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WHL US Division: Tri-City Americans playing well (for the most part...) but not getting points they deserve

After dropping a third-straight contest with Portland on Wednesday, the Tri-City Americans headed north for a quick two-game trip to Alberta. The Ams played well enough to win both games but returned to the Toyota Center with only two points. If Tri-City can find and ride some momentum they could quickly climb the standings.

With starter Evan Sarthou struggling, will backup Nick Sanders see more time between the pipes for Tri-City?
With starter Evan Sarthou struggling, will backup Nick Sanders see more time between the pipes for Tri-City?
Ben Nelms/Getty Images

The Tri-City Americans are making a habit of playing well enough to win - or well enough to at least earn a point - but coming away with nothing.

Early in the season teams can get away with that. Especially in a conference where eight of the 10 clubs make the playoffs.

But the Americans are starting to dig themselves a hole that could be difficult to climb out of if the current trend continues.

Tri-City started a busy week by dropping a 6-2 decision at home to Portland on Wednesday. Nothing went well for the Ams on this night. They were down 5-0 midway through the game and looked like a team that hadn't yet recovered from the 8-1 beat down to Spokane four days earlier.

From there, the club trekked north for a short trip to Alberta to face Medicine Hat and Calgary. Saturday head coach Mike Williamson returned to Calgary to face the club he led to a WHL Championship in 2010 - defeating the team he now coaches in Tri-City.

Here's a recap of the action for Tri-City last week.............

Week starts with third straight loss to Portland

The week started ominously in a 6-2 home defeat to the Winterhawks. Portland scored on its first three shots of the game and held a 5-0 lead by the midway point of the second period.

There was little to be excited about after the loss. Special teams weren't very special as Tri-City went 0-for-5 with the man advantage, while Portland was 2-for-7 on the power play. Staying out of the box has been a problem all season for Tri-City, but the penalty killing unit has started to falter of late, dipping their PK percentage under 80 percent (79.5%, 12th in WHL).

Austyn Playfair returned to the lineup but quickly found himself back on the injury list after a first-period hit (see injury report below). Tri-City has now lost three straight to Portland after winning the first meeting this season. Evan Sarthou had 28 saves in the loss.

Ams break losing streak with win over Tigers

Friday the Ams hit the road and their stride and beat Medicine Hat 4-3 behind two goals from Vladislav Lukin. The win snapped a three-game skid.

Beau McCue potted his second short-handed goal in as many games. McCue's shorties were the first this season for Tri-City. Tri-City corrected its special-teams woes against Portland, scoring twice on the power play and once shorthanded.

Sarthou picked up the win stopping 27 shots.

Pair of Hitmen goals 45 seconds apart doom Americans

Saturday the Americans couldn't hold another third-period lead - something the Ams have done more than a few times this season - and fell 4-3 in Calgary (http://whl.ca/schedule/show/game/39841).

Michael Rasmussen picked up right where he left off from the World Under 17 Challenge, scoring twice and assisting the third Ams goal. Calgary native Kurtis Rutledge scored his first WHL goal in front of friends and family to give Tri-City a 3-2 lead midway through the third period. But two goals from Jakob Stukel only 45 seconds apart provided the winning margin for the Hitmen.

Sarthou had 29 saves in the loss. He now sits with a 6-11-1-0 record to go along with an 87.5 save percentage (31st in WHL) and 3.87 goals against average (30th in WHL). Sarthou may be struggling but the club's confidence in him certainly has not. Sarthou has played all but two games through the first 20 for Tri-City. Rookie backup Nick Sanders has fared well in his two games but if this team wants to go anywhere in the next four months, Sarthou has to be the one to take them there.

Standings

Tri-City currently sits at 7-12-1-0 with 15 points, fifth place in the U.S. Division and nineth place in Western Conference. The Ams are five points behind Portland (10-9-0-0), six behind Everett (10-5-0-1), eight behind Spokane (10-8-2-1) and 10 behind division-leading Seattle (12-6-1-0).

The Americans are four points behind Kamloops (9-8-1-0) for the eighth and final playoff spot. It feels a little early to be saying that already, but take a look at the schedule and you'll notice we're already one-third of the way through the season.

Upcoming

Tri-City hosts Swift Current (8-12-2-0, 18 points, sixth place, East Division) on Wednesday before traveling to Portland (10-9-0-0, 20 points, 4th place U.S. Division) Friday for the fifth meeting already this season between the Americans and Winterhawks. The Ams host surging Victoria (14-7-0-1, 29 points, 2nd place B.C. Division) on Saturday.

On the mend

Some good news and more bad news for Tri-City on the injury front. Austyn Playfair returned against Portland after being out more than a month with an upper-body injury. But he didn't even play an entire period before suffering another injury that forced him to miss the Alberta games.

Brandon Carlo is still out with an upper-body injury but is expected to return in the next week or two. Rookie forward Kyle Olson is also expected back soon, however defenseman Brendan O'Reilly is still listed as out for 4-6 weeks with an upper-body injury. The Ams got a much-needed boost on the blue line last week with the return of Jeff Rayman. Rayman was injured in his first game as an American after being signed as a free agent.