Coming off a dominant win last weekend, the Alaska Aces couldn't maintain the positive flow against Ontario in the final game of a three-game ECHL series at Sullivan Arena.
The Aces often failed to fire threatening shots when the opportunity arose, and when they did attack with accuracy, Ontario goalie Michael Hutchinson was up to the task, earning a 3-0 shutout on 31 saves.
"He gives up rebounds, so that's something we were trying to exploit, but he's good at getting square to shots," said Aces center Nick Mazzolini. "He's got a long defensive core playing in front of him and they just kind of stuck to their game."
The Reign remained in first place in the Western Conference with a 21-5-1 record, having won 10 of its last 12 road games.
The Aces (18-9-1), who defeated Ontario 3-0 on Saturday after losing 4-2 on Friday, showed defensive prowess in holding the Reign to 19 shots, but when the door opened, the Reign were better at capitalizing than the Aces.
"The puck was pretty bouncy," said Mazzolini. "It has been for these three games, so that's nothing new. Sometimes it bounces your way, but we didn't work hard enough to earn those bounces tonight."
The game's first goal came from Derek Couture, who scored with 5:15 left in the first period. Couture had enough room for a full wind-up and his slap shot hit the net hard behind Aces goalie Alex Kangas (16 saves). Prior to the goal, action was a bit stagnant, with both teams fighting for the puck at mid-ice. After the goal, action intensified and the puck found its way to either end of the rink in a hurry.
"Both teams came out and it was almost like a feeling-out process," Mazzolini said. "That's just another time that we could have taken the reins and we just weren't able to."
Playing the Reign for three games was a stern test for the Aces, but Mazzolini said they didn't treat it any different than any other series this season. In Saturday's win, the Aces played their most cohesive game of the season, he said, and they have to find a way to harness that hustle and drive as they move forward.
Cowbells were rattling at a high decibel level in the early going, especially when the Aces Dustin Molle fought with Mike Towns of the Reign. The two accounted for the only penalties of the first period, each earning five-minute fighting majors after swinging a handful of punches before Towns was forced to the ice on his back and referees broke things up.
The Aces were outshot 11-10 in the first period, but picked up the defensive effort in the second, when they outshot the Reign 11-2. The Aces had a nice chance for an equalizer on a power play late in the second period, but couldn't come through.
The Reign made the Aces pay when Everett Sheen scored from close range before two minutes expired in the third period. Sheen picked up a rebound about eight feet in front of the goal and fed the puck through a tangle of defenders. Couture scored his second goal on an empty-netter from the Reign's zone with 14 seconds left to play.
The Aces will play their first game of 2014 on Friday, when they host the Idaho Steelheads in the first of two games.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Ontario 1 0 2 -- 3
Aces 0 0 0 -- 0
First Period -- 1, Reign, Coutre, 9 (Springer), 14:37 Penalties -- Towns, Reign (fighting major), 8:44; Molle, Aces (fighting major), 8:44.
Second Period -- none. Penalties -- Kopitar, Reign (holding), 5:42; Clune, Reign (hooking), 16:08.
Third Period -- 2, Reign, Sheen, 4 (Barnett, Beebe), 1:29; 3, Reign, Couture, 10, 19:46. (en). Penalties -- Hauswirth, Reign (hooking), 16:57.
Shots on goal -- Ontario 11-2-6--19. Aces 10-11-10--31.
Power-play Opportunities -- Ontario 0 of 0. Aces 0 of 3.
Goalies -- Ontario, Hutchinson, 10-11-10 (31 shots-31 saves). Aces, Kangas, 10-2-4 (18-16).
A -- 5,072. T -- 2:16.
Referee -- Andrew Wilk. Linesmen -- Scott Sivulich, Travis Jackson.