Cougars' losing streak hits 14 games

Griffen Outhouse doesn't get to play hockey close to home very often but when he does, he becomes exceptionally stingy.

That's a quality every Western Hockey League goalie strives for and his miserly ways worked especially well for the Victoria Royals in their game Friday at CN Centre against the win-starved Prince George Cougars.

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Outhouse allowed just one goal on 34 shots to backstop his team to a 4-1 victory on Alumni Night, which extended the Cougars' losing streak to 14 games.

The 20-year-old Outhouse, now in his fourth WHL season, came into the game sporting a .956 save percentage and 1.47 goals-against average in nine games of his WHL career in Prince George. The native of Likely, southeast of Quesnel, had a good chunk of his loyal fanbase in attendance Friday and played like he didn't want to disappoint them, posting his 22nd win in 40 games this season.

Outhouse's stellar outing and Tanner Sidaway's two-goal effort allowed the Royals (28-23-1-2) to improve their hold on second place in the B.C. Division. The Cougars (16-33-4-2) haven't won a game since Jan. 12 - a five-week run of misery.

"The effort was there, there's no doubt about that. We threw a lot of pucks at the net but it's the critical mistakes, we don't stick with it," said Cougars GM and interim head coach Mark Lamb, who took over behind the bench a week ago from the fired Richard Matvichuk.

"We don't have patience in important parts of the game to stick with it and play the right way. I'm really noticing there's a lot of try, a lot of care, and a lot of frustration. When you have a lot of try, we like that. When you have a lot of care, we really like that, but frustration is killing us and you have to be able to play through frustration.

"It's one of the biggest things, not only in hockey, but it's in life, adversity, and we've got a lot right now. One goal goes in and we're making mistakes and frustration just takes over and that's the result you get. That's something we have to fix."

The Royals drew first blood, scoring 3:50 into the game. Sidaway took a pass off the boards and with Cougars defenceman Cole Moberg in close proximity he let go a shot from a wide angle that appeared to tick off Moberg's stick and change direction as it sailed into the far-side corner of the net.

The Cougars had plenty of chances the rest of the period but couldn't beat Outhouse, who had a busy period stopping 15 shots. Josh Maser had a crack at an open goal late in the period with Outhouse out of position but missed the net.

Sidaway caught the Cougars napping and gave Victoria a 2-0 lead when he scored just seven seconds into the second period with his team killing a penalty. Off the face-off at centre ice, Dino Kambeitz chipped the puck ahead and Sidaway caught up to it ahead of Vladislav Mikhalchuk and from the left corner let go a sharp-angle shot that fooled goalie Taylor Gauthier as he dropped to his knees. It was the eighth shorthanded goal of the season for Victoria.

The Cougars responded about three minutes later, giving their fans in a crowd of 2,683 a reason to cheer. Tyson Upper shovelled a breakaway pass to captain Josh Curtis and he rifled a high shot in over the glove of Outhouse to cut the gap to 2-1.

The Royals padded their lead late in the period, scoring a bit of a fluky one. Former Cougars winger Kody McDonald started the play, dragging the puck from behind the net and back out to the blueline as he spun a pass to Phillip Schultz, whose quick shot from the top of the circle hit the shoulder of Kaid Oliver as he skated through the crease and deflected in.

Three goals on 10 shots - not exactly what Gauthier had envisioned on his 18th birthday. The Cougars took a 23-10 shot advantage into the second intermission.

The Cats continued to shoot themselves in the foot. Austin Crossley fired off a hard pass to defence partner Cole Beamin standing in front of the Cougar net and the puck skipped off Beamin's skate right onto the stick of Logan Doust, who flicked his wrists and scored the Royals' fourth goal, 6:46 into the third period.

The Seattle Thunderbirds beat Red Deer 6-4 Friday to move 12 points ahead of the Cougars for the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Cougars will try to end their skid tonight (7 p.m.) when the same teams meet in the rematch at CN Centre. The Cats will host the U.S. Division-leading Everett Silvertips in back-to-back games Monday afternoon (2 p.m.) and Tuesday night (7 p.m.).

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