In what has become a defensive-minded weekend, the Knights proved their grit for the second time in the past 48 hours, this time against the Northeast Generals.
Entering Saturday night, the Knights held a 7-2 advantage in the season head-to-head, but with the caveat of a more than few close contests with the first-year Generals. Northeast’s most recent win came against the Knights back on February 11th at the Revolution Ice Centre in a 3-1 affair.
One pillar for the Generals this season has been their goaltending. Saturday’s starter David Fessenden entered play with five games against the Knights between time with the Generals and Minnesota Magicians. In those combined efforts against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he had a 2-1 record with a lucrative .975 save percentage and a goals against of just 0.92. Standing at 6’6″, the towering Denver, Colorado native presented the Knights with a formidable obstacle to winning their second straight game.
Matt Kidney stepped to the plate for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Saturday’s early-going, notching his 15th goal of the season at 7:58 in the first period. The tally was set up on the Knights first power play of the game, off two crisp passes from Paul Maust and Curtis Carlson before Kidney just flipped the puck past a lunging Fessenden.
The goal came just at the right time, following a sluggish start for the Knights and a Generals power play in the game’s first five minutes that forced Grant Valentine to make a number of tough saves. The early work for the Knights workhorse netminder would prove to be a necessary jump start to the team’s defensive efforts.
The game’s first period was ruled by a parade to the penalty box, with each team incurring three minor infractions. The Knights, fresh off a perfect 4-for-4 shorthanded performance against Aston’s third-ranked power play, continued their momentum throughout Saturday to end the first period, going 3-for-3, to hold a 1-0 lead.
Galvanized by a few near misses in the opening frame, the Generals came out with purpose in the second, mounting a number of shots on goal, again testing Valentine repeatedly. Their shot totals would amount to a near 2-1 advantage for the period as they outshot the Knights 15-8. Their efforts appeared to be rewarded at 6:21 when off a scramble in front, the puck found its way past Valentine. Instead, the goal was disallowed for Northeast making contact with the goalie.
Another penalty per side would again see the Knights emerge unscathed on the PK, but their power play bogged down after its fast start. At 17:03, their kill unit received its most important test of the evening when Paul Cimilluca was assessed a 5-minute major for boarding. Following a successful shorthanded 2:57, the Knights maintained their 1-goal lead heading into the second intermission.
In need of a lockdown start to the third, the Knights received it as the combined efforts of the kill unit and Valentine kept the Generals scoreless for the remainder of the major penalty. In a more even period than the second, the Knights and Generals traded chances at a fairly even pace. The Northeast effort took a blow at 11:03 when David Fessenden was contacted by a teammate in the crease and forced to leave the contest. Parker Swanson came in relief and was quickly tested with a Knights power play just two minutes into his taking of the ice.
On the ensuing man-advantage, the Knights held the puck in the offensive zone for the entirety of the minor, but continual passing around the perimeter resulted in just a few shots on goal. The Generals completed the kill and quickly flipped to the power play at 15:26. The Knights again turned them away, completing a perfect 6-for-6 penalty kill effort on the evening. With the goalie pulled in the game’s final minute, the Generals were unable to maintain the offensive zone long enough to find an equalizer, and the Knights skated away with 1-0 victory.
The 29-save effort on the part of Valentine and the team’s 6-for-6 penalty kill spurred the Knights on to their second straight victory. They’ll look to make it three and a row this afternoon with 2:00 pm faceoff at home against Northeast.