The season is still early, just nine games in, but Red Deer GM/head coach Brent Sutter has already seen this act too many times.
Three nights after gassing a 4-1 second-period lead and falling 6-4 to the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings, the Rebels laid an even bigger egg Tuesday in front of a recorded gathering of 3,831 at the Enmax Centrium.
Sutter watched his club roar out to a 4-0 lead after one period, then he viewed a horror show as the Victoria Royals stormed back for a 6-5 WHL overtime win.
“There’s no excuse. You have control of the hockey game again, you’re playing the right way and then you stop working and start getting outworked and taking bad penalties,” said the Rebels boss.
The Royals completed their comeback when Tyler Soy buried a rebound 1:09 into overtime. Towering six-foot-six Victoria forward Axel Blomqvist forced extra time with a goal at 19:03 of the third period, banking a shot off Rebels netminder Rylan Toth that found the back of the net.
Blomqvist scored from behind the goal line despite the close presence of two Rebels defencemen.
“On the tying goal we have two defencemen fighting for the same puck behind the net and neither one of them get it,” said Sutter. “You should never ever have two defencemen behind the net. In that situation there should always be one defenceman in front of the net. That’s just basic, simple hockey.”
The Rebels were a high-flying crew in the opening 20 minutes, scoring three goals in the first 10 minutes and chasing Royals starting goalie Coleman Vollrath.
Adam Musil connected just 47 seconds in, one-timing a volley from the low slot after taking a nifty feed from Wyatt Johnson.
Scott Feser cashed his own rebound two minutes later with Royals rearguard Travis Brown serving an unsportsmanlike penalty, and Johnson broke to the net and buried a timely pass from rookie Jeff de Wit at 10:04. Then, with just over four minutes remaining in the period, Grayson Pawlenchuk worked a give-and-go with Conner Bleackley that Pawlenchuk eventually finished when the puck came off the post.
It appeared that the rout was truly on, but the visitors weren’t buying into that scenario.
“We didn’t play our game in the first period. We realized that and the boys talked it out (during the intermission),” said Brown. “Coach (Dave) Lowry came in and wasn’t screaming or yelling, he just told us we can be better and we knew we could and came out and showed that.”
Still, the visitors didn’t get on the board until late in the second period when Brandon Fushimi, following a Red Deer turnover at centre ice, raced in on a short-handed breakaway and deposited the puck behind Toth.
With Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury serving a roughing infraction called as the second period expired, the Royals got a goal from Austin Carroll 1:21 into the third frame. From there, Matthew Campese beat Toth with a high shot during a two-one-one break two minutes later, and Jack Walker scored on a power-play slapshot from the top of the circle at 11:03.
“When you start the third period like that (short-handed) you have to bear down,” said Sutter. “You give up a power-play goal, then give up a two-on-one (goal) because you make a wrong read on a play.”
Rookie defenceman Austin Strand restored Red Deer’s lead with his first-ever WHL goal at 12:03, his point shot beating a screened Royals back-up goalie Evan Smith.
But the Rebels, who were on their heels for most of the third period, couldn’t hang on for the victory and instead had to settle for a single point that had a rather sour taste.
“It’s unacceptable,” said Johnson. “We can’t be blowing leads, let alone a 4-0 lead.”
The third-year Red Deer forward insisted he and his teammates didn’t feel any extra pressure as the visitors gradually closed the gap.
“It shouldn’t be like that at all,” he said.
“We have to stick to our structure throughout the game. We got off our game plan and started taking penalties and the puck ended up in the back of our net. Just the way we played after the first period . . . it’s unacceptable.”
The shots on goal were 25-17 in favour of Red Deer after 40 minutes, but ended 34-29 in favour of the visitors. Vollrath stopped seven of the 10 shots he faced, Smith blocked 17 of the 19 he saw the rest of the way, and Toth finished with 28 saves.
“We just didn’t think the game the right way in the last half, we just weren’t smart,” said Sutter. “We got out-competed, outworked along the boards. What did we have, a dozen, maybe 13 or 14 shots the last half of the game?
“It’s frustrating. We didn’t play right the last half of the game and we got nailed again. You’re not going to win many games giving up five and six goals. That’s something we are certainly discussing with these guys . . . about being better defensively, being more responsible. Good defensive teams are hard-working teams and teams that will pay a price to do things right with and without the puck.
“That’s the way hockey works — if you’re not good defensively, it doesn’t matter how talented your team is, eventually it’s going to nail you and it nailed us against tonight.”
The Rebels closed out their three-game homestand without a victory and head east Thursday for meetings with the Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders Friday and Saturday.