While a couple of glorious third-period chances went unrewarded and the Alaska Aces fired a collective shootout blank in Monday's 3-2 matinee loss at Las Vegas, the ECHL leaders nonetheless still have ruled in road rinks.
The shootout loss at Orleans Arena in Sin City -- the Wranglers won the skills competition,1-0 on Matt Carter's strike in the fourth of five rounds -- gives the Aces a league-leading road record of 14-6-2 (.682 winning percentage).
And their 1-1-1 road trip entering the league's All-Star break means the Aces have been .500 or better on all six of their road trips. Alaska's record in its five previous trips: 1-1-0, 3-2-0, 5-1-0, 2-1-0 and 2-0-1.
Alaska hits the break at 31-10-2 overall for 64 points, which in the overall standings gives them a four-point lead on the Reading Royals (28-10-4, 60 points), who have one game in hand. Reading lost 5-2 to visiting Elmira on Monday after leading 2-1 more than halfway through the third period.
The Aces played Monday with a full, desirable complement of 10 forwards and six defensemen after rookie blueliner William Wrenn returned from a three-game stint with Worcester of the American Hockey League and the club signed former Aces blueliner B.J. Crum out of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Las Vegas earned the extra point in the standings when Carter scored in the fourth round of the shootout after Aces goaltender Mark Guggenberger stopped Andrew Sarauer, Adam Hughesman and Chris Francis in the first three rounds.
Five Aces -- Alexandre Imbeault, Nick Mazzolini, Shawn Skelly, Bobby Hughes and Tommy Mele -- failed to pierce Wranglers masked man Joe Fallon (35 saves) in the shootout. Alaska fell to 3-2 in shootouts, and Las Vegas (18-17-4) improved to 4-3 in shootouts.
With the game tied 2-2 after two periods, the Aces outshot the Wranglers 16-5 in the third period, reminiscent of their 15-8 shots advantage over Idaho in the third period Saturday, when Mazzolini's late goal furnished a 4-3 victory.
But Fallon snuffed Mazzolini's short-handed breakaway in the third period Monday and Hughes was unable to get his stick on what amounted to a tap-in chance on the power play midway through the period.
The teams traded first-period goals, with Aces newcomer Shawn Skelly scoring on a breakaway midway through for his first goal in three games with the club, and Wranglers captain Mike Madill answering with a power-play strike. Madill's goal was particularly sobering for the Aces -- and invigorating for the Wranglers -- because it came with a mere 1.1 seconds remaining in the period. It also came from a severe angle from near the goal line.
Las Vegas grabbed a 2-1 edge less than five minutes into the second period when Sarauer scored a short-handed goal. Alaska, which is 3-0-1 in Las Vegas this season, entered the game having surrendered a league-low one short-handed goal.
Still, Mazzolini countered with a wrap-around late in the period for his team-leading 24th goal, which marked his fifth in four games against the Wranglers.
Mazzolini sits second in the league in goals, though he's a long way behind Ontario's Colton Yellow Horn. Yellow Horn's power-play goal in overtime to deliver Monday's 2-1 win over visiting Bakersfield was his 32nd goal. Yellow Horn has scored goals in five straight games, owns eight goals in that stretch and has scored 13 goals in 12 games this month.
Shuffling the deck
Mazzolini's 24 goals are twice as many as any player still with the Aces. Garry Nunn, who has missed the last five games with a bruised foot, has 12 goals in 38 games.
Mazzolini, who fired a game-high seven shots on goal Monday, has registered at least one shot on goal in 18 straight games.
For what it's worth, Imbeault, who had three shots on goal, has fired at least one shot in 37 of his 38 games with the Aces this season after being acquired from Orlando. Imbeault had at least one shot in each of the first 31 games he played for the Aces.
The Aces remain the only team in the 23-club league that is unbeaten in regulation when it scores the first goal -- they are 22-0-2 in those games.
Wrenn, Aces bench boss Rob Murray and Aces equipment manager Mike Burkhead headed to Colorado after the game -- they will each participate in the ECHL All-Star Game on Wednesday, when the All-Stars play the Colorado Eagles. Wrenn on Tuesday night will participate in the Hardest Shot and Breakaway Relay competitions in the All-Star Skills Competition.
Through 43 games, 17 Aces players have missed a combined 280 games to injuries.
Alaska returns home to entertain San Francisco (15-20-5) in a three-game set that opens Friday night at Sullivan Arena. The Aces swept a three-game series from the Bulls at Sullivan in late October.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com or call him at 257-4335.
Las Vegas wins shootout 1-0
Aces 1 1 0 0 -- 2
Las Vegas 1 1 0 1 -- 3
First Period -- 1, Aces, Skelly 1 (Clackson), 10:53; 2, Las Vegas, Madill 2 (Paukovich, Fritsch), 19:58 (pp). Penalties -- Ward, Aces (holding the stick), 2:04; Boe, Las Vegas (hooking), 12:57; Huxley, Las Vegas, major (fighting), 16:50; Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 16:50; Crum, Aces (interference), 18:22.
Second Period -- 3, LV, Sarauer 10 (Pitt, Madill), 4:28 (sh); 4, Aces, Mazzolini 24 (Molle, Skelly), 16:33. Penalties -- Mazzolini, Aces (tripping), 5:54; Kremyr, Aces (slashing), 7:35; Huxley, LV (unsportsmanlike conduct-diving), 20:00; Mazzolini, Aces (cross-checking), 20:00.
Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Ward, Aces (high-sticking), 6:29; Cook, Las Vegas (delay of game-puck over glass), 9:48; Paukovich, LV, major (fighting), 15:01; Curry, Aces, minor-major, served by Imbeault (fighting), 15:01; Fritsch, LV (slashing), 15:14; Pitt, LV (slashing), 15:52.
Overtime -- None. Penalties -- None.
Shootout -- Las Vegas 1 (Sarauer NG, Hughesman NG, Francis NG, Carter G), Aces 0 (Imbeault NG, Mazzolini NG, Skelly NG, Hughes NG, Mele NG).
Shots on goal - Aces 9-10-16-0--35. Las Vegas 10-9-5-1--25.
Power-play Opportunities - Aces 0 of 5. Las Vegas 1 of 6.
Goalies -- Aces, Guggenberger, (16-5-1) (25 shots-23 saves). Las Vegas, Fallon, (11-10-4) (35-23).
A -- 4,191 (7,773). T -- 2:33.
Referee -- Marc-Andre Lavoie. Linesmen -- Zach Thornton, Todd Owen.
By DOYLE WOODY