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Oil Kings rain on Cats' parade

First place was ripe for the taking for the Prince George Cougars. On a night when they had a chance to pass the Vancouver Giants and move into the driver's seat in the WHL's B.C.

First place was ripe for the taking for the Prince George Cougars.

On a night when they had a chance to pass the Vancouver Giants and move into the driver's seat in the WHL's B.C. Division, instead the Cougars picked up a group of road-weary hitchhikers who gave them a rough ride.

The Edmonton Oil Kings ended a nine-game losing streak Saturday at CN Centre with a decisive 7-3 pasting of the Cougars in front of 2,229 witnesses.

"We laid a big egg tonight," said Cougars assistant coach Jason Becker. "First place in the division was on the line and it's been a long time since this team has been able to say that and it's unfortunate we weren't able to step up."

Jon Groenheyde made 32 saves to pick up his first win as an Oil King. The 19-year-old from White Rock was acquired Thursday in a trade from the Kamloops Blazers and provided some stability to a position that has been the weakest link of the Oil Kings.

"It's been a bit of a whirlwind and it was good I got into that game (Friday, to replace Laurent Brossoit) because I didn't have to time to think about it -- I might have got nervous playing for a new team trying to impress the guys and the coaches," said Groenheyde.

"We had a big penalty-kill at the start of the third and that really took the wind out of their sails and then we capitalized on all our chances and that shut them down for the rest of the game."

The Cougars (10-8-1-0) have a long tradition of difficulty winning back-to-back games on home ice against the same team and after doubling the Edmonton 6-3 Friday they fell back to their old habits. Heading into Saturday, the Oil Kings (6-10-0-1) hadn't won since they beat the Cougars 8-7 in overtime Oct. 11 in Edmonton.

"Nothing against the guys we've had, but we haven't had consistent goaltending yet, and Jon played well tonight," said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal. "P.G. is a high-octane team and they've got one of the best power plays in the league and I thought our penalty-killers and goaltending did a good job of shutting down the 5-on-3s in the second and third period."

The Cougars came unraveled early, giving up two shorthanded goals. Jordan Hickmott's one-timer finished off a 2-on-1 break with Josh Lazowski, and T.J. Foster doubled the lead with a shovel shot that slipped past the blade of Rimmer's skate. Nick Buonassisi got one of those back 17 seconds later, on a Cougars' power play, but Hickmott then cashed in a power-play point shot to put Edmonton ahead 3-1.

The Cougars crept back into the game in the second period on goals by Brock Hirsche and Greg Fraser, sandwiched around an even-strength goal from Oil Kings forward Michael St. Croix.

Goals have come in bunches this season for the Cougars and Fraser's goal 14:23 into the second provided a spark. But the Cats' resurgence came to a crashing halt 4:22 into the third period when Stephane Legault put one in off the boot of his skate. The goal was initially ruled by the officials to be kicked in, but upon further video review the goal counted.

From that point on, the Cougars looked a defeated team. They stopped skating, they missed with their passes, and the power play that resulted in four goals Friday fizzled. Just 42 seconds after Legault scored, Josh Lazowski took advantage of a poor clearing attempt to make it 6-3, and Dylan Wruck added insult to injury a few minutes later with a wrist-shot rippler.

"That goal (by Legault) was kind of a backbreaker," said Rimmer. "I think all 2,000 people thought it was kicked in, including myself, and it was pretty rattling, but you have to overcome that adversity sometimes."

Rimmer was the story of Friday's win when he stopped 38 of 41 shots, but looked human on Saturday as his team was outshot 41-35.

"If we're going to give up 40 shots a game, either our goalie has to stand on his head like he did (Friday) or they're going to get some past him," said Cougars assistant coach Jason Becker. We're giving up way too many high quality shots and that's what we have to work on in practice."