Only four games into the ECHL hockey season, the Alaska Aces are developing into something of a guessing game.
The question: How much will they out-shoot their opponent by in any given period or game?
The answer so far: A ton.
Take Saturday night, when Tim Coffman racked two goals and four points, the Aces generated seven unanswered goals and they won their third straight game with a 7-2 comeback road victory over the Las Vegas Wranglers at Orleans Arena.
After warming up with a 14-8 advantage in first-period shots, the Aces in the second period unlimbered 16 shots, and two goals, on Wranglers masked man Travis Fullerton before Las Vegas managed to get a single shot on Alaska's Mark Guggenberger. The Aces outshot the Wranglers 17-2 in the period.
That marked the third time in the last three games that the Aces have outgunned an opponent by 15 shots in a period.
In all, the Aces (3-1-0) outshot the Wranglers (2-2-0) by an astounding 46-13. In all four of their games, the Aces have outshot their opponents by 22 shots or more. In nine of 12 periods, they have outshot their opponent by a margin of at least 2 to 1.
"I have to say, we're playing pretty well, and, honestly, I think we're a pretty good hockey team,'' Aces coach Rob Murray said by cell phone form Sin City.
Oddly, though, at least in a 7-2 victory, the Aces started out poorly. They conceded goals to Chris Francis and Eddie DelGrosso inside the opening eight minutes before Aces winger Tommy Mele kick-started the comeback. Mele's goal came after Guggenberger moved laterally across the crease to snuff a 3-on-2 rush and prevent Las Vegas from padding its lead.
Mele scored on a backhander off an Andy Taranto helper to cut the deficit to 2-1. And less than six minutes after that, defenseman Zach Davies likewise scored on a backhander off a Taranto assist to forge a 2-2 tie that carried through the first period.
The Aces schooled the Wranglers in the second period, burying two goals and firing 16 shots before their opponent directed a shot Guggenberger's way. Alaska outshot Las Vegas 17-2 over the middle 20 minutes.
Peter Sivak, the Slovakian sniper who last season bagged 33 goals for San Francisco in his debut ECHL season, pocketed his first as an Ace, courtesy of an assist from his center, captain Nick Mazzolini, to give the Aces a 3-2 lead.
Defenseman Dustin Molle raised the count to 4-2 with the Aces' fourth consecutive unanswered goal.
Murray said he told the Aces after Friday's 3-2 win, which included an early Wranglers goal, and again before Saturday's game that they needed to start well. They didn't. But they did rebound.
"We were sleeping, we really were,'' Murray said. "But we righted the ship and that was end of story. But on another night, that could cost us the game.''
Coffman added his first goal when he broke in on Fullerton from the right wing midway through the third period. He bagged another, which gives him a team high-tying three goals, less than four minutes later.
Coffman fed Andy Taranto for a late power-play goal that marked Coffman's fourth point of the evening and Taranto's third goal in two nights. Taranto scored twice Friday.
The line of Coffman centering Taranto and Brendan Connolly were on the ice for both Las Vegas goals. Members of that line then regrouped to have a hand in six of Alaska's seven goals.
The three-game series wraps Sunday with a matinee.
Shuffling the deck
Aces winger David Eddy left the game in the second period with a lower-body injury after taking a big hit from Wranglers defenseman Jeff May. That hit prompted Aces center Jordan Kremyr to fight May.
Also, Davies suffered an upper-body injury late in the second period and did not play in the third period.
Murray does not expect either Eddy or Davies to play in the series finale. Winger Robert Farmer and defenseman Ben Parker will likely get in the lineup, Murray said.
Murray said Joni Ortio, who started Alaska's first three games, will get the start in net Sunday.
Taranto's goal and two assists gives him three goals and two helpers in the last two games. Coffman has furnished two goals and three assists in the last two games. And Connolly has furnished one goal and three assists. The totals for the line through two games in the series: 6-8--14 and a combined plus-10 rating.
Through four games, the Aces have outshot opponents 175-66. That averages to 43.75-16.50 per game, giving the Aces as average shot differential of plus-27.25, so ridiculous you can't help but think it's a typo.
The Aces have outscored opponents 16-6 overall and 13-4 at even strength, which is why no Aces player has a plus-minus rating worse than even. The majority of Aces skaters own a plus rating.
Las Vegas forward Carlo Finucci, Taranto's former UAF teammate, had an assist to give 1-5--6 totals and at least one point in all four Wranglers games this season. In 37 ECHL games prior to this season, Finucci's longest point streak was two games.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 2 2 3 -- 7
Las Vegas 2 0 0 -- 2
First Period -- 1, Las Vegas, Francis 3 (May, Cook), 6:20; 2, Las Vegas, DelGrosso 1( Finucci), 7:26; 3, Aces, Mele 1 (Taranto, Martin), 9:39; 4, Aces, Davies 2 (Taranto, Mele), 15:13. Penalties -- Huxley, Las Vegas (elbowing), 16:10.
Second Period -- 5, Aces, Sivak 1 (Mazzolini, Trupp), 9:12; 6, Aces, Molle 1 (Coffman, Martin), 11:27. Penalties -- Tassone, Las Vegas (high-sticking), 5:37; Martin, Aces (elbowing), 5:37; May, Las Vegas, major (fighting), 9:39; Kremyr, Aces, major (fighting), 9:39; Julseth-White, Las Vegas (slashing), 12:51; Connolly, Aces, misconduct (mouthguard violation), 15:37; Kremyr, Aces (holding), 19:05.
Third Period -- 7, Aces, Coffman 3 (Trupp), 11:51; 8, Aces, Coffman 4 (Mele, Ring-Jarvi), 15:46; 9, Aces, Taranto 3 (Coffman, Connolly), 17:57 (pp). Penalties -- Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 2:41; Smith, Las Vegas (unsportsmanlike conduct), 8:04; Ring-Jarvi, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 8:04; Connolly, Aces (slashing), 8:25; Huxley, Las Vegas (roughing), 17:37.
Shots on goal -- Aces 14-17-15--46. Las Vegas 8-2-3--13.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 3. Las Vegas 0 of 3.
Goalies -- Aces, Guggenberger, 1-0-0 (13 shots-11 saves). Las Vegas, Fullerton, 2-1-0 (46-39).
A -- 4,144 (7,773). T -- 2:25.
Referee -- Pierre Lambert. Linesmen -- Wally Lacroix, Todd Owen.