KELOWNA — The Red Deer Rebels suffered their fourth consecutive WHL road loss Wednesday despite — in the opinion of GM/head coach Brent Sutter — being the superior team.
“Actually our team played pretty well tonight,” said Sutter, following a 5-4 loss to the Kelowna Rockets in front of 4,875 patrons at Prospera Place.
“We had the puck for 65 to 70 per cent of the game. We took a couple of minors in the first period and because our penalty kill has been struggling they scored two goals against us, then we made a couple of puck management mistakes in our own end.
“But when you score four goals you need to win, so that tells you the areas you need to work on.”
The Rockets got a pair of first-period power-play goals from Cal Foote and Dillon Dube before the Rebels responded with successive second-period markers off the sticks of Ivan Nikolishin and Haydn Fleury.
But Dube restored Kelowna’s lead before the period ended and Gordie Ballhorn increased the margin to two goals five minutes into the final frame.
From there, Red Deer forward Grayson Pawlenchuk closed the gap with his fifth of the year at 9:06, Tyson Baillie potted the eventual winner just over two minutes later and defenceman Colton Bobyk brought the Rebels back to within one with a power-play goal at 17:17.
But the Rebels couldn’t get a fifth shot past Rockets netminder Jackson Whistle, who finished with 30 saves. Rylan Toth stopped 22 shots for the Rebels.
“I thought we had a real good first period. Our second period was better and our third was better than our second,” said Sutter. “We were the better team tonight. But again, we were too loose. We have to tighten up in our own zone.”
The Rebels boss was upset over Tuesday’s 3-1 loss at Kamloops due his club’s lack of intensity, especially in the offensive zone. He didn’t have the same complaints 24 hours later.
“Tonight you look at it and think, ‘geez, why didn’t we win?’ It came down to a couple or three mistakes,” said Sutter.
“There was also one goal that Tother should have had … it’s stuff like that that kills you.
“We’re going through a tough time right now and we have to learn from it.”
The Rebels are in Victoria Friday to face the Royals, then conclude their four-game trip with a Saturday date with the Vancouver Giants.
“We have to go into Victoria with the same mindset as we had tonight,” said Sutter.
• Sutter removed the captain’s ‘C’ from Conner Bleackley earlier Wednesday and handed it to fellow forward Wyatt Johnson.
“Conner has a lot of stuff going on with him mentally and it’s affecting his game,” said Sutter.
“I’m trying to take some pressure off his shoulders with this move so he can focus on playing like the good player that he is.”