Call it a case of oh-so-close, but still oh-so-far for the struggling Kelowna Rockets.
Nino Niederreiter had an assist for Port-land in his first game back in the WHL after spending nine games with the New York Islanders, as the host Winterhawks beat the Rockets 4-2 in WHL action on Friday night. Kelowna put in a spirited effort against the league’s best team, but Portland, leading 2-1 midway through the third period, pulled away with two late goals.
The end result may have been different had Kelowna not went 0-for-9 on the power play. However, in what’s been a season-long trend, the Rockets couldn’t cash in when it counted.
“The effort was there and that’s something positive we can take out of tonight’s game,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “But we have to start generating some offence, and that starts with the power play. When we have chances to score, we haven’t been good, and that’s something we have to bear down on.”
Joe Morrow and Riley Boychuk, with goals in the first, plus Brad Ross, with his seventh goal of the season, and Sven Bartschi, with his 10th, scored for Portland (11-2-0-1), which won its fourth in a row. Morrow made it 1-0 at 8:45 of the first on the power play, while Boychuk made it 2-1 eight minutes later. Ross and Bartschi, respectively, made it 3-1 and 4-1 at 15:32 and 15:59 of the third. Cody Chikie, with two goals, replied for Kelowna (4-9-0-0). The loss was the Rockets’ fourth in fifth games. Chikie levelled the score at 1-1 at 9:04 of the first period with his first goal of the season. His second of the night came at 19:57 of the third to close out the scoring.
Adam Brown made 32 saves for Kelowna, while Mac Carruth turned aside 33 shots for the Winterhawks, who again host the Rockets tonight. Portland, meanwhile, was 1-for-8 on the power play in a game played before just 2,448 fans.
Kelowna’s power play is now rated at 11.0 per cent (nine goals on 82 chances), the second worst percentage in the WHL, with Lethbridge bottoming out at 8.5 per cent (5-59). However, when it comes to just road games, Kelowna’s power play is an incredibly low 5.9 per cent, with just two goals in 34 chances over five games.
“I was happy with the effort from the players, but, as I said, we just have to find a way to put it together,” said Huska. “We missed some glorious chances late in the game to tie it up. Now, we have to regroup and try to get (the win) tomorrow.”
Huska added that his team “needs to learn how to win. We haven’t been great so far and when we get an effort like this, we need to find a way to get more push from the players. We were close, but close isn’t good enough. It’s about wins.”
ICE CHIPS: Kelowna’s scratches were D Brendon Wall (concussion), D Mitchell Chapman (fifth game of a six-game suspension for kneeing), C Andreas Stene and C Gal Koren. . . . Earning assists for Kelowna were Damon Severson, Geordie Wudrick and Colton Sissons.
In what has to be the most disappointing web story of Nino's return to the WHL and Portland, click here. Don't worry. The read won't take long.