The Alaska Aces spent Saturday night chasing a hockey game. They caught it twice, but never corralled it.
After surrendering two Utah Grizzlies goals in the opening 4 minutes, 39 seconds -- that's the fastest Alaska has plunged into a two-goal hole in 55 games this season -- the Aces' continuous pursuit forged two ties yet finished with a 4-3 ECHL loss at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.
That defeat snapped Alaska's three-game point streak (2-0-1) and dropped it into second place in winning percentage (.673) on the 21-team circuit, fractionally behind idle Ontario (.676).
About the only upside of the first period for the Aces (35-16-4) is that the damage the Grizzlies (28-20-8) inflicted could have been more severe. But Gerald Coleman (20 saves) stopped two breakaways, denying Vinny Scarsella and Jamie MacQueen.
As it was, defenseman Teigan Zahn's strike one minute into the game and David Vallorani's 2-on-1 finish pushed the Grizzlies to a 2-0 lead.
"It's like there doesn't seem to be enough motivation game to game, where we're ready to go and not be satisfied with the success we've had,'' Aces coach Rob Murray said by cellphone. "That's what the first period was like -- like we wanted it to be easy.''
And while the Aces pushed back in the second period on goals from first-liners Brendan Connolly and Peter Sivak to gain a 2-2 tie, they soon found themselves on the chase again.
MacQueen earned the Grizzlies a 3-2 lead late in the second period on a power-play breakaway furnished by Zahn that marked the third time the Aces put Coleman in that lousy position. MacQueen beat him to the glove side for his 19th goal -- that ties Vallorani for the club lead -- and a 3-2 advantage. Murray called it "ridiculous'' for his club to give up a breakaway through the center of the ice while working with a man advantage.
Yet again the Aces worked well from behind. Mathew Sisca's power-play roof job past Aaron Dell (23 saves) nearly five minutes into the third period got Alaska back on level terms at 3-3. Aces winger Alex Belzile, who was acquired Friday in a deal with Gwinnett and made his club debut Saturday, assisted on Sisca's goal.
Still, the Aces didn't do Coleman any favors with less than seven minutes left when Brent Gwidt was left uncovered near the crease and scored the game winner off Zahn's centering feed. Zahn (one goal, two helpers) intercepted an Aces pass in neutral ice before setting sail into their zone.
"I thought we carried the bulk of the play through the second and third periods, and just came up short,'' Murray said.
The Aces return to Anchorage for a six-game homestand -- three games against the Bakersfield Condors and three against the Colorado Eagles -- that opens Friday against Bako.
After that, the Aces close the season with 10 consecutive road games as they pursue their fourth consecutive Brabham Cup as regular-season champions. No other team has won consecutive Brabhams, though Alaska's path to the prize appears daunting given that extended road sequence at season's end.
Shuffling the deck
Captain Nick Mazzolini assisted on Connolly's goal to push his point streak to four games. He owns 2-4--6 totals in that span.
The Grizzlies went 1 for 5 on the power play and the Aces went 1 for 2.
Utah's greater number of power-play opportunities marked the 10th time in 55 games an Aces opponent has enjoyed more power plays. The Aces have owned more power-play chances than their opponent in 31 games and power plays have been even in 14 games.
The Aces average 4.25 power-play chances per game to their opponents' average of 3.35. They have outscored opponents on the power play, 55-30.
The Aces still have six guys injured and out of the lineup. Through 55 games, 15 different Aces have missed a combined 286 games with injuries.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces0 2 1 -- 3
Utah2 1 1 --4
First Period -- 1, Utah, Zahn 7 (Paquette, Cramarossa), 1:00; 2, Utah, Vallorani 18 (Mangan, MacQueen), 4:39. Penalties -- Paquette, Utah, minor-major (interference, fighting), 6:30; Richard, Aces, major (fighting), 6:30; Curry, Aces (tripping), 9:41; Pelech, Utah (cross-checking), 14:25.
Second Period -- 3, Aces, Connolly 18 (Mazzolini, Davies), 2:50; 4, Aces, Sivak 22 (Richard, Martin), 10:15; 5, Utah, MacQueen 19 (Zahn, Dell), 16:12 (pp). Penalties -- Paquette, Utah (roughing), 9:04; Curry, Aces (roughing), 9:04; J. Martin, Aces (roughing), 10:49; J. Martin, Aces (cross-checking), 16:12; Parker, Aces (delay of game-puck over glass), 16:58.
Third Period -- 6, Aces, Sisca 13 (Davies, Belzile), 4:41 (pp); 7, Utah, Gwidt 6 (Zahn), 13:13. Penalties -- MacQueen, Utah (slashing), 2:44; Davies, Aces (interference), 7:58.
Shots on goal -- Aces 9-8-9--26. Utah 13-4-7--24.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 3. Utah 1 of 5.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 11-5-2 (24 shots-20 saves). Utah, Dell, 15-6-2 (26-23).
A -- 6,340 (10,200). T -- 2:27.
Referee -- Brett Sheva. Linesmen -- Josh Pergande, Kollin Kleinendorst
By DOYLE WOODY