From one day to the next, the NAHL’s East Division can be one of the most unpredictable in the league. Such was the case this weekend when the Knights played their second and third games against the Titans in five days.
Entering Saturday night, the Knights already had two contests under their belt; the first was a 6-2 win on a Wednesday matinee over New Jersey, the second a 4-1 loss to the Rebels in Aston.
Looking to duplicate their success against the Titans Saturday night, the Knights were given a blunt and unforgiving welcome. New Jersey winger Todd Goehring lit the lamp twice in the first 7:48.
Curtis Carlson would seemingly pull the Knights back into the game with his fourth goal of the year on the very next shift on feeds from Matt Kidney and Paul Maust.
Instead, the Titans would mount an offensive onslaught starting at 10:23 when Maxim Andreev started a chain of four unanswered Titans tallies to close out the period.
Following Andreev came Dylan Healey at 12:21 and then Ryan Wheeler (his first of the season) at 12:37. Greg Malafronte buried New Jersey’s sixth goal on the powerplay at 17:25, settling the score at 6-1 before heading to the first intermission.
The second period was quiet until 7:22 when Khristian Acosta kept his hot streak going with his fifth goal of the season.
Victor Ostling answered with his fifth just 39 seconds later to push the Titans lead back to six. Acosta fired back with his second goal of the game at 9:55, but the Titans, undaunted, put two more on the board following scores from Kyle Perkowski and Jordan Kaplan at 10:55 and 13:14, respectively.
Reed Robinson took a feed from Sam Antonitsch at 17:36 and beat Brandon Bussi with just under two and a half minutes remaining in the second period to make the score a staggering 9-4.
A little over a minute later, Kyle Perkowski responded once again, rounding the Titans goal output to an even 10 through the first 40 minutes of play.
Both Knights goalies were pulled in the contest before Grant Valentine’s returned following the unsuccessful switch to Colt Hanks.
The third period saw a goalie change for the Titans as well. Newly called up Brandon Perrone, who had faced the Knights in the NA3AHL just two weeks earlier, manned the pipes for the final period of play. The Long Island Jr. Royals product stopped all eight shots he faced, keeping any hope of a dramatic Knights comeback at bay.
Danny Eruzione would tack on the final tally for the Titans at 10:23 on assists from Greg Malafronte and Anthony Cusanelli. The wild shootout would mercifully wind down without any further scoring, as the Knights headed back home to lick their wounds and rise again the following afternoon.
And rise they did.
The third matchup would prove to be the week’s most even between the Knights and Rebels. After a blistering start to the first period including a fair amount of time on attack and one unsuccessful powerplay, the Knights quickly lost their rhythm. The Titans pressure picked up, forced a penalty and at 7:53, Gordie Helmuth notched the game’s first goal on the man advantage.
The tone decidedly swung in New Jersey’s favor thereafter, as they constantly hovered over the Knights blue line, suffocating their breakout attempts and forcing numerous turnovers.
Despite that, Grant Valentine stood tall and made 10 saves in the period to keep the score close. As the period entered its final minute Dorian Dawson flipped into attack mode up the left wing, jumping up on the rush and firing a puck on the net of Brandon Bussi. After a series of ricochets, Paul Maust streaked towards the far post and got the final tap to poke the puck home, tying the game at one.
To begin the second, the Knights again began in attack mode once again. Matt Kidney, flanked by his fellow Middletown, NJ natives Khristian Acosta and Mike Gelatt, rifled a puck past a screened Bussi to give the Knights the 2-1 lead at 2:10. It would be far from the last time those names would be entered on the scoresheet.
One highlight reel goal was answered with another four minutes later. Victor Ostling sent the puck on a line to Andrew Husted who in turn placed a laser past the glove of Valentine. The score remained knotted at two until late in the period when a pair of penalties allowed Anthony Cusanelli to score on a 5-on-3 chance with less than a minute to go in the second. The Titans took a 3-2 lead to the dressing room.
The score would remain in favor of the Titans until late in the third, when the “Middletown Line” would take over. Matt Kidney notched his second goal, driving to the net on a give and go with Mike Gelatt at 14:16 to tie the game at 3. Three minutes later Kidney would strike again, using a defenseman as a screen a rifling his third goal Bussi to secure the hat trick.
Mike Gelatt would add insurance at 18:24 on the power play when following an Acosta faceoff win just above the Jersey blue line, he’d surge ahead with the loose puck behind the stationary defense before deking Bussi and beating him for the score.
Matt Kidney finished off his monstrous performance with a masterful empty net goal in which he lobbed a puck from the middle of his own zone, down the length of the ice and into the back of the unoccupied net.
When the dust settled, the Knights came away with a 6-3 victory, salvaging a weekend in which they had previously gone 0-2. Matt Kidney led the charge with four goals, giving him a stat line of 5-3-8 for the four-game week. Khristian Acosta added four assists, giving him a total of 4-5-9 for the week and an eye-popping 6-6-12 in just his first eight games with the Knights. Grant Valentine stopped 36 of 39 shots, good for a game save percentage of .923. In the head-to-head series, the Knights now pull ahead to 3-2-0 against the Titans.
The Knights improved to 7-10-0 with the win and will play Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week on the road against the Northeast Generals.