By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Wednesday night’s loss encapsulated the Everett Silvertips’ recent struggles.
Everett was on the road against the Western Hockey League’s top team, the Kelowna Rockets. The Tips fell into a 4-1 hole and seemed dead and buried. But Everett built an advantage on the shot clock and pulled within one goal with five minutes remaining.
However, as has become all too familiar the past eight weeks, it didn’t matter how close Everett got to the summit, the Tips couldn’t quite get over the hump.
Everett is mired in a slump in the standings, but it’s a slump that isn’t necessarily backed up by the peripheral statistics.
“The boys are playing hard, we’re in all the games,” Everett defenseman Cole MacDonald said. “We just have to figure out how to play a full 60 minutes and come out on top in those games.”
Prior to Everett’s home game against Portland on Dec. 3, the Tips occupied the top spot in the entire WHL. But since then it’s been a rough road with Everett dropping 14 of its past 19 games and falling to sixth place in the Western Conference standings.
However, the nature of those defeats makes it difficult to categorize Everett’s situation as a slump. Consider:
? Every single one of those 14 losses came at the hands of a team with a current winning percentage of .521 or better. Take the current combined winning percentages of Everett’s opponents in those 14 games and it’s .657.
? All those losses have been close. Of the 14 defeats, six were by one goal and five others included an empty netter by the opposition. Each of Everett’s past 16 contests have either been tied or been a one-goal game in the third period.
Wednesday’s game was just the latest installment. Everett took Kelowna to the limit before the Rockets scored two late empty-net goals to prevail 6-3. It was a scoreline that wasn’t indicative of the game as the Tips outshot Kelowna, which has lost just six times in regulation this season, the entire game until the empty netters drew the Rockets even with Everett at 30 shots apiece.
“There was a point where we were outshooting them by four or five and losing 4-1,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “That kind of told the story. The story would be that we went on the road into a tough team’s building and played a pretty good game.
“We competed hard, we outshot them most of the game, the scoring chances against a good team were pretty close. But they scored per opportunity. When they got their chances they buried them.”
The dip in Everett’s results also is contradicted by the shot totals. The team that possesses the puck more typically gets more shots on goal, and that in turn typically leads to more goals. But that hasn’t been the case for the Tips. In its past 14 losses, Everett outshot its opponent eight times and tied twice. Over the 19-game stretch, the Tips are outshooting their opponents by an average of 32.8-27.5.
So is the contradictory nature of the shots on goal and results a cause for concern, or is it an indication Everett’s luck is bound to change?
“If you look in the league, we’re fourth in the league at the difference in which we outshoot our opponents per night,” Constantine said. “I think that speaks to our overall territorial play. That’s mostly a positive, because territorially we play games that give us an opportunity to win. To put the final touches on those wins, those shot opportunities have to become goals, or it doesn’t matter how many shots you get. I think that’s coming back a little bit from where it was three weeks ago.
“At the other end of the ice, even though we’re giving up less shots than the other team, that has to turn into not very many goals,” Constantine continued. “We need to find the blend of both those things to make those close games we’re playing turn into our favor.”
At least the Tips have evidence that the formula can succeed. Although Everett is 5-11-2-1 in its past 19 games, the Tips were 20-4-4-1 before that. That early success was built on the same type of games Everett is playing now. Now that overage forwards Joshua Winquist and Manraj Hayer are both back following their injuries, the Tips should start converting more of those shots into goals.
“It’s frustrating, for sure,” MacDonald said about the current dry spell. “The first half, the bounces were all going our way, but lately they haven’t. So we just have to keep working hard.”
Everett captain Matt Pufahl is nearing a return, but it likely won’t happen during this weekend’s three-in-three. The overage defenseman has missed the past six games because of a rib injury. His recovery was delayed by a bout with strep throat. … Everett has two other players who will miss the weekend because of injuries. Winger Logan Aasman suffered a broken finger in practice Tuesday and will miss three weeks, while winger Zane Jones is expected to miss two weeks because of an upper-body issue dating back to last Friday’s 2-1 home loss to Spokane.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.