After their prime penalty-killing performance triggered the Alaska Aces’ 4-1 win over the Ontario Reign on Friday night, they are back atop the ECHL in that category.
The Aces killed a five-minute major in the first period and a four-minute double minor bridging the first and second periods in stretching their streak of games unbeaten in regulation to 13 (12-0-1). That ties for the second-longest such streak in the franchise’s 10 seasons in the ECHL – the club’s standard is 16 straight (15-0-1) without a regulation loss, set by the 2005-06 Kelly Cup-winning team.
And not only did the league-leading Aces (30-8-1) keep the Reign (24-10-3) subdued when the visitors owned the man advantage — Ontario didn’t score during a combined 13 minutes of power-play time, nearly one-quarter of the game — they went up 1-0 on Nick Mazzolini’s short-handed breakaway late in the first period.
The Aces kill off opposing power plays at a clip of 86.3 percent.
“Penalty-killing is almost a comfort zone for us,’’ said Aces winger Jordan Kremyr, who returned after missing 24 games with a concussion. “We have some forwards and D-men who are good at killing penalties.’’
On that five-minute major, the Aces permitted three shots on goal — Mark Guggenberger stopped those on the way to his 23 saves — and continually made good on opportunities to clear the puck from their zone and send it the length of the ice.
“That’s how you grind the clock out,’’ Kremyr said.
Mazzolini, whose two goals and one assist furnished his fifth multiple-goal game of the season and his 10th multiple-point game, said his team did a strong job of clogging passing and shooting lanes, and working with a purpose.
“No one took shortcuts — everything was stops and starts,’’ Mazzolini said. “We were just trying to get in those lanes and cut down on the Grade A opportunities.’’
Aces coach Rob Murray said his club’s work early on the major penalty and the double minor worked in its favor.
“It allowed our momentum to build,’’ he said.
Ontario, which is winless in three straight games for the first time all season, got stung on its power play in the last minute of the first period, when Alaska defenseman William Wrenn put Mazzolini in on a breakaway from the red line in.
Mazzolini lifted a forehand behind Dustin Carlson (nine saves on 12 shots in two periods) for a 1-0 Aces lead.
The goal capped a combative first period that featured three of the game’s four fights, three ejections — Alaska’s Chris Clackson and Dustin Molle, and Ontario’s Jason Beeman — and a majority of the 93 penalty minutes in the match. The teams were playing for the fourth straight time.
Mazzolini stretched the cushion to 2-0 with his team-leading 22nd goal on a power play midway through the second period, when Carlson delivered a pass directly to the center.
Carlson went behind his net to play the puck and fired it right to Mazzolini, whose wrister from the right circle found a mostly empty net as Carson desperately dove back into his crease. Zach Harrison’s career-high ninth goal later in the period — he beat Carlson short-side with a 2-on-1 wrister from the left circle – ballooned the lead to 3-0.
Ontario kept Guggenberger, whose three shutouts tie him for the league lead, from taking sole possession of the league lead when Mario Lamoureux scored with less than four minutes to go.
Kremyr, who assisted on Harrison’s goal, added an empty-net goal off a Mazzolini feed for his first goal in 14 games this season.
Shuffling the deck
Kremyr said he was excited to play his first game since Nov. 16.
“It’s almost like you feel alive again,’’ he said. “You miss the grind, the competitiveness. It’s fun to get out there and compete.’’
He also appreciated that Mazzolini passed up the chance for a hat trick and found him wide open on the left wing for his empty-net goal.
“That’s why Mazz is such a good leader,’’ Kremyr said.
Murray said he thought Kremyr played well, and needs to keep it up.
“He’s got a lot to prove because we had high expectations for him, not to get 20 goals necessarily, but to be a good player for us,’’ Murray said. “And he had a poor start. Tonight, he played better than the 13 games he played prior to his injury, in my mind.’’
Mazzolini’s 22 goals in 39 games, which ranks second in the league to Ontario’s Colton Yellow Horn (24 goals in 37 games), top his 21 goals in 69 games last season. He is on pace to beat his career high of 27 goals, which came in 63 games as a rookie in 2009-10. Mazzolini’s goals snapped his four-game goal drought, which tied for his longest dry spell this season.
Wrenn’s assist on Mazzolini’s first goal stopped his five-game point drought, the longest of the rookie’s season.
The Reign used goaltender Drew O’Connell of Anchorage in the third period and he stopped all five shots he faced. O’Connell, who last season helped out the Aces when they were short in net, also earned an assist on Lamoureux’s goal.
“I got a minus on that one,’’ Mazzolini said with a grin. “I’ve got to talk to him about that.’’
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Ontario 0 0 1 — 1
Aces 1 2 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Aces, Mazzolini 21 (Wrenn), 19:33 (sh). Penalties — Clackson, Aces (roughing), :41; Beeman, Ontario, double-minor (roughing, unsportsmanlike conduct), :41; Ward, Aces, major (fighting), 4:06; J. Lamoureux, Ontario, major (fighting), 4:06; Clackson, Aces, double-major, game misconduct, served by Waldrop (cross-checking, fighting), 7:10; Beeman, Ontario, major-game misconduct (fighting, secondary altercation), 7:10; Molle, Aces, major-game misconduct (fighting), 7:10; Cloud, Ontario, major (fighting), 7:10; Waldrop, Aces, double-minor (high-sticking), 18:29.
Second Period — 2, Aces, Mazzolini 22, 8:25 (pp); 3, Aces, Harrison 9 (Kremyr, Curry), 15:37. Penalties — Hughes, Aces, major (fighting), 6:03; M. Lamoureux, Ontario, major (fighting), 6:03; Stretch, Ontario (holding), 7:55; Gorham, Aces (hooking), 11:42.
Third Period — 4, Ontario, M. Lamoureux 15 (Pender, O’Connell), 16:22; 5, Aces, Kremyr 1 (Mazzolini, Imbeault), 17:47 (en). Penalties — Hughes, Aces (holding), 5:58; Brodie Sheahan, Ontario (hooking), 18:37.
Shots on goal — Ontario 6-6-12—24. Aces 6-6-6—18.
Power-play Opportunities — Ontario 0 of 5. Aces 1 of 3.
Goalies — Ontario, Carlson, 0-1-1 (12 shots-9 saves); O’Connell, enter 0:00 third period (5-5). Aces, Guggenberger, 15-5-1 (24-23).
A — 4,944 (6,399). T — 2:27.
Referee — Joe Sullivan. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Travis Jackson.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY