Finding something positive to say is becoming almost as difficult for the Nelson Leafs as it is to score goals.
The Leafs once again outshot their opponent and once again were on the losing side of a game, a 4-1 defeat to the Osoyoos Coyotes on Saturday. The only goal the Leafs scored was an ugly one that ended with two Nelson players celebrating with their backs on the ice.
Levi Hulston, who banged the puck into the net for Nelson, said the Leafs could use more dirty goals. They aren’t getting many pretty ones, after all.
“We’ve all got to just grind and muck at the net do everything we can to pop those and kind of got to have that will to score,” said Hulston. “With that will to win we’ll be able to find some ways to win these games against top opponents like Osoyoos.”
Patrick Ostermann finished with 31 saves for Nelson (13-18-1), which lost its seventh straight game and has just two wins in its last 16 games going back to Oct. 31. The Leafs will also have to play their next two games without defenceman Austin Anselmo. He was charged with a checking-from-behind penalty in the third period and a game misconduct, which comes with an automatic two-game suspension.
Leafs head coach David McLellan did not speak with media after the game.
Braeden Tuck scored twice for Osoyoos (22-6-1), while Reid Wilson and Colton Rhodes added a goal apiece. Brett Soles stopped 36 shots for the Coyotes, who maintained their lead atop the Okanagan Division.
It was the fourth time in seven December games that Nelson has lost despite outshooting its opponent. The Leafs have fired 222 shots so far this month to just 186 against.
“We’ve got that potential,” said Hulston. “I think we’re miles better than a lot of these teams, we’ve just got to pull it through. Bury our scoring chances, that’s one thing we’re definitely not doing.”
The Coyotes got on the board just three minutes into the game. Osoyoos fended off Leafs pressure in their own end and took a fast break up the ice. Ostermann handled the initial shot but Tuck banged home the rebound.
Osoyoos then went up 2-0 after Wilson’s shot from the point made its way through a crowd and past a screened Ostermann with less than five minutes to go in the period.
The Leafs showed a little frustration shortly after. A scrum ensued in front of the Coyotes net after Soles gloved a backhand by Hulston. That led to a lot of pushing between teams but no punches thrown. The period ended with lots of checking by the Leafs and defenceman Kyle Chernenkoff trying to goad a Coyotes player into a confrontation to no avail.
Nelson’s defence was nowhere to be seen on Osoyoos’s third goal. Rhodes zipped in along the left wing and snapped a shot past Ostermann at 10:34 of the second.
Coyotes head coach Ken Law said Rhodes’s goal caught the Leafs by surprise.
“You could tell,” said Law. “[Ostermann] tried to come across and use the catcher’s mitt instead of just using the blocker. It was a nice placed shot just up underneath the bar there.”
Nelson’s offence initially appeared to find another gear in the third. Eamonn Miller split the Coyotes defence and went in alone on Soles only to put his shot wide. Nicholas Ketola rang a shot off the crossbar and Chernenkoff rifled a slap shot at Soles on the power play later in the period, but the Coyotes goalie flashed his glove to stop the threat.
Hulston’s second-period goal cut the deficit to two but a scary hit Nelson’s chance for a comeback in the third.
Anselmo pushed Osoyoos blue-liner Levi Morin hard into the boards at 10:24. Anselmo was ejected, and suspended, while Morin required treatment on the ice. Law later said Morin was OK.
Osoyoos failed to capitalize on the lengthy Leafs penalty, which was served by Malcolm Fenelon, but Tuck’s empty-net goal with just over a minute left gave the Coyotes all the advantage they would need.
“What can you do with a five-minute penalty? It’s hard to turn that around,” said Hulston. “We tried to be aggressive as possible on the [penalty kill], but it’s tough. It’s hard to come back from a penalty like that.”
Notes: F Rayce Miller and D Max Daerendinger were scratches for the Leafs. Both injured players are expected to return after the holiday break. … F Austin Cleaver, F Judd Repote and D Daniel Stone were scratches for the Coyotes. … Nelson next hosts the Grand Forks Border Bruins on Tuesday.