The Alaska Aces closed the first half of the ECHL hockey season with a laugher Saturday night — they humbled the Las Vegas Wranglers, 6-0, to sweep the three-game series at Sullivan Arena.
The Aces’ most lopsided win of the season pushed their point streak to eight games (6-0-2) and was a template of their first half, and of the club’s culture: Grand goaltending and relentless defense are the foundations of the franchise.
So it was Saturday, when the Aces (24-9-3) played their 36th game of 72 in the regular season, and Olivier Roy racked 26 saves to earn his fourth shutout. It marked the Aces’ ninth shutout of the season, just two bagels shy of tying the league standard for most team shutouts in a single season.
Roy, supported by a four-goal second period, won his sixth straight game and 10th in his last 11 starts.
The Aces entered the night permitting opponents just 2.14 goals per game, the second-stingiest in the league. They also limit opponents to fewer than 25 shots per game, the lowest total on the 22-team circuit.
Roy owns four shutouts, Joni Ortio (now with Abbotsford of the American Hockey League) furnished two, Laurent Brossoit (now with ECHL Bakersfield) generated two and Mark Guggenberger (who jumped the team for the Central Hockey League) had one. And Gerald Coleman, who backstopped the Aces to the 2011 Kelly Cup as ECHL champions, has recently returned from offseason hip surgery.
So, the Aces have been set, and still are, between the pipes.
They’ve also continued their stingy way despite of slew of injuries. At the moment, defensemen Corey Syvret and Sean Curry are out with injuries, and Kane Lafranchise is up with Abbotsford. All three, if here and healthy, would be in the lineup.
Nonetheless, coach Rob Murray has no complaints about his team defensively.
“There’s always room for improvement, but it’s been good,’’ he said. “We’ve gotten quality goaltending, whether it’s Olivier right now, Brossoit, Ortio, and it goes a long way.
“Limiting teams to (24) shots, you don’t have to be Einstein to know it gives you a chance to compete and win every night.’’
Defenseman James Martin, who owns a plus-18 plus-minus rating through 33 games, said assistant coach Louis Mass deserves some of the credit for the Aces’ superlative defense.
“We always work on D zone, every practice,’’ Martin said. “You watch our practice and Louis is out there with us for 45 minutes after practice.’’
Doesn’t hurt that the Aces, despite missing several forwards to promotions and injuries, score ample goals. Saturday, defenseman Zach Davies scored two goals, Brendan Connolly furnished a career-high four assists, and Peter Sivak, Mathew Sisca, captain Nick Mazzolini and Eli Zuck added goals.
Roy never gave the Wranglers (10-23-4), last in the league, a sniff. He stoned Adam Hughesman on a 2-on-1 in the first period, snuffed Matt Tassone’s 2-on-1 bid at the left post in the second period and looked sharp and in control throughout.
“This is probably the best goaltending on a team I’ve ever had,’’ Martin said. “It’s a little bit of pressure off your shoulders, knowing you don’t have to look back and see if it’s in the net, because you know he has it.’’
The Aces’ 51 points at the midway point of the season represents their fourth-most to the point in their 11 ECHL seasons. And that’s from a team that has had 12 different players miss a combined 165 games with injuries.
“It’s a credit to the guys who have been playing and getting the job done this year,’’ Murray said.
Shuffling the deck
Connolly’s four-point game was the fourth of his career. The other two came in a three-goal, one-assist game and a four-goal game.
Alaska’s three goals in a second-period span of 6 minutes, 21 seconds, marked the 10th time this season they have scored three or more goals in less than seven minutes. It also marked the 12th time — an average of once every three games — they have scored three or more goals in a period.
Sivak owns 4-6—10 totals in his five-game point streak.
Sisca, who also had an assist, has 3-3—6 totals in his four-game streak. And Mazzolini is 1-3—4 in his three-game streak.
Sivak’s plus-23 rating is tied for third-best in the league. Martin, Mazzolini and defenseman Brad Richard are all plus-18, tied for ninth-best in the league.
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Las Vegas 0 0 0 — 0
Aces 1 4 1 — 6
First Period — 1, Aces, Sivak 13 (Martin, Connolly), 17:45. Penalties — Molle, Aces (boarding), 4:56; Zuck, Aces (slashing), 11:31; Del Grosso, LV (cross-checking), 15:44.
Second Period — 2, Aces, Davies 3 (Molle), 3:40; 3, Aces, Davies 4 (Connolly, Sisca), 9:29 (pp); 4, Aces, Sisca 11 (Connolly), 10:01; 5, Aces, Mazzolini 11 (Skelly, Connolly), 19:06. Penalties — Julseth-White, LV, served by Bernhardt (cross-checking), :43; Hughesman, LV (slashing), 8:26; Parker, Aces, double-minor (roughing), 17:19; Tassone, LV, double-minor (roughing), 17:19; Richard, Aces (hooking), 19:48.
Third Period — 6, Aces, Zuck 3 (MacKenzie, Ring-Jarvi), 2:55. Penalties — Connolly, Aces (roughing), 4:48; Ring-Jarvi, Aces (roughing), 4:48; Bernhardt, LV (roughing), 4:48; O’Keefe, LV, served by Ischi (roughing), 4:48; Mele, Aces, major (fighting), 18:27; Cook, LV, major (fighting), 18:27.
Shots on goal — LV 9-7-10—26. Aces 11-15-10—36.
Power-play Opportunities — LV 0 of 3. Aces 2 of 3.
Goalies — LV, Fullerton, 5-9-4 (21 shots-17 saves); O’Keefe enter 10:01 2nd period (15-13). Aces, Roy, 13-6-0 (26-26).
A — 5,927 (6,399). T — 2:35.
Referee — Andy Thackaberry. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.
By DOYLE WOODY