The effort was better but the end result was the same.
One night after turning in a putrid performance in a 4-0 WHL loss to the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings, the Red Deer Rebels had a little more jump in their stride Saturday at the Centrium. However, they fell well short once again, losing 5-2 to the Calgary Hitmen before 5,239 fans.
“I liked the things we did in the first and third periods, but in the second we took eight minor penalties and a lot of guys ended up sitting and got out of the flow of the game,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We got behind the eight-ball and allowed a good team to get momentum. We tried to get back into it in the third but at times tonight it was like we were hitting a wall.
“We have to learn to be a 60-minute team. I thought our work ethic and compete level was certainly better tonight throughout our lineup, but obviously it hasn’t been a good last couple of weeks and we have lots of work to do.”
Despite being outshot 20-8 in the opening period, the Rebels took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission on goals from Conner Bleackley — his team-leading seventh of the season — and Dominik Volek and stellar work from netminder Patrik Bartosak. Bleackley stripped the puck from defenceman Josh Thrower and undressed netminder Chris Driedger at 9:46, and Volek buried a rebound of a Bleackley shot to break a 1-1 tie at 18:38.
But that was it for the Rebels, who were outshot 16-4 in the middle stanza before bouncing back to outshoot their guests 15-10 in the third period, albeit failing to score.
Hitmen captain Jaynen Risling moved in from the blueline and pulled the visitors even with a power-play tally a mere 1:29 into the second period, and Colby Harmsworth and Elliott Peterson connected to give Calgary a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Peterson rounded out the scoring with an empty-net, short-handed goal at 17:58 of the final frame. Jake Virtanen had Calgary’s first-period marker.
Sutter again touched on the lack of guidance shown by his veteran players.
“We have to get everyone to understand that there’s a certain way we have to play and it has to come from our older group. They have to carry the torch with this and show the leadership,” he said.
“Obviously it was a disappointing weekend. We played two rival teams and didn’t get anything out of it. At the end of the day we just weren’t good enough.”
The Rebels were without No. 1 defenceman Haydn Fleury on Saturday. With Fleury, who was hurt Friday and was sporting a pair of crutches 24 hours later, and Kolton Dixon (concussion, indefinite) out of the lineup, the Red Deer blueline featured three rookies.
While he admitted to being concerned about the manner in which his team was owned on back-to-back nights, Sutter said the shortage of experience on the back end hurt.
“I’m not making excuses, but I want to see a full lineup. It’s been a battle here with injuries,” he said.
“We’ve had to use guys who haven’t played in the league before against some top teams and that’s not an easy thing for them.
“Yet you have to learn from it and get better from it. At the same time, there has to be more responsibility from certain players in the dressing room to get better.”
The Hitmen improved to 7-3-0-1 with the victory and looked every bit the part of a contender.
“I think we have the capabilities to be a contender in the east again, for sure,” said Risling.
“It’s still early and guys are still getting used to playing with other people. The coaches are trying different line combinations and kind of getting used to everything that way.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of that so far and hopefully we’ll continue that as the season goes on.”
The Rebels, who host the Saskatoon Blades Friday and the Kootenay Ice Oct. 30 before heading out on a six-game, nine-day road trip that concludes Nov. 9 at Lethbridge, slipped to 6-7-0-0 and into ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
“We fall a game below .500 and we have to have a good week (of practice) here and get ready for next Friday,” said Sutter.
“We have two more games at home before we go on a road trip. Everyone in the conference is hunched together and we have to stay in the pack and find ways to get points.
“This weekend is something we have to be concerned about. We have to recognize and face facts and work to get better.”