by Kerry Eggers

Nobody was crying "moral victory," but there was encouragement in the Winterhawks' camp after a 3-2 shootout loss to Seattle Saturday night at the Moda Center.

That's a good sign or a bad sign, depending on how you slice it.

The good part was the competitiveness by the local lads.

"It was nice to have a good bounce-back game (after Friday's 6-2 defeat at Everett), even though it didn't end the way we wanted it to," goaltender Brendan Burke said. "We put out a really good effort."

"The effort was there," first-year coach Jamie Kompon said. "We played hard and battled right to the very end. It was one of those games that could have gone either way. It's a step in the right direction. There are baby steps to go."

If we're speaking of Baby Huey, maybe.

The Hawks clearly have a long way to go if they are to run their string of Western Hockey League Western Conference championships to five.

Their record stands at 1-7-0-2, worst in the 22-team WHL through three weeks of play.

Part of it is that seven players -- Burke, defenseman Anton Cederholm and forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand, Chase De Leo, Nic Petan, Keegan Iverson and Dominic Turgeon -- missed some of the early going while spending time in NHL camps.

But all of the regulars have been back the last three games, and the Hawks have not emerged victorious in any of them.

Portland entered Saturday's game having yielded a league-high 44 goals, in part the result of losing its top three defensemen of a year ago -- Derek Pouliot, Matt Dumba and Garrett Haar -- to the pros.

The top players on the back end this season -- Cederholm, Josh Hanson, Layne Viveiros and Keoni Texeira -- are not of the same quality.

Playing strong defense includes good work from the forwards, too, so it's not just the defensemen.

"A lot of games, we've been bad in the defensive zone," said Bjorkstrand, who has played in the last five games. "A lot of turnovers and that kind of stuff."

Burke, in his second season as a starter, should be up to the task this season. He was excellent Saturday night, repelling 32 Seattle shots, a few of his saves coming in spectacular fashion.

"He kept us in it the first period," Kompon said. "He made some very timely saves."

On at least some nights this season, the Hawks are going to have to simply outscore the opponents. That would seem to not be a problem with the likes of Bjorkstrand, Petan, De Leo, Iverson, Turgeon, Paul Bittner and Medicine Hat acquisition Miles Koules up front.

So far, though, the Hawks have been offensively challenged, managing as many as four goals only once in 10 games.

They came out pants-afire Saturday night, outshooting Seattle 7-1 in the first eight minutes and taking the play to the visitors. Then the Hawks went stagnant and the Thunderbirds forced the action through most of the rest of regulation play.

Portland seemed dead in the water until Koules launched a 50-foot slap shot into the net with 2:49 left to tie the score at 2-2. That's the way it stood until the Hawks went 0 for 3 in the shootout and trudged into the locker room, losers again.

A year ago, the Hawks started 3-4 before embarking on an 11-game win streak. But one victory in the first 10 games this season offers some pause all around.

"It's not the start we wanted," said Bjorkstrand, who scored his fourth goal of the season in the first period Saturday night. "It's a little different from what we're used to here.

"We try to get better and better each game. We did a good job of battling tonight. We're disappointed, but we have to move on."

The obvious question is if the Hawks are going to be as effective under Kompon as they were under his predecessor, Mike Johnston, who left to take over as head coach of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It's always different when you have a new coach," said Bjorkstrand, who tied for second in the WHL last year with 50 regular-season goals. "It's a little different system.

"We just need to get together as a team. It's not Jamie's fault; it's the players. We're responsible for how we play. If we play like we did tonight, we'll get a lot of wins. Unfortunately, we haven't done a good job with that yet."

As players trickled back to NHL camps, rhythms have been disrupted as they've tried to become accustomed to a new coach -- not an ideal potion for breaking in. Kompon isn't asking for a break in any assessments, though.

"I'm not going to make excuses," he said. "I'm not in the excuse-making business. I'm in the results business. We haven't been good enough. (The missing players) is a factor, but at the same time, if they didn't come back, where would we be?

"We finally have a full contingent. We believe in our group. We'll work with our group and try to get better. We were better tonight, especially defensively."

The Hawks head out on a six-game, nine-day eastern swing that begins next Friday at Moose Jaw. Joining up for the first time will be veteran defenseman Blake Heinrich, who has missed the entire regular season after suffering a concussion in the preseason. The 5-11, 195-pound Heinrich was signed out of the U.S. Hockey League.

"He'll help solidify the defense," Kompon said. "He's a very good skater. He has hockey experience. He'll eat up a lot of minutes."

Kompon isn't sure about the availability of Petan, the fireball center who scored 81 regular-season goals over the last two seasons and was second in the WHL in scoring in 2013-14. Petan was nailed with a cheap shot to the head by Seattle goon Evan Wardley in the first period and didn't return.

"Nic was held out for precautionary reasons," Kompon said. "We wanted to play it safe."

The Hawks want to gain some traction on the upcoming road swing.

"We haven't spent a whole lot of time together as a team this season," Burke said. "It'll be a good bonding experience, and hopefully we can string together some wins."

Kompon, with 17 years experience as an NHL assistant, was hoping his break-in period with the Hawks would be a little easier.

"It's not much fun," he said. "I hate losing. To take over a team like this, which has such high expectations -- the pressure I put on myself is the only pressure I feel.

"I know the boys are feeling a little bit on themselves. I'm not putting any on them. They understand where we're at."

The Hawks' followers have grown accustomed to winning. For them, the start to this season has been unsettling, too.

"We want to give the fans a good show," Burke said. "We never want to let them down, but we play for each other.

"We're going to work our way out of it. The fans can be confident we're going to come out of this and we're going to have another good run."

Maybe the turnaround starts on the upcoming road excursion.

"We want to win every game on this trip," Bjorkstrand said. "We'll take them one at a time, but we need wins now. We don't want to get too far behind."