Knights Lose in Shootout to New Jersey

In their continuing quest to narrow the gap between their third place standings neighbors, the Knights entered Tuesday with the goal of also building on their 5-4 head-to-head record against the New Jersey Titans. To do so they’d need to overcome the lack of six healthy defensemen for the fourth consecutive game.

Things started well enough. Joey Verkerke appeared to have secured his first career NAHL goal mid-way through the first, but the tally was disallowed due to contact having been with Titans new goalie Ryan Ferland.

On his team’s third power play opportunity of the period, Sam Antonitsch reclaimed the Knights goal-scoring lead when he ripped a shot past Ferland at  18:09. Tim Gelatt’s primary assist extended his four-game point streak and Joey Kubachka’s secondary helper gave him his fourth assist since the calendar turned to 2017.

After a disjointed start to the second period, the Titans took over halfway through. Following a hooking call against the Knights at 8:05, an open Nick Boyagian beat Matteo Esposito on a smooth set up from Ryan Wheeler and Greg Malafronte to tie the game.

A minute and 10 seconds later Kyler Head won a board battle on the right wall of the Knights zone and flipped the puck to Jordan Kaplan. Kaplan toe-dragged his way through the slot and slipped a puck through the five-hole to give New Jersey the 2-1 lead.

After an elbowing call sent the Knights to their fourth power play, Sam Antonitsch would rise to the occasion once again. The scoring sequence was kicked off after Joey Verkerke wrestled a puck free deep in his own corner and tossed it across to paring mate Elijah Latimer. Latimer skipped a pass perfectly from deep in his own far corner to a streaking Reed Robinson on the right side of neutral ice. With Paul Maust riding sidecar as the pair gained the New Jersey line, Robinson deftly filtered a pass forward to Maust as he crashed through the right circle. With a flick of the wrist, Maust backhanded a no-look pass to the middle of the slot for a suddenly materialized Antonitsch, who slammed it home to knot the game at two.

The 3rd period opened with Curtis Carlson taking a Matt Kidney feed and serving Joey Kubachka a one-timer goal on a silver platter.  Kubachka’s second point of the game gave the Knights back the lead, one they’d hold into the game’s final minute.

A back and forth third period came to a head when, with under a minute to go, the Titans swapped Ferland for an extra attacker. After a prolonged shift in the Knight’s zone, a puck deflected off a skate settled in the middle of the slot. Oskar Stromberg found the rubber and flipped his first goal of the season over the shoulder of Esposito to tie the game in regulation’s closing seconds.

3-on-3 overtime came and went in blazing fashion. Both teams generated their fair share of chances, and Ferland and Esposito traded one spectacular save for another. Late in the added frame, Matt Kidney found himself in alone on goal, but great pressure from Ryan Wheeler closing in from behind caused him to go just wide of the mark.

With no resolution found from the overtime period, the game found its way into the shootout. Nick Boyagian led things off for the Titans with a score as his left-right-left-right dangle of a puck that just leaked its way through. After Curtis Carlson’s close-quarters wrister was turned away by Ferland, Greg Malafronte responded with a sharp backhand-forehand cut to beat Esposito to the glove side. Ferland responded by stoning Antonitsch’s last-chance backhand-to-forehand move in front to seal the Titans victory.

With the win, the Titans improved to 27-15-1-1 on the season. The shootout loss did salvage the Knights (23-22-1-2) a point, but they now trail the Titans by seven in the east standings. They’ll get a needed, eight-day rest period before traveling to Johnstown February 24th and 25th. The Titans will continue their east division slate when they take on the Tomahawks this weekend at the War Memorial on the 17th and 18th.