Winning percentages tell us the Ontario Reign and Alaska Aces are the top two hockey clubs in the 21-team ECHL, yet you wouldn’t know it from the average spread in their seven meetings this season.
Seems it’s always one of them lording over the other, and Ontario’s 5-2 win at Sullivan Arena on Friday night proved par for the course — the average goal differential in the season series is three.
The Reign’s bounce-back Friday came after the Aces pumped them 6-1 on Wednesday. Just a week ago in California, the Aces seized a 6-2 win and Ontario responded with a 4-2 win that wasn’t that close.
In their seven encounters, only one result could be considered a one-goal game — Ontario’s 4-2 win in Anchorage on Dec. 27 came courtesy of an empty-net goal.
“You’d have thought we’d have all 2-1 games, but most of them have been lopsided,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray.
Maybe it’s because both teams are at less than their best.
The Aces lost another player to Abbotsford of the American Hockey League on Friday, when winger Turner Elson became the third Ace in a week to get summoned up the ladder. They’ve endured a wicked run of injuries all season — 13 different guys have missed a total of 254 games.
Ontario coach Jason Christie figures about half his best lineup is either in the AHL or on the injured list.
Or maybe it’s because both clubs are playing schedules so dense with games in such short periods of time that it’s almost unconscionable. Saturday night’s finale of the three-game series will mark the Aces’ 11th game in 16 days, with two days of travel, to California and back, in that span. Saturday’s game will be Ontario’s 11th in 18 days.
“Everyone suffers,’’ said Ontario’s Matt White.
After the Aces (33-15-3) made easy work of the Reign (34-14-5) on Wednesday, when they scored two goals inside the opening four minutes, the Reign reversed roles Friday, scoring two goals inside the opening nine minutes.
“It just seems like when one club shows up, the other doesn’t right now,’’ said Aces captain Nick Mazzolini.
Maxime Kitsyn rifled a shot from the slot past Gerald Coleman four minutes in and White, seconds after absorbing a crushing hit from Aces defenseman Sean Curry, tipped Cody Sol’s slapper past Coleman.
“I barely touched it,’’ White said. “Sol made a great slap-pass. It found my stick somehow.’’
Sebastian Stalberg’s goal less than nine minutes into the second period extended Ontario’s lead to 3-0. And though Mathew Sisca countered for the Aces 79 seconds later, Ontario’s Matt Register answered that in short order — Coleman got his glove on Register’s shot but his whipping hand motion propelled the puck into the air and behind him.
Meanwhile, the Aces weren’t getting any puck luck. Jordan Morrison rang a shot off the right post in the opening minute of the second period. And, granted Mazzolini’s 2-on-1 one-timer in the final minute of the game wouldn’t have been a difference-maker if it found net behind Jussi Olkinuora (25 saves), but the shaft of his stick shattered.
“We didn’t deserve the bounces tonight, and it showed,’’ Mazzolini said.
Ontario’s Kyle Bigos scored a third-period goal to furnish a 5-1 cushion and Brendan Connolly answered with a short-handed strike that kept the Aces from suffering their worst loss this season on home ice.
As it was, Ontario’s three-goal cushion matched the 3-0 win it engineered here on New Year’s Eve.
The Aces still own the league’s best home-ice record at 21-7-1, yet the Reign have won three of five games at Sullivan this season. No other Aces opponent owns more than one victory in the building.
Ontario’s victory raised its winning percentage to .689 and Alaska loss reduced its winning percentage to .676. Alaska had assumed the lead league in that category with Wednesday’s blowout and lost it when it got torched Friday.
“It’s frustrating to have such high highs and such low lows in a short period of time,’’ Mazzolini said.
Who knows what to expect Saturday?
“It’s preparation and being ready to play,’’ Christie said. “They jumped on us pretty quick the other night and tonight we gave up some chances early but got a couple of goals to get off to a good start.
“It’s good to see the way the guys responded, but (Saturday) is going to be another day.’’
Shuffling the deck
Coleman came out after stopping 21 of 25 shots in two periods. Alex Kangas stopped seven of eight shots in the third period.
With Elson gone, Murray only had 15 skaters available. That’s one under the ECHL maximum of 16 for a game. He dressed nine forwards and six defensemen.
Wednesday, it was Ontario that was a man short. Christie that night dressed 10 forwards and five defensemen.
The Reign and Aces still own a cushion in the Western Conference standings. Ontario owns 73 points in 53 games and Alaska 69 points in 51 games. Colorado has 61 points in 50 games, followed by Idaho (60 points in 51 games) and Utah (60 points in 53 games).
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Ontario2 2 1 — 5
Aces 0 1 1 — 2
First Period — 1, Ontario, Kitsyn 5 (Sheen), 4:01; 2, Ontario, White 13 (Sol, Guimond), 8:53 (pp). Penalties — Molle, Aces (delay of game), 6:54; Richard, Aces (holding), 10:37; Mele, Aces, major (fighting), 16:50; Sheen, Ontario, major (fighting), 16:50; Sol, Ontario (roughing), 17:30.
Second Period — 3, Ontario, Stalberg 7 (Van de Mosselaer), 8:40; 4, Aces, Sisca 12 (Taranto, Mosienko), 9:59; 5, Ontario, Register 10 (Gron), 13:37. Penalties — Crane, Ontario (delay of game), 2:00; Connolly, Aces (roughing), 12:43; Crane, Ontario (roughing), 12:43; Bigos, Ontario (roughing), 15:52; Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 16:06.
Third Period — 6, Ontario, Bigos 3 (Burt, Sol), 12:11; 7, Aces, Connolly 15 (Molle), 13:37 (sh). Penalties — Mosienko, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 12:11; Mele, Aces (high-sticking), 18:38.
Shots on goal — Ontario 9-16-8—33. Aces 6-9-12—27.
Power-play Opportunities — Ontario 1 of 4. Aces 0 of 3.
Goalies — Ontario, Olkinuora, 8-8-1 (27 shots-25 saves). Aces, Coleman, 10-4-1 (25-21); Kangas, enter 0:00 3rd period (8-7).
A — 4,520 (6,399). T — 2:24.
Referee — Pierre Lambert. Linesmen — Travis Jackson, Josh Ellis.
By DOYLE WOODY