If there was a restart button in the Western Hockey League, the Tri-City Americans would be first in line to press the magic dot.
After a WHL record of seven consecutive seasons of winning 40 games or more, the Americans find themselves struggling to score goals. They hope to turn things around as they begin a five-game homestand tonight with a 4-7-0-1 record.
“We just need some more goals, however they come,” said Americans coach Jim Hiller, whose team is averaging 2.3 goals per game. “(Goalie) Eric (Comrie) is doing a great job keeping us in there and giving us a chance, and our guys, we are creating opportunities, we just need to finish them.”
The Victoria Royals (8-5-0-0) visit the Americans tonight, while the Portland Winterhawks (5-3-0-1) are at Toyota Center on Saturday.
Tri-City lost a 2-1 game at Victoria on Oct. 6, and are 1-1 against Portland, beating the Winterhawks 6-2, while dropping a 4-1 game Wednesday.
“They go in in bunches — you get six like you saw (in the win over Portland),” Hiller said. “We probably had as many or more quality chances and we had one goal (Wednesday), as the time we went there and had six. What do you do? You try to give up less chances, and keep going offensively and start to create those and eventually they go in. There is no magic formula beyond that.”
Of the Americans’ 28 goals, 15 have been scored by the top line of Brian Williams (8), Connor Rankin (5) and Lucas Nickles (2). Beau McCue has added five and Phil Tot three, but the production isn’t consistent throughout the lineup.
“There is real art in putting the puck past the goal line,” Hiller said. “Some players don’t look like the beat players from the outside, but they have an ability to get the puck past the goal line at key moments and that’s a big part of the game. It’s just sticking with it. Maybe you have to be a little bit quicker or a little more patient. Hockey is so dynamic, it changes in the moment.”
The Americans, who have played eight of their first 12 games on the road, will be home for their next five games, including this weekend and three games next week.
Hiller said it will be nice to have a little structure to practices and the stability of being at home for nearly two weeks before hopping in the bus for a three-game trip to the Central Division the first week of November.
And for the Americans, there’s no place like home — where they have won an average of 26 games a year over the last five seasons.
“I love scoring goals in this building,” Hiller said. “I love scoring early. It is such a boost for us. That’s an important part. We need to score some goals and feel good. There’s no better place to do it than in this building. One goal breeds more, and in our building, pretty specifically.”
Tri-City is 2-2 on home ice this season and Rankin is looking forward to a few games in front of the home fans.
“I’ve been here for a few years and it’s tough for other teams with how loud our fans are,” Rankin said. “Honestly, it’s nice to play at home in front of your fans. We play our best hockey there. We have lost some close ones and it’s been frustrating. We talk about trying to stay focused and not get frustrated.”
Comrie has been the saving grace at times for the Americans. He turned away 44 pucks Wednesday at Portland. He has a 2.58 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. With teams averaging 3.23 goals per game, he’s earning his keep.
“For all of us, it sucks to lose,” Hiller said. “What do you say? The trainers, the bus driver, nobody likes it. We are all in it together. We need saves and we need goals and there’s a whole bunch in between those two things that we need also. Starting (today) hopefully we get all of those.”
-- Annie Fowler: 582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: tchicequeen