The hockey gods giveth, and the hockey gods taketh away.
The Kamloops Blazers, who went 12-0-0 in October, find themselves on a four-game WHL losing skid after being beaten 3-1 by the Winterhawks in Portland on Sunday night.
"Right now," Blazers head coach Guy Charron said Monday, "when we do have the opportunities, they're not going in. Consequently, we have to make sure we get back to working harder and smarter."
The setback in Portland followed a 4-2 loss to the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Wash., on Saturday. One night before that, the Blazers were beaten 5-2 by the Chiefs in Spokane.
In November, the Blazers (17-5-1), who will play their next seven games at home, have lost five of six contests. The Winterhawks (16-3-1) will be at Interior Savings Centre on Friday.
Kamloops goes into the week in first place in the WHL's overall standings, two points ahead of Portland, which has won 12 straight and holds three games in hand.
While the Blazers were losing three times in three nights on the weekend, Portland was going 3-0 and outscoring its opposition 21-7.
The Winterhawks now have the WHL's best winning percentage (.825), with the Blazers second (.761).
Charron admitted that his players "are getting frustrated."
He added: "They're saying, 'Why was it going so well for a whiile and then all of a sudden there are stumbling blocks?' "
Opposing teams have watched video of the Blazers' early-season success. The result is that those teams have clamped down on the Blazers' big line - Colin Smith, JC Lipon and Tim Bozon have combined for seven points this month - and the power play. The Blazers are 1-for-24 with the man advantage this month, while surrendering five PP goals in 23 opportunities.
It is, Charron said, all about adjustments.
"Smitty's line is going to get checked on the road," he said. "It's not going to be an easy matchup to get away from their checking lines and that's why you need secondary offence."
The secondary offence is hurting because two of three 20-year-old forwards are injured. Dylan Willick (broken ankle) isn't likely to return before Christmas. Jordan DePape went down with what is believed to be a shoulder injury in the first period in Portland and is questionable for Friday's rematch.
"It limits our secondary scoring and we have to work through it," Charron said.
As for the power play, he said the lack of a big shot from the point - a role filled last season by Austin Madaisky - is hurting.
"We try a lot of the same plays," Charron explained. "What's missing right now to change the makeup of our power play is a real point threat, a guy who can really shoot the puck hard. When you know that a team's power-play success is all on low play, you just collapse because they know there's no big shooter on the point."
Without the big shot, the Blazers are going to have to become more creative with the man advantage.
"Right now," Charron said, "we're sticking to the things that went well for us and it's not quite working."
Meanwhile, things are working rather well for Portland these days.
The Winterhawks, who were 2-for-8 on the power play, got two goals from freshman forward Oliver Bjorkstrand and one from veteran Taylor Leier.
Smith scored for the Blazers early in the third period, cutting into a 3-0 deficit.
Portland goaltender Mac Carruth, who is 9-0-0, stopped 24 shots, nine fewer than the Blazers' Taran Kozun (5-1-1).
On Saturday night, Brendan Ranford and Smith scored for the Blazers, who got 22 saves from goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
Justin Feser, with a goal and two assists, led the Americans. Mitch Topping, Zach Yuen and Connor Rankin scored for the Americans. Goaltender Eric Comrie stopped 21 shots for Tri-City.
JUST NOTES: Lipon and Smith picked up their equipment at the arena on Monday and were to leave for Vancouver this morning. They will watch Team WHL play a touring Russian side in a Subway Super Series game there on Wednesday, and then will suit up in the series finale Thursday in Victoria. . . . Lipon continues to lead the WHL scoring race, with 43 points, while Smith is second, at 42. . . . The Winterhawks' winning streak is the franchise's longest since a 15-gamer in 1997-98 that ran from Jan. 9 to Feb. 10. . . . Portland F Brendan Leipsic had two assists to run his point streak to eight games. . . . Madaisky scored his first professional goal Friday as his Evansville IceMen dropped a 5-2 ECHL decision to the host Fort Wayne Komets.
© Kamloops Daily News