After a couple of weeks of come-from-behind victories, this past week the Kings were the ones giving up the lead in a pair of losses.
The Kings had their four-game winning streak snapped Oct. 9 in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Niagara Falls Canucks, and followed it up with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Kitchener Dutchmen on Tuesday night.
In the Saturday afternoon tilt against the Canucks, Elmira opened the scoring 6:06 into the first period with a powerplay goal from Zach Salomon, assisted by Jarred Parent and Colton Wolfe-Sabo, but gave up three straight goals to Niagara Falls.
“That was probably our weakest game of the season – we struggled,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway. “There are times where we struggle for shifts, or a period, but for the most part that was 60 minutes where we really struggled.”
After the offensive outburst from the Canucks, the Kings responded with three goals of their own. The first from Lukas Baleshta at 16:30 of the second period with the man advantage, assisted by Devon Wagner, then another powerplay goal from Josh MacDonald at 6:11 of the third, assisted by Brennon Pearce and Jonathan Rizzo, and finally Wade Pfeffer gave the Kings their second lead of the night at 9:42 of the third, assisted by Baleshta.
Niagara Falls tied it up at 13:17 with a shorthanded goal by Eric Diodati to force overtime, and George Dunn capped the comeback for the Canucks with an unassisted goal at 4:53 of OT.
Haddaway thinks that the Kings got away from their forechecking and tight defensive game to play the run-and-gun style of hockey that Niagara Falls enjoys. The Canucks are fourth in the league in scoring with 62 goals, compared to 34 goals for the Kings.
“That’s not the type of game we want to play. They’re a very offensive-minded team, but that’s not what we are. Maybe we tried to get caught up in their game and maybe we just got away from our game plan a little bit.”
Nick Horrigan was in net for the loss, stopping 33 of the 38 shots he faced.
A couple of nights later, the Kings were in a tough game against the Kitchener Dutchmen. Elmira got off to another good start when Baleshta scored his fourth goal of the year and his second in as many games for the Kings on the powerplay at 8:25 of the first, assisted by Wolfe-Sabo and Josh Woolley.
Elmira took a two-goal lead just over a minute into the second when Brady Campbell scored his fifth of the year at 1:16, assisted by Pfeffer and Spencer MacCormack.
Kitchener responded quickly, though. Gian Paul Delle Donne scored on the powerplay at 5:39, and Connor Voigt tied it up for the Dutchmen less than a minute later at 6:13.
Neither team could score in the third or in overtime, which meant the Kings would be playing in their first shootout of the year. All three Kings shooters – Brad Kraus, Brady Campbell and Josh MacDonald – were stopped in their shootout attempt, and Ryan Clarkson scored the lone goal for Niagara Falls to take the victory.
Haddaway said he hasn’t put much emphasis on the shootout early on this year.
“We’ve had a couple practices where we’ve done a shootout to have a little fun, but we probably should spend more time practicing it.”
The coach, however, isn’t too concerned with the outcome.
“Yes it’s a point we’d rather have than give up, but there are no shootouts in the playoffs. This is a team that while I’ve been here hasn’t done real well in shootouts, and has always done well in overtime in the playoffs.”
He also says that the game probably should have never gone to overtime. If a couple of bad bounces for the Kings – such as when Kraus hit a crossbar, and when an easy tap-in goal slid right through the Kitchener crease – had gone the other way, the game would have had a very different outcome. He is also pleased with how his team managed to adjust following the loss to Niagara.
“Kitchener is a really good team. Going into that game we tried to tighten things up defensively after what happened in Niagara Falls, and I thought we did a really good job.”
The loss pushed Kitchener into a tie with Elmira for second in the Midwestern Conference with 14 points, with the Kings having played two fewer games. Matthew Smith finished with 26 saves in the loss.
The Kings have a tough schedule ahead with three straight games this weekend. The team travelled to Listowel Friday night before returning home Saturday to face the Waterloo Siskins. They wrap up the weekend Sunday against the Brantford Golden Eagles. The puck drops at 7 p.m. for both games at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena.