A road trip that began well for the Alaska Aces -- two victories extended their winning streak to seven games -- has deteriorated into a tough journey and a three-game losing streak.
And the common thread through this recent skid, which continued with Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Idaho Steelheads in Boise, is the Aces' propensity to very quickly surrender the first goal of the hockey game.
Niklas Lundstrom gave up Brett Robinson's goal from the left wing just 95 seconds into the game at CenturyLink Arena. Wednesday night, in a 4-3 loss at Utah, Lundstrom gave up the opening goal inside the opening two minutes. And last Saturday in California, Lundstrom gave up the opening goal in a 5-3 loss to Stockton before two minutes were played.
While it was hard to pin too much blame on Lundstrom -- after all, he stopped 30 shots for a .938 save percentage -- playing from behind, even early, is generally a losing proposition.
Granted, the Aces (10-12-0) escaped the first period trailing just 1-0. But they mustered a mere two shots on goal on former Aces goaltender Olivier Roy in the opening 20 minutes -- the fewest shots they have delivered in a period this season.
Surrendering an early goal is not just a recent hiccup for the Aces, but a season-long trend. In nine of 22 games this season -- 41 percent of the time -- Alaska has given up the game's first goal inside the opening five minutes, and they are 2-7-0 in those matches. They've managed the first goal of the game inside the five-minute mark on three occasions -- and they're 3-0-0 in those matches.
The Aces remain last in the seven-team Pacific Division, where only the top four finishers will qualify for the Kelly Cup playoffs.
The Aces finally got back on even terms at 1-1 when defenseman Colten Hayes bombed a shot from left point past Roy (22 saves) deep into the second period.
Idaho defenseman Matt Case answered four minutes into the third period with his first goal of the season, swooping down to put home a loose puck for the game winner after Lundstrom made an initial save.
Shuffling the deck
Winger Raphael Bussieres, who sat out Wednesday's game in Utah with sickness, returned to the lineup and assisted on Hayes' goal. He has furnished at least one point in every game since he was assigned to the Aces from Iowa of the American Hockey League and owns 1-4—5 totals in four games with Alaska.
Rookie winger Olivier Archambault's four-game point streak was snapped. Archambault's second straight game without a goal marked the first time in more than one month he hasn't scored a goal in two straight games.
The Aces snapped their streak of three straight games in which they surrendered at least one power-play goal.
Alaska went 0 for 3 on the power play and is just 2 of 19 through five games of a six-game road trip that wraps Saturday night at Idaho.
Idaho rookie Colton Beck, a former UAF winger, assisted on Robinson's goal.
Idaho's plus-nine shot differential -- the Steelheads outshot the Aces 32-23 -- marked the second-most lopsided advantage by an Aces opponent this season. The Steelheads outshot the Aces by 11, 31-20, in Alaska's 3-2 win on Nov. 28 in Anchorage.
The Aces, 2-3-0 on this road trip, are 4-6-0 on the road this season.
Aces 0 1 0 1
Idaho 1 0 1 2
First Period – 1, Idaho, Robinson 2 (MacLeod, Beck), 1:35. Penalties – Livingston, Idaho, major (fighting), 2:06; Cole, Aces, major (fighting), 2:06; Dalhuisen, Idaho, major (fighting), 3:22; DiDiomete, Idaho (elbowing), 6:20; Cameron, Alaska (tripping), 6:27; Beck, Idaho (hooking), 10:51; Cole, Aces (high-sticking), 17:09.
Second Period – 2, Aces, Hayes 3 (Bussieres, Richard), 14:27. Penalties – Johnson, Aces (tripping), 4:47; Quailer, Idaho, major (fighting), 9:21; Jobke, Aces, major (fighting), 9:21; Dodero, Idaho (interference), 9:30; Walters, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:50.
Third Period – 3, Idaho, Case 1 (Bast, Cullity), 4:10. Penalties – None.
Shots on goal – Aces 2-9-12—23. Idaho 10-8-14—32.
Power-play Opportunities – Aces 0 of 3. Idaho 0 of 3.
Goalies – Aces, Lundstrom, 8-9-0 (32 shots-30 saves). Idaho, Roy, 11-5-1 (23-22).
A – 4,584 (5,006). T – 2:27.
Referee – Michael McCreary. Linesmen – Scott DeBaugh, Andrew Wetzel.