For the second straight night, the Lloydminster Bobcats were only able to muster one goal, and the result was the team's second straight loss as they fell to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons 3-1 at the Centennial Civic Centre.
“It was a worse performance tonight than it was yesterday,” said Bobcats Coach and GM Gord Thibodeau. “When you're getting out-gritted, out-toughed, and out-battled by the last place team, it tells you something.”
PHOTO: FIVEPENNY PHOTOS
With the score sitting at 1-1 in the third period, Fort McMurray was able to take the lead for the second time of the game as Oil Barons forward Ben Sharf sent a puck on net from outside the Bobcats zone. The puck deflected off of a stick, and 'Cats goaltender Pierce Diamond was unable to track the puck as it arced through the air and over top of the netminder into the net with less than seven minutes to play.
Diamond and his counterpart Ravi Dattani had settled into a showdown for much of the game, as the score remained 1-1 for 41:10 after each team struck in the opening frame. Diamond came up with a number of big saves, including a breakaway stop on Oil Barons forward Jackson McKinstry earlier in the third period, but was fooled by the long knuckler that would stand as the game winner.
Late in the game, with the Bobcats battling to even the score, the game's temperature rose as Bobcats captain Taylor Mulder dropped the gloves with Fort McMurray forward Lindsay McLellan in a heavyweight tilt, with both players disregarding defence and throwing punches with abandon. The scrap came to a conclusion as Mulder brought McLellan to his knees with a hard right, and although McLellan bounced back up, the linesmen stepped in. After the tussle was sorted out, the 'Cats set out to get back in the game, but the Oil Barons were able to offset the attack as the puck broke free into the neutral zone and Austin Holmes sealed the game with a breakaway goal into the empty net with 0:49 remaining.
Like last night against Sherwood Park, the visiting team found the back of the net first, as Cole Todd picked up a rebound off of a shot from Holmes in front of Diamond, and outwaited the 'Cats goaltender to make it 1-0 Oil Barons just past the midway point of the first period. Unlike last night, the Bobcats would quickly answer back.
Just 1:46 after Todd's marker, Bobcats forward Evan Tschumi accepted a pass from Connor Odelein through the middle of the Oil Barons defence to get in alone on Dattani. Tschumi made good on his opportunity, and put a wrist shot past Dattani's glove hand to bring the game even at one. For Tschumi, the goal was his first since returning from suspension four games against Grande Prairie, and his fifth on the season.
From that point forward, Dattani shut the door on the Bobcats as they finished the game with 38 shots on goal, but the 20 year-old goaltender came up with 37 saves to help his team to their third victory of the year.
For the third time in as many games, the Bobcats failed to convert on the man advantage, going 0 for 5 on the powerplay over the course of the game. Dating back to Wednesday's victory in Drumheller, the 'Cats powerplay has now failed to convert on 11 consecutive opportunities. However, the home team's penalty kill was perfect on the evening, killing off all four Oil Barons opportunities.
The Bobats will now have five days to assess this weekend's performance before Friday night's matchup on home ice against the Calgary Canucks, and Thibodeau hinted change may be on the way.
“It's that time of the year when guys are starting to show you some things, and unfortunately they're not showing us the things we need to see. I was hoping that we could hang on before having to make any more roster moves, but it's clear that's not going to be the case,” said Thibodeau. “We're going to have to get out there and look for some players that want to play the style that we want. It's clear that they did that for a little while, but they think they're a finesse team now and that's not what we want.”
Paired with a night off for the Spruce Grove Saints, the loss means that the Bobcats are now tied at the top the Alberta Junior Hockey League. That fact is little consolation for the team at this point, coming off of a pair of deflating losses on home ice this weekend.
With 37 games remaining on the schedule, there will certainly be more ups and downs along the way, but this is the biggest adversity that the team has faced so far this season. Riding a losing streak for the first time, it will be a long five days for this Lloydminster team ahead of Friday night.