CALGARY — It was on Oct. 2 that the Red Deer Rebels were not assessed a single minor penalty during a 5-1 home-ice win over the Swift Current Broncos.
That infraction-free evening must now seem like two months ago to Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose club coughed up three power play goals Friday in a 4-1 Western Hockey League loss to the Calgary Hitmen before 6,370 fans at the Saddledome.
Not coincidentally, the Rebels — after four straight wins to open the season — suffered their first loss Tuesday at Lethbridge while surrendering three goals while short-handed.
“We’re taking bad penalties and our penalty killing is bad. Our penalty kill is not doing things right so we have to make some changes,” said Sutter.
The Hitmen struck first Friday as Travis Sanheim beat Rebels netminder Rylan Toth at 11:19 of the opening frame with Red Deer forward Evan Polei off for hooking.
“The costly penalties we’re taking are stick infraction penalties,” said Sutter. “You can’t take the tripping and hooking penalties.
“The penalties are bad enough, but when the (opposition) power play starts off the faceoff, we’re losing the draws. That’s a killer.”
Ivan Nikolishin drew the Rebels even with his fourth goal of the season at 12:55 of the first period, but just as Red Deer defenceman Colton Bobyk stepped back on the ice after serving a tripping penalty, Hitmen rearguard Jake Bean notched the eventual winner at 15:25.
The Hitmen then potted back-to-back power play tallies early in the second period, with Radel Fazleev and Bean pulling the trigger. The game was scoreless the rest of the way.
“Five-on-five, I thought we were right there,” said Sutter, identifying a positive. “The shots on goals were pretty close.
“During the first period and the last 10 to 12 minutes of the second, we were pretty good. It’s just the penalties you take, they shift momentum. You have momentum then take a bad penalty and they score on it. It kills you. It kills your momentum.
“We’re not playing smart. We talked the last two days about being more disciplined and not taking bad penalties. And then we come out tonight and take stick infraction penalties again.”
Hitmen netminder Lasse Petersen made 22 saves, one more than Toth. The hosts were three-for-six on the power play; the Rebels zero-for-three.
The clubs tangle again tonight at the Centrium.
“We have to regroup, we have a chance to play the same team again,” said Sutter. “Obviously these series within the (Central) division are huge.”
The Rebels will head west Monday on a B.C. division road trip that will start Tuesday at Kamloops and will also include visits to Kelowna, Victoria and Vancouver.