Tucson Roadrunners coach Jay Varady indicated this week he wanted to see more “pop.”
But watching his team’s offensive bubble burst like it has over the once-dominant Roadrunners’ past few outings probably isn’t what Varady had in mind.
A night after seeing a five-game win streak come to an end on their home ice, the Roadrunners were dealt a second blow in consecutive days by the visiting Chicago Wolves – this time 3-0 to end Tucson’s six-game homestand at Tucson Arena.
The three-goal difference wasn’t indicative of a game that was 1-0 until the final minute or so — the Wolves (6-3-1-0) scored a pair of empty net goals with Tucson pressing to tie the game — but Varady, again, wasn’t interested in moral victories.
“For me it’s about 60 minutes, and I don’t think it was a full 60 minutes,” Varady said. “Maybe we saw a little bit more pop tonight, but we’ve got to find a way to get more.”
Chicago goaltender Garret Sparks stopped all 32 Tucson shots on goal, Lucas Elvenes scored a power-play goal and Reid Duke and Tye McGinn had empty-netters, leading to the first time the Roadrunners (6-3-0-0) had been shut out this year.
But that also means Tucson has scored just three goals in its last three games after a torrid start to the season.
“We’ve got to get inside more,” Varady said. “I didn’t like the way we attacked tonight. I thought we were way too perimeter.”
Sparks’ shutout was nearly matched shot-for-shot by a rookie goaltender in net for the Roadrunners. No, this time it wasn’t Ivan Prosvetov — the Moscow, Russia native who won his first two career starts and played well enough Tuesday for a third, despite an eventual 2-1 loss. On Wednesday, it was Swedish import Erik Kallgren, who was called up Saturday when Roadrunners announced that longtime No. 1 goaltender Adin Hill was on leave from the team to tend to personal matters.
Kallgren answered the bell in his own turn against Chicago, turning away 27 of the 28 shots he faced despite ending up as the losing goaltender.
“I had a good start and felt more and more comfortable out there,” Kallgren said. “A good first game, but we didn’t win and that’s the most important thing. It felt good, but wanted to win, for sure.”
How long Kallgren sticks with the Roadrunners is of interest as Tucson heads into a two-game Northern California road swing this weekend. The Roadrunners visit the first-place Stockton Heat Saturday at 6 p.m. before a 3 p.m. start Sunday at the San Jose Barracuda.
Hill watched Wednesday's game in street clothes, signaling his return could be imminent. Varady indicated postgame , however, Hill’s status moving ahead was still unknown.
“I haven’t talked to (Hill) yet,” Varady said. “I’m going to meet with him here in a little bit and see where he’s at.”
Should Tucson decide on rostering only two goaltenders once Hill returns, Prosvetov would seem the more conventional choice to stick with the American Hockey League club, considering his larger sample size of AHL game-action. Kallgren could head back to the Rapid City Rush, though it’s possible Tucson would consider holding three goaltenders on its roster, much like it did during its season-opening Texas road trip earlier this month.
Wednesday’s loss concludes an otherwise hot month of October for the Roadrunners, who now sit in third place in the AHL’s Pacific Division.
“Can’t dwell on it. Can’t hit the panic button,” forward Michael Bunting said. “We’ve got two big games coming up in two days, so we’ve got to get ready for that and keep going.”