Killing penalties has historically been one of the Alaska Aces greatest strengths -- through 10 previous seasons and the tenures of the four head coaches in their ECHL history, they have persistently stymied opposing power plays.
They have led the league in penalty-killing efficiency three times, including last season under coach Rob Murray. In eight of those 10 seasons, they have finished among the top five teams in that category. And in nine of 10 seasons, they have finished in the top half of the circuit.
Lately, though, Aces penalty killers have been pierced, and Sunday afternoon in California, the Ontario Reign scored an early power-play strike that served as the springboard of four unanswered goals and a 4-2 victory at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
The Aces have surrendered at least one power-play goal in six straight games. Until recently, the most consecutive games opponents had scored a power-play goal was three.
Still, coach Rob Murray said he's not too worried. He pointed out that three of his penalty-killing forwards aren't available. Jordan Kremyr and Ross Ring-Jarvi have been out recently with injuries, and Brendan Connolly sat out Sunday after suffering a lower-body injury in Alaska's 6-2 win at Ontario on Saturday.
"It'll be OK,'' Murray said by cellphone. "The trouble will penalty-kill is it's a confidence thing. If you lose that confidence, you don't know when or where the next kill will come from and it's almost like you get afraid to take a penalty.
"I think we'll be fine.''
Alaska's penalty-killing efficiency of 83.0 percent ranks 17th on the 21-team circuit. A season ago, when the Aces led the league at 87.4 percent, that 83.0 would have landed them 13th in the league. Two seasons ago, 83.0 percent would have ranked seventh.
In any event, after Aces newcomer Tyler Mosienko scored on the power play five minutes into the game for a 1-0 lead, the Reign answered less than three minutes later on Chris Crane's power-play rebound. Murray said that was a case of the Aces getting out-battled at the front of the net.
Tyler Gron followed with the first of his two goals, and Maxime Kitsyn and Gron scored 29 seconds apart in the second period to stake Ontario to a 4-1 lead.
Gron, who began the season in Idaho and was traded to San Francisco, which then folded, has scored 17 goals in his last 22 games.
Turner Elson's third-period goal for the Aces marked his first in seven games with the club since he was assigned to Alaska by Abbotsford of the American Hockey League.
Aces veteran goaltender Gerald Coleman, who Murray said will start Monday's road trip-closing matinee in Bakersfield, got Sunday off after making 10 straight starts.
Alex Kangas, playing his first game in six weeks, stopped 18 shots, but gave up a softie on Gron's second goal.
Ontario's Jussi Olkinuora stopped 29 shots.
"We had some good chances,'' Murray said. "It wasn't a game where I came away saying we didn't compete or couldn't win it.''
Sunday's game was Alaska's 48th of the season, which marks the two-thirds pole in the ECHL's 72-game regular season. Granted, the Aces will only play 71 regular-season games -- that's because of rescheduling after San Francisco's demise -- but they hit the two-third mark with the best winning percentage (.698) in the league, just ahead of Ontario (.696).
Shuffling the deck
Both captain Nick Mazzolini and winger Peter Sivak had their eight-game point streaks snapped. Sivak had also scored a goal in seven straight games.
Mosienko has 2-1--3 totals in his two games since joining the team. He's centering left winger Evan Trupp and right winger Andy Taranto.
Sunday's game marked Alaska's seventh in 10 days. The Aces bussed to Bakersfield after the game and are scheduled to fly home Tuesday, then open a three-game homestand Wednesday against Ontario.
Ontario leads the season series with Alaska, 3-2-0.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 1 0 1 -- 2
Ontario 2 2 0 -- 4
First Period -- 1, Aces, Mosienko 1 (Trupp, Sisca), 5:29 (pp); 2, Ontario, Crane 9 (Gron, Tarasuk), 8:13 (pp); 3, Ontario, Gron 18, 11:54. Penalties -- Van de Mosselaer, Ontario (boarding)O, 5:04; Trupp, Aces (tripping), 6:53.
Second Period -- 4, Ontario, Kitsyn 4 (Lamoureux), 7:01; 5, Ontario, Gron 19 (Burt, White), 7:30. Penalties -- Davies, Aces (holding), 17:55.
Third Period -- 6, Aces, Elson 1 (Findlay), 5:02. Penalties -- Gron, Ontario (roughing), 10:01; Van de Mosselaer, Ontario (tripping), 11:39; Sivak, Aces (interference), 11:52.
Shots on goal -- Aces 8-10-13--31. Ontario 14-5-3--22.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 3. Ontario 1 of 3.
Goalies -- Aces, Kangas, 0-2-2 (22 shots-18 saves). Ontario, Olkinuora, 7-7-1 (31-29).
A -- 8,492 (9,616). T -- 2:25.
Referee -- Nic Leduc. Linesmen -- Tanner Nua, Steven Berry.