Goaltender Mark Guggenberger regained his groove Wednesday night, and the crew in front of him rediscovered its defensive chops.
All that, and Joey Crabb's short-handed strike, allowed the Alaska Aces to reacquaint themselves with victory.
Coming off two lopsided road losses to the Stockton Thunder over the weekend, the Aces prospered courtesy of 26 saves from Guggenberger, who stoned the host Las Vegas Wranglers to post his second 1-0 shutout this ECHL hockey season.
After noting earlier in the day they had signed an NHL center of some renown -- apparently, this Scott Gomez guy from Anchorage has a bit of a rink resume -- the Aces (6-4-0) snapped their two-game losing streak and three-game road skid.
Las Vegas (3-4-1), meanwhile lost its third straight game in the opener of a three-game set at Orleans Arena that is a rematch of last spring's Western Conference Finals. Las Vegas dispatched the Aces in five games then, and went on to fall in five games to the Florida Everblades in the Kelly Cup Finals.
With both teams stingy about surrendering quality chances, and with Guggenberger and Wranglers goalie Joe Fallon (24 saves) both sharp, the game turned late in the second period with Las Vegas on the power play, which has proved something of an oxymoron for it.
Alaska's Nate Thompson and Crabb, both NHLers already playing for the Aces along with NHL winger Brandon Dubinsky -- all three are from Anchorage -- engineered the game's only goal. Thompson harassed Las Vegas defenseman and captain Mike Madill on the short-handed fore-check, which freed the puck for Crabb. He beat Fallon with a high shot from between the face-off circles.
That marked the first shortie the Wranglers have surrendered this season, though that was scant consolation. Las Vegas went 0 for 6 on the power play against the Aces, who own the league's second-stingiest penalty-killing unit, and has converted a mere two times in 40 chances with the man advantage this season. That 5.0-percent efficiency ranks last in the league.
That the Wranglers can't buy a break on the power play became painfully clear later in the second period when former Ace Judd Blackwater scored on a power-play rebound only to have the goal disallowed by referee Andy Thackaberry. He blew the play dead after losing sight of the puck.
The Aces came into the series, which continues Friday night, off 7-4 and 5-1 shellackings endured to Stockton in California on Saturday and Sunday.
Alaska killed off a tripping penalty by center Nick Mazzolini in the late going, which helped it carry its 1-0 lead inside the last five minutes. And with the Wranglers trying to get Fallon to the bench for a sixth attacker, the Aces buzzed Las Vegas enough that it was not able to get an extra attacker on the ice for any meaningful time.
Guggenberger's shutout came after he stopped just 40 of 50 shots in two starts against Stockton, and was pulled from the first of those losses. His 1-0 bagel matched his previous shutout, a 22-save performance in a 1-0 home-ice win over Utah.
Guggenberger, the Central Hockey League's Most Outstanding Goaltender and Rookie of the Year last season, is the only goalie on the 23-team circuit who has crafted two shutouts already.
Shuffling the deck
Crabb's short-handed goal was Alaska's third this season and snapped his three-game point drought.
The Aces' penalty-kill improved to 91.2-percent efficiency. They also killed off a Las Vegas two-man advantage that last for 66 seconds in the first period.
The Aces went 0 for 4 on the power play.
Alaska defenseman Corey Syvret returned to the lineup after missing four games with a broken finger. Defenseman Alain Goulet was scratched to make room for Syvret in the lineup.
Aces rookie forward Jarred Smith fought Las Vegas defenseman Channing Boe for his first pro scrap.
Las Vegas winger Sean Wiles, the former UAA skater, wasn't in the lineup. He's had a tough start this season with one assist in seven games and a minus-8 rating.
Wranglers sniper Eric Lampe, who led the league with 37 goals in 52 games last season, hit the post Wednesday to continue his slow start. He has two goals in eight games -- both goals came in the same game.
Las Vegas dropped to 2-4-0 at home.
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Aces 0 1 0 -- 1
Las Vegas 0 0 0 -- 0
First Period -- None. Penalties -- Wrenn, Aces (hooking), 8:43; Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 9:38; Stamler, Las Vegas (roughing), 15:24; Kremyr, Aces (roughing), 15:24; Boe, Las Vegas, major (fighting), 15:24; Smith, Aces, major (fighting), 15:24.
Second Period -- 1, Aces, Crabb 4, 14:35 (sh). Penalties -- Cook, Las Vegas (roughing), 1:08; Nunn, Aces (roughing), 1:08; Huxley, Las Vegas (boarding), 7:57; Boe, Las Vegas (hooking), 11:14; Lafranchise, Aces (hooking), 13:57; Sinkewich, Aces (tripping), 16:42; Dubinsky, Aces (tripping), 19:10; Cook, Las Vegas (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:57.
Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Paukovich, Las Vegas (roughing), 6:01; Mele, Aces (roughing), 6:01; Mazzolini, Aces (tripping), 13:36.
Shots on goal -- Aces 8-12-5--25. Las Vegas 10-10-6--26.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 4. Las Vegas 0 of 6.
Goalies -- Aces, Guggenberger, 5-3-0 (26 shots-26 saves). Las Vegas, Fallon, 3-2-1 (25-24).
A -- 3,128 (7,773). T -- 2:25.
Referee -- Andy Thackaberry. Linesmen -- Zach Thornton, Wally Lacroix.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY