Valentine, Penalty Kill Stellar, Youthful Offense Provides Late Surge
Entering their fourth meeting with the Johnstown Tomahawks of 2016, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights were searching for their second sweep of the season. The Tomahawks, who had dropped their previous five contests began the evening in hopes of rediscovering the rhythm that catapulted their team to a 13-0 start to begin the season.
The game began in much the same way as its predecessor just 24 hours earlier. The first period was largely spent with each team spending every few shifts in the offensive zone, amounting to a few decent chances on net for both sides, but nothing on the scoreboard other than shot totals. Again, like the night before, it would be the Knights who would break the game’s seal, again aided by a Johnstown penalties. Just as the Tomahawks second penalty of the game expired, Knights forward Adrian Danchenko split through a pair of penalty killers and tucked under the crossbar for the 1-0 lead at 16:02.
That score would hold not only for the remainder of the first but the entirety of the second. Neither Johnstown nor Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would concede much space in the firsts forty minutes of play, and despite a few more penalties committed by both sides, neither team could capitalize on any power play opportunity. In the final seconds, Paul Cimilluca was assessed a double minor for high sticking, giving Johnstown 3:59 on the man advantage to begin the third.
It was here that Knights goalie Grant Valentine elevated what had already been another strong performance in net. With already 20 shots on goal through forty minutes of play, the Tomahawks peppered Valentine for the remainder of the double-penalty. The veteran tender stood tall on each offering that made its way through the crease, blanking all offerings from the Johnstown forecheck.
Following the successful kill of the extended penalty, the Knights slowly began a counter attack that rejuvenated what had been a stagnant offense in the immediate wake of return to full-strength. After testing Drew Hotte with a number of solid shots, the Knights finally kicked in the door with 5:20 left to play. Following a few instances on the night where they had just missed on big play set ups, the Middletown connection awoke for the Knights as Khristian Acosta threw pass in front of Hotte’s net from beneath the goal line to an open Mike Gelatt. Gelatt buried the puck past Hotte to give the Knights a 2-0 lead.
Just 28 seconds later, Adrian Danchenko crashed hard to the net and threw a puck off Hotte’s pads. Trailing behind Danchenko, affiliate player Jack Olmstead tapped the rebound to the twine to give the Knights insurance and the 2017-18 Knights tender his first NAHL goal.
The 3-0 lead would hold for the remainder of play, giving Grant Valentine a 30-save shutout, his first of the season and his fifth win in his past seven starts. In that stretch, Valentine is 5-2 with a save percentage of .935 (186/199) and a GAA of 2.06, highlighted by this weekend in which the goalie went 2-0 with totals of .962% and 1.00. Also stellar was a Knights penalty kill that stopped 5/6 Friday and 4/4 Saturday, giving them a 90% kill rate for the past two games.
Currently six points behind the Tomahawks in the East, the Knights will attempt to further narrow the gap when they head to Johnstown next Friday the 25th and Saturday the 26th for two more contests against their western PA rivals.