One of the hottest teams in the Western Hockey League ran into one of the coldest on Wednesday night and the result was about what you’d expect.
The Victoria Royals scored four times in the first period and were never seriously threatened after that, posting a 5-3 victory over the flagging Brandon Wheat Kings at Westman Place.
Steven Hodges had a goal and two assists — all in the first period — for the Royals (42-16-1-3), who have earned points in their past 14 games, including 12 victories.
The Wheat Kings (28-25-6-2) have dropped seven games in a row, and despite their injury-decimated lineup, captain Ryan Pulock believes his team can compete with teams like the Royals if they can cut down on the mistakes they made in the first period.
"These last games, we’ve shown times where we’re playing good hockey even against these top-end teams," said Pulock, who had a goal and an assist. "It’s just these breakdowns that seem to really kill us, and once we can get that out and play a fully structured 60 minutes, then we’ll give ourselves a lot better chance."
Logan Nelson had a goal and an assist, while Tyler Soy, Austin Carroll and Keegan Kanzig also scored for the Royals. Tyler Coulter and Rihards Bukarts were the other Brandon scorers, with Coulter also picking up an assist.
Curtis Honey was strong for Brandon, stopping 44 shots, including some spectacular saves, while Patrik Polivka turned away 23 shots in the Victoria net.
"Curtis made lots of good saves," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "It was a good game for Curtis. He held up his end of the bargain."
Brandon opened the scoring, with Pulock blasting a slap shot past Polivka, but that was the only bright spot for the Wheat Kings in a period dominated by the Royals, who held a 21-6 edge in shots. Nelson found the top corner with a slap shot only 16 seconds after Pulock’s goal, with Soy scoring less than four minutes later to give the Royals a lead they would never relinquish.
McCrimmon said his team’s play in the defensive zone simply wasn’t good enough.
"Just the defensive zone coverage, the breakdowns and missed assignments that led to scoring chances, that was really where I thought the defensive problems on the night came from," McCrimmon said. "That’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s things that happen further up the ice, but I just thought tonight our defensive zone coverage wasn’t good enough and early in the game I thought we were exposed."
The Wheat Kings came back with a better second period, but couldn’t draw any closer over the course of the frame. Ryley Lindgren showed a burst of speed up the right wall and set up Coulter, who cut the Royals’ lead to two goals. But Victoria responded, with Kanzig stepping up from the blue-line, taking a pass from Winnipeg Jets prospect Ael Blomqvist and beating Honey.
"We made it 4-2 in the second period and then that fifth goal I thought took some momentum from us and obviously widened their lead," McCrimmon said. "If we could have stayed at 4-2 and continued to get some chances, which I thought we had more scoring chances tonight than maybe we have in a while, … we obviously would have had a better chance."
The Wheat Kings’ power play, which had been in a 1-for-25 rut, provided the only goal of the third period as Bukarts scored on a one-timer to extend his points streak to nine games (seven goals, five assists). Brandon finished the night 1-for-3 on the power play, while Victoria was 0-for-2.
The Wheat Kings return to action on Friday when they host the Calgary Hitmen (7:30 p.m., Westman Place).
ONE-TIMERS: Bukarts, who missed the past six games, and D Rene Hunter, who was out for two, returned from injuries, but the Wheat Kings were still two players short, with RW Jayce Hawryluk (lower body), C John Quenneville (upper body), RW Peter Quenneville (lower body) and D Kord Pankewicz (lower body) injured, while D Colton Waltz is suspended …Brandon RW Richard Nejezchleb saw limited ice in the second period and didn’t come out for the third … Wheat Kings RW Jens Meilleur saw action at forward and on the blue-line … Attendance was a new Brandon season low of 2,702.