By Alaska Aces standards this season -- actually, in practically any season for a franchise that owns two Kelly Cups -- their predicament has slid from tough luck to tough times.
That transition came Wednesday night, when the ECHL leaders fell 4-2 to the Colorado Eagles at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo.
Alaska (46-15-7) has lost three straight hockey games in regulation and gone winless in four straight games (0-3-1). If that seems somewhat shy of a crisis warranting intervention, it is the first time this season the Aces have come up so short for so long on either front.
Prefacing Wednesday's loss were two regulation losses and an overtime loss to the Idaho Steelheads, all on the Aces' home ice at Sullivan Arena.
In losing Wednesday's opener of a three-game series, the Aces also had their 11-game road point streak snapped -- that 7-0-4 run in hostile rinks ranked as the second-longest in the franchise's 10 ECHL seasons. The Aces also had their six-game road winning streak, which tied a club record, snatched from them.
About the only thing good that happened to the Aces on Wednesday occurred in a different rink. Ontario's 5-3 win at Idaho reduced Alaska's magic number for winning the Mountain Division over Idaho to just three points -- any combination of Aces points won and Steelheads points lost equaling three gives Alaska the division crown.
Yet Ontario's victory also pulled the Reign within four points of the Aces -- Alaska owns a 99-95 edge in points -- and held the Aces' magic number at seven for winning a third straight Brabham Cup as regular-season champions of the 23-team circuit.
The Aces have four games remaining in the 72-game regular season, all on the road, including games Friday and Saturday in Colorado (33-28-6) before closing with two games at Ontario next week. Ontario and Idaho each have five games left, and continue their three-game series in Boise on Friday and Saturday.
The Aces never led Wednesday, and they have never led in the last four games.
Colorado's Kyle Ostrow opened the scoring with a power-play rebound goal just 82 seconds into the game and Alaska rookie winger Tim Hall answered four minutes later with his first goal as a pro. But Eagles defenseman Aaron Schneekloth and Ostrow delivered second-period goals, and Tommy Lange's third-period goal pushed the home team's lead to 4-1.
Aces winger Alexandre Imbeault, back after missing four games, and eight of the last 13, with a bum back, scored with less than six minutes to go to cut Colorado's lead to 4-2. But the Aces came up empty on a power play soon after that, missing a chance to put the squeeze on the Eagles.
The Eagles worked over the Aces in the first period for a 17-7 edge in shots and owned a 32-18 advantage through two periods on the way to a 36-26 cushion for the game. That marked just the eighth time in 68 games that the Aces have allowed more than 35 shots in a game.
Shuffling the deck
Aces leading scorer Nick Mazzolini was held without a shot on goal for just the fourth time in his 66 games this season.
Still, Mazzolini did furnish the assist on Imbeault's goal and his 35-33--68 totals in 66 games ties him for sixth in the league in points. His 35 goals rank second.
Aces captain Steve Ward returned to the lineup after missing one game as a precaution and assisted on Hall's goal.
Defenseman Brett Ponich, who the St. Louis Blues assigned to the Aces this week from Peoria of the American Hockey League, made his Aces debut.
The six power plays Colorado enjoyed -- the Eagles scored once -- equalled the number of power plays Idaho had in three victories over Alaska last week.
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Aces 1 0 1 -- 2
Colorado 1 2 1 -- 4
First Period -- 1, Colorado, Ostrow 10 (Costello, Schneekloth), 1:22 (pp); 2, Aces, Hall 1 (Hughes, Ward), 4:36. Penalties -- Trupp, Aces (high-sticking), :37; Ponich, Aces (high-sticking), 7:07; Bidwell, Colorado (interference), 13:18; Hall, Aces (goaltender interference), 14:16; Lange, Colorado, major (fighting), 17:31; Clackson, Aces, major (fighting), 17:31.
Second Period -- 3, Colorado, Schneekloth 6 (Ulanski), 9:25; 4, Colorado, Ostrow 11 (Forney, Costello), 14:34. Penalties -- Smeltzer, Colorado (tripping), 12:03; Forney, Colorado (tripping), 19:39.
Third Period -- 5, Colorado, Lange 2 (Bowman, Forney), 8:04; 6, Aces, Imbeault 18 (Mazzolini), 14:30. Penalties -- Ward, Aces (hooking), :41; Crum, Aces (slashing), 9:02; Curry, Aces (roughing), 10:55; Strueby, Colorado (hooking), 16:14.
Shots on goal -- Aces 7-11-8--26. Colorado 17-15-4--36.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 for 4. Opponent 1 for 6.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 21-6-2 (36 shots-32 saves). Colorado, Brown, 21-12-1 (26-24).
A -- 5,289 (5,289). T -- 2:25.
Referee -- Geoff Miller. Linesmen -- Butch Mousseaux, John Shaw.
By DOYLE WOODY