With things going so ridiculously smoothly for the Alaska Aces, their 3-0 road win against the Idaho Steelheads on Wednesday night begged one question:
What's most impressive about this team that has won eight straight hockey games, the seventh-longest streak in the franchise's 11 ECHL seasons?
Maybe it is that the Aces (8-1-0) in just nine games have generated five shutouts, putting them nearly halfway to the league's single-season record of 11.
Or perhaps it is that Mark Guggenberger, who has basically been No. 3 on the goaltending depth chart, stopped 21 shots to become the third different Aces masked man to deliver a shutout -- Laurent Brossoit and Joni Ortio have each pocketed a pair.
Of course, it could be equally stunning that the Aces' third consecutive shutout -- they rolled Bakersfield, 5-0 and 4-0, last weekend -- tied a league record by making them the fifth team in the ECHL's 26-season history to accomplish that hat trick of sorts.
Then again, maybe it is most noteworthy that the Aces have not allowed a goal in 209 minutes, 3 seconds, the equivalent of nearly three and a half games. That leaves them 15 minutes shy of the league record for longest shutout sequence in the regular season.
Or, what about the Aces' road shutout streak? The Aces have not surrendered a goal on the road in 172:34, the equivalent of nearly three games.
Yet, it could also be strongly argued that their greatest accomplishment is the 17 consecutive goals they have scored. And that's from a team that earlier this season scored 10 consecutive goals. Those two numbers are particularly remarkable compared to the nine goals Aces opponents have scored -- all season.
OK, maybe none of that reveal the club's most stirring stats. Perhaps it is that the Aces' three-goal outburst in the second period, when Shawn Skelly, Andy Taranto and Nick Mazzolini scored in a span of 6:49, marked the fifth time already the Aces have reeled off three or more goals in a span of less than seven minutes.
Whatever the case, Aces coach Rob Murray is most pleased that his club is giving a consistent level of labor, and execution, every night. The Aces did so Wednesday in a building -- CenturyLink Arena -- where last season they went 1-3-0.
"Honestly, being a realist and not having much success in this building last (season), I wondered, 'Is this going to be the night we don't have it?' " Murray said by cellphone from Boise. "To the guys' credit, there's a little bit of camaraderie, accountability, with this team, that attitude that, 'We're not going to take the night off.' "
Mazzolini, the captain, said the key now is to maintain a high level of effort and performance and also minimize any let-down.
"It starts with the coaches and trickles on down -- they're never going to be satisfied,'' Mazzolini said. "And as a leadership group, we're never going to be satisfied.
"Sure, there's going to be some drop-off -- human nature -- but we have to check that as quickly as possible.''
After the teams went scoreless for more than 26 minutes -- that's the longest an Aces game has remained scoreless this season -- winger Shawn Skelly put the Aces on top when he banged in a James Martin rebound. Skelly has been a goal scorer everywhere he has played -- juniors, Division III college, the Southern Professional Hockey League and for the Aces last season -- but plays on a team so loaded that Wednesday marked just his second game this season. Boom -- he scored.
"Who wouldn't be happy when a guy who hasn't been in the lineup gets in and scores?'' Murray said. "That's what every coach wants.''
Taranto followed shortly by jamming home a rebound on the power play. And Mazzolini followed that by roofing a Peter Sivak pass behind Steelheads goalie Pat Nagle (32 saves).
Alaska killed five Idaho (3-3-1) power plays, strong work against a Steelheads unit that went 4 for 9 with the man advantage in its two previous games.
Murray said focused practices and strong leadership will help the Aces keep on track. Sure, they're not going to have their A game every night, and they're going to run into a hot goalie, and those other teams get paychecks and they also want to win. The Aces just want to keep this groove going as long as they can.
"You want to make sure they understand that there's nothing better than winning,'' Murray said.
Lately, winning is all the Aces have done.
Shuffling the deck
A number of Aces' point streaks stayed alive.
Tim Coffman's assist on Taranto's goal gives him a seven-game point streak in which he has furnished 3-8--11 totals. Sivak's helper gives him 5-9--14 totals in a six-game streak. Mazzolini's goal pumps his totals to 3-5--8 in a six-game streak. And Evan Trupp's assist on Taranto's goal gives him 1-8--9 totals in a six-game streak.
Brendan Connolly's six-game point streak was snapped.
Murray said Brossoit will start in goal Friday at Idaho.
Idaho's Tommy Grant, the former UAA winger, had his four-game point streak snapped. Ditto for Idaho rookie winger William Rapuzzi of Anchorage and his three-game point streak.
Late in the first period, a fire alarm apparently went off in the building, complete with a siren that continued for several minutes.
Mazzolini, serving his double-minor penalty, said he wasn't sure what was going on until he heard some fans saying it was a fire alarm.
"I figured they gave out some kind of (noisemaker) at the door,'' Mazzolini said. "We figured it was a giveaway or something.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 0 3 0 -- 3
Idaho 0 0 0 -- 0
First Period -- None. Penalties -- Gron, Idaho (interference), 2:50; Mazzolini, Aces, double-minor (roughing, unsportsmanlike conduct), 14:49.
Second Period -- 1, Aces, Skelly 1 (Martin), 6:34; 2, Aces, Taranto 4 (Coffman, Trupp), 11:24; 3, Aces, Mazzolini 3 (Sivak), 13:23. Penalties -- Mele, Aces (slashing), 0:00; Sneep, Idaho (slashing), 1:55; Rapuzzi, Idaho (hooking), 9:42; Molle, Aces (tripping), 19:11.
Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Syvret, Aces (slashing), 13:29; Isaacs, Idaho (roughing), 18:23; Connolly, Aces (roughing), 18:23.
Shots on goal -- Aces 12-14-9--35. Idaho 5-9-7--21.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 3. Idaho 0 of 5.
Goalies -- Aces, Guggenberger, 3-0-0 (21 shots-21 saves). Idaho, Nagle, 2-2-1 (35-32).
A -- 3,619 (5,006). T -- 2:21.
Referee -- Ryan Murphy. Linesmen -- Scott DeBaugh, Andrew Wetzel.