The old adage, ‘it gets late really early’ is about to apply to the Trail Smoke Eaters if they can’t halt a four-game losing streak this weekend.
The Smokies suffered a 9-5 drubbing at the hands of the Vernon Vipers on Saturday night, and likely deserved better on Sunday, but squandered a 3-2 third-period lead in a 5-3 loss to the Powell River Kings, falling further out of contention for a playoff spot.
“The effort was better Sunday than it was on Saturday night,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Craig Clare. “I think what we’re lacking right now is execution and really just a consistent effort.”
Powell River’s J.J. Coleshaw scored the winning goal on a power play 3:56 into the third period when he tipped in a Jacob Pritchard point shot to give the Kings a 4-3 lead.
The loss drops the Smokies nine points out of the fourth and final playoff spot currently held by the Merritt Centennials, who took 5-of-6 points on the weekend with two wins and a an overtime loss.
“For our group it’s time to hopefully just re-energize here and understand where we are at in our division and where we need to get to,” said Clare. “We’re not out of this thing by any point, but we need to turn it around quickly to give ourselves an opportunity to get back in the playoff picture.”
The Smoke Eaters came out flying against the Kings and it seemed two points was almost a certainty facing a short-handed and road-weary Powell River team. The Kings were coming off a 3-1 loss to Penticton on Saturday, and a 4-3 OT loss to Surrey Friday, and playing without top forwards Jarod Lukosevicius, and Kurt Keats, defenceman Carmine Buono and goalie Stefan Wornig who are attending the Western Junior A Challenge selection camp in Calgary. Kings’ Coach Kent Lewis said there was no way to replace four of his top six players, so was very happy with the result.
“We needed a gutsy effort, and we told the guys, ‘no excuses,’ we’re minus a lot of big guys in our lineup and we’ll just go out and play our game,” said Lewis. “It was greasy . . . We have to find ways to win ugly ones, and today, I’m proud of the effort, and the penalty kill.It gives us three points out of six on the road, which is average, but contemplating we only had one coming into today, it’s a good day.”
Trail forward Dallas Calvin opened the scoring on the power play, tipping in a Zuccarini slap-pass from the top of the circle to give the Smokies a 1-0 lead. But Powell River responded at 16:34 when Johnny Evans jumped on a rebound and lifted it over a sprawling Adam Todd.
The Kings would then take the lead on the power play, as Pritchard wheeled from behind the net and wristed it by Todd to make it 2-1 with two minutes remaining in the first period.
The Smokies drew even in the second when Paulsen Lautard finished a 2-on-1, firing in a pretty behind-the-back pass from Kienan Scott with 3:12 remaining in the middle frame. The Smokies dominated the game over the first two periods outshooting the Kings 27 to 16, but were tied at two heading into the third.
With 50 seconds remaining in a penalty to Pritchard to start the final frame, it took Calvin only 33 seconds before netting his second on the night and fifth of the season. The Trail native took a Jake Lucchini feed and labeled the top corner with a wrist shot from the high slot to beat Powell River goalie Brett Magnus and give the Smokies a 3-2 edge.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Pritchard scored 26 seconds later to tie it, and after Coleshaw’s winner, Mitchell Hawes would add an insurance marker jumping on a loose puck to make it 5-3.
The Smokies had two power play chances in the final seven minutes to get back in the game but could not generate any sustained pressure, even with a 6-on-4 advantage after pulling Todd with over three minutes remaining.
“There’s no easy answer,” said Clare. “You got a team coming in that is probably tired and a little bit short manned. We were all over them for the first 10 minutes and really the game could have been over at that point, but they hung around, and hung around, they gained some confidence and built off their energy, and every mistake we made ended up in the back of our net.”
The Smokies outshot the Kings 37-29, with both teams going 2-for-5 on the power play. Kings goalie Magnus was first star, Jeremy LeClerc second star and Trail’s Lautard third star.
The loss follows hard on a forgettable effort against the Vipers where Vernon jumped out to a 5-1 first-period lead on their way to a 9-5 victory.
Lautard was a bright spot for the Smokies getting the third-star nod in both weekend matches. The Midway native had a goal and an assist against the Vipers, while Jake Lucchini had a goal and two assists, and Calvin picked up three helpers. Connor Brown-Maloski, Connor Wynne, and Zuccarini netted the other goals for the Smokies, while Trail native Riley Brandt had a goal and an assist for the Snakes. Luke Shiplo picked up four assists for the Vipers, while Thomas Aldworth scored twice, and Blaine Caton had a goal and two assists.