift the Tigers to their first win of the season over their Central Division rivals.

“We’re getting a little bit unlucky. You saw two broken sticks in the last minute, but it’s not all luck,” Lowe said. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is we’ve got to start going to the hard areas a little bit more and that’s how 80 per cent of the goals in the National Hockey League are scored.”

“We can’t expect it to be pretty all the time and that’s something big that we have to learn.”

Edmonton will look to snap its two-game losing skid Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. when former Oil Kings winger Klarc Wilson, who was traded to Prince George earlier this month at the WHL trade deadline, returns to Rexall Place.