Even a hockey team like this Alaska Aces club that is riding the ECHL's longest current streak of consecutive games without a regulation loss is going to throw a clunker into the mix now and then.
And that's when it's especially comforting to have a goaltender like Gerald Coleman.
Coleman delivered 33 saves Friday, and that performance proved pivotal in a 3-1 win over the Ontario Reign on a night when Coleman's teammates weren't particularly sharp inside Sullivan Arena.
Alaska's sixth straight victory stretched to 13 games its streak of capturing points -- the league leaders (19-4-2) are 11-0-2 in that span.
In the franchise's nine ECHL seasons, this is the third time the club has generated a 13-game streak -- both the 2006-07 team and the 2004-05 team put together 10-0-3 runs.
The franchise gold standard remains 16 games -- the Kelly Cup champion squad of 2005-06 went 15-0-1.
Alaska has not lost in regulation since Ontario won 2-0 at Sullivan on Nov. 12.
Coleman's riding a pretty mean streak himself. He's 10-0-1 in his last 11 starts. The league's reigning Goaltender of the Year is 15-3-1, and he leads the league in wins, goals-against average (1.78) and shutouts (3), ranks second in minutes played (1,149) and third in save percentage (.934).
Coleman, who backstopped the Aces to the Kelly Cup in May, has permitted two goals or less in eight of his last 11 starts. He is rarely surrendering rebounds and continually coming up with timely saves.
"I just feel confident,'' Coleman said. "The team's playing well, allowing me to see shots. And with (defenseman Chad Anderson) back, that helps -- he blocks so many shots.''
The 6-foot-5 Coleman basically coaches himself, occasionally watching video to make sure he's doing fundamental things consistently. He also credits a succession of goalie coaches in his career for helping him refine his game.
Working hard at his craft doesn't hurt, either.
"I think it's the way he approaches the game,'' said Aces veteran winger Wes Goldie. "Practices, he's on (the ice) early, taking shots, working on his angles. He's always preparing.
"And he's so big that if he's on his angle, the mathematics make it hard to score on him.''
Alaska led 2-0 in the third period, courtesy of second-period, power-play strikes from Steve Ward and Garry Nunn. Ward, Nunn and defenseman Kane Lafranchise each notched points on both goals.
To that point, Coleman had delivered a splendid left-toe save on Derek Couture's point-blank bid in the second period. Earlier in the period, he gave up a rare rebound but stifled Couture's backhand bid.
After Ontario (12-10-2) cut the lead to 2-1 when Vincent Estrada jammed in his own rebound less than eight minutes into the third period, Coleman kept the Reign at bay. Shortly after that goal, Ontario's Bill Bagron of Eagle River got the puck low in the slot, where he was unchecked. But as he went from his backhand to forehand and pivoted to face Coleman, Coleman pushed out his stick to poke-check the puck off Bagron's stick.
"He always makes that big save for us,'' Ward said.
About three minutes later, Goldie iced the win when he converted Brian Swanson's 2-on-1 feed for his team-leading 12th goal and sixth in the last six games.
"They've got a great goaltender,'' said Ontario coach Jason Christie. "Look at what they're doing. At the end of the day, we have to make sure we capitalize on opportunities.
"Then we give probably the two best players in the league a 2-on-1.''
Coleman said it helped Friday that the Reign got some early chances -- nothing too high-quality, but good enough to get him in rhythm.
"For me, you just have to stay sharp,'' Coleman said. "It was nice to get a couple shots right off the bat to get into the flow.''
He said he's also forced to stay sharp by the excellent play of Adam Courchaine, who is his backup for the second straight season. Courchaine is 4-1-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
"You can't take a day off, or a night off,'' Coleman said.
And that leaves Aces coach Rob Murray a happy bench boss, especially when Coleman is playing so consistently well.
"His game's clean,'' Murray said, "and it's not by accident.''
Shuffling the deck
Anderson returned to the lineup after missing 16 games with a broken foot. Also back was winger Zach Harrison after missing eight games with an upper-body injury.
Ontario dressed 14 skaters -- nine forwards and five defensemen -- and that's two below the maximum allowed. The Reign's second visit to Sullivan this season -- they play the Aces again tonight and Sunday -- was also its second visit without rookie standout goalie Darcy Kuemper. He's currently with Houston of the American Hockey League.
Aces winger Matt Ambroz took a puck to the throat while stationed net-front in the second period. Fortunately, the puck knuckled when teammateEthan Cox launched his one-timer, so the biscuit hit flat against Ambroz's throat. He was able to continue playing.
Goldie extended his point streak to six games -- he owns 6-3--9 totals in that span. Lafranchise has points in four straight, with 1-5--6 totals in that stretch.
Erstwhile Aces winger Scott Howes is at it again for AHL Bridgeport -- he scored a power-play goal Friday in a 6-3 loss at Connecticut to give him 6-2--8 totals in nine games with the Tigers. He was minus 1 Friday and dropped to minus 4 for the season. Friday, Howes was one of eight Tigers to fire three shots on goal.
Also for Bridgeport, Aces winger Tyler Ruegsegger fired one shot on goal and had an even rating.
Rookie winger Chris Bruton, up with AHL Peoria, was even, with one shot on goal, in a 5-2 win at Rockford.
And Aces defenseman Russ Sinkewich, up with Abbotsford, was even with no shots in a 4-3 shootout win over visiting Hamilton.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Ontario 0 0 1 -- 1
Aces 0 2 1 -- 3
First Period -- None. Penalties -- Gentile, Aces (slashing), 5:38; Irwin, Ontario (interference), 13:21; Ward, Aces (cross-checking), 16:27.
Second Period -- 1, Aces, Ward 3 (Lafranchise, Nunn), 6:10 (pp); 2, Aces, Nunn 8 (Ward, Lafranchise), 17:38 (pp). Penalties -- Calla, Ontario (interference), 5:28; LoVerde, Ontario (interference), 16:08; Huxley, Ontario (cross-checking), 19:22.
Third Period -- 3, Ontario, Estrada 1 (Kraemer, Brisebois), 7:41; 4, Aces, Goldie 12 (Swanson, Miller), 10:42. Penalties -- Van de Mosselaer, Ontario (goaltender interference), :53; Miller, Aces (interference), 16:01; Irwin, Ontario (misconduct), 19:18.
Shots on goal -- Ontario 11-10-13--34. Aces 5-14-5--24.
Power-play Opportunities -- Ontario 0 of 3; Aces 2 of 5.
Goalies -- Ontario, Carrozzi, 1-5-1 (24 shots-21 saves). Aces, Coleman, 14-3-1 (34-33).
A -- 3,637 (6,399). T -- 2:19.
Referee -- Tom Chmielewski. Linesmen -- Travis Jackson, Will Moran.Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News