The ice tilted severely in the Alaska Aces’ favor much of Friday night. The scoreboard did not.
With five minutes to go at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, after dominating the puck and owning a 3-to-1 advantage in shots for much of the ECHL match, the Aces nonetheless found themselves locked in a tie with the Las Vegas Wranglers.
But rookie winger Andy Taranto’s backhander, off an assist from Brendan Connolly, not only delivered his second goal of the game but furnished the decisive strike in the Aces’ 3-2 victory in their first road game of the season.
The line of wingers Connolly and Taranto and center Tim Coffman figured in all three Aces goals.
Connolly was originally credited with two goals, but Aces coach Rob Murray said after the game that the first goal, off a second-period, goal-mouth scramble, will be credited to Taranto.
Taranto’s goals were the first regular-season ECHL strikes for the former UAF sniper — he scored three playoff goals in six games last season after closing his Nanooks career. Connolly will likely be credited with one goal and one assist, and Coffman contributed an assist.
On a night when Murray announced first-line center Nick Mazzolini as the club’s new captain and Connolly and center Jordan Kremyr as alternate captains, the Aces (2-1-0) outshot the Wranglers 45-17. They have massively outshot opponents in all three games — the combined margin has been 129-53, which averages to 43-18 per game, ergo tilted ice.
The Aces proved so dominant that 15 of their 16 skaters recorded at least one shot on goal, 13 launched multiple shots and nine cranked off at least three shots. Connolly and Evan Trupp each generated five shots, and Mazzolini and defensemen Kane Lafranchise and Zach Davies each fired four.
“There were periods in that game where we were as good as I’ve seen us be — just dominating,’’ said Murray, the third-year coach.
Yet for all of that, the Aces stood on even terms with seven minutes left in regulation after Chris Francis’ power-play wrister from the left circle forged a 2-2 tie for the Wranglers (2-1-0) and first-year coach Mike Madill, their former captain.
“It was kind of similar to that first game of the year against San Francisco, when they scored late (for a 2-1 win),’’ Murray said. “You think, ‘What if we give up another, and a game we have no business losing?’
“But we were resilient, and Andy’s goal was excellent.’’
Taranto quickly restored the lead, which, combined with his previous goal, no doubt granted him some much-deserved exhales. No fewer than five times in last weekend’s season-opening home series against San Francisco, Taranto enjoyed Grade A scoring chances, only to be denied.
This time, he beat Mitch O’Keefe (42 saves) when it mattered most.
Joni Ortio, making his third straight start for Alaska, stopped 15 shots in the opener of a series that features three games in less than 48 hours.
The Wranglers broke on top 1-0 just five minutes into the game on defenseman Greg Coburn’s power-play goal — assisting on the goal was former UAF forward Carlo Finucci, who earned his fifth point in three games. More than a period elapsed before Taranto delivered a 1-1 tie when he scored in that furious goal-mouth scramble.
Connolly gave the Aces a 2-1 lead at 14 minutes of the second period, moments after Aces defenseman James Martin was released from the penalty box for his cross-checking indiscretion. Aces blueliner Corey Syvret hit Martin with a pass that kick-started a 2-on-1 with Connolly, who buried his shot top shelf.
The teams meet again Saturday night and close the series with a Sunday matinee.
Shuffling the deck
We’re only three games into the season — tiny sample size — but perhaps it was not surprising shots were so lopsided. The Aces have averaged 43 shots per game and the Wranglers have allowed an average of 43.3 shots per game.
Murray said returning goaltender Mark Guggenberger will get his first start of the season Saturday.
Winger David Eddy, assigned to the Aces by the Abbotsford Heat, their American Hockey League affiliate, played on the third line with center Kremyr and winger Ross Ring-Jarvi. Murray said Eddy has some sandpaper in his game — “He added grit, and he’s a yappy guy,’’ Murray said.
Connolly will likely be credited with at least two points — one goal and one assist — and perhaps three. Provided he gets credit for at least two points, that will mark his 54th multiple-point game in 220 regular-season ECHL games.
The two power-play goals Alaska surrendered were the first two they have allowed this season. The Aces went 0 for 5 on the power play. They failed to score on a two-man advantage of 65 seconds, which marked their third failure on three extended 5-on-3 advantages this season — those two-man advantages have covered 65 seconds, 31 seconds and 65 seconds.
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Aces1 1 1 — 3
Las Vegas1 0 1 — 2
First Period — 1, LV, Coburn 2 (Finucci, Irwin), 5:12 (pp). Penalties — Huxley, LV, major (fighting), :31; Crum, Aces, major (fighting), :31; Paukovich, LV (high-sticking), 2:08; Mele, Aces (interference), 5:00; Lafranchise, Aces (boarding), 19:24.
Second Period — 2, Aces, Taranto 1 (Coffman), 6:16; 3, Aces, Connolly 2 (Martin, Syvret), 14:06. Penalties — Tassone, LV, double-minor, served by Mentink (goaltender interference, roughing), 1:38; Taranto, Aces (roughing), 1:38; Tassone, LV (tripping), 6:54; Cook, LV (high-sticking), 7:50; Martin, Aces (cross-checking), 11:57; Smith, LV (hooking), 14:24.
Third Period — 4, Las Vegas, Francis 2 (May, Cook), 13:00 (pp); 5, Aces, Taranto 2 (Connolly), 15:14. Penalties — Crum, Aces (cross-checking), 8:14; Syvret, Aces, minor-misconduct, served by Mele (delay of game-puck over glass), 12:17.
Shots on goal — Aces 14-19-12—45. Las Vegas 6-4-7—17.
Power-play Opportunities — Aces 0 of 5. Las Vegas 2 of 5.
Goalies — Aces, Ortio, 2-1-0 (17 shots-15 saves). Las Vegas, O’Keefe, 0-1-0 (45-42).
A — 4,147 (7,773). T — 2:25.
Referee — Pierre Lambert. Linesmen — Wally Lacroix, Todd Owen.
By DOYLE WOODY