Penalties, staunch defense dictate outcome of game two
For the second consecutive night, the Knights and Rebels renewed acquaintances at the Aston IceWorks, vying for control of their opening round match up of the Robertson Cup Playoffs.
Much as they had the previous evening, the Knights started things quickly, pushing the puck deep into Aston territory in the game’s opening shifts. Though the first few minutes went without a high volume of shots making their way to either net, it was evident the speed and physicality from Friday had carried into Saturday’s action.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was first to generate solid looks on their target, as Michael Morrissey, Reed Robinson and Dorian Dawson all tested Mareks Mitens from open space in the Aston zone. The Latvian netminder didn’t blink and turned all three away.
Spurred on by the efforts of their goalie, the Rebels pushed back around the five minute mark of the first period, keeping the Knights out of the offensive zone for nearly four full minutes, while turning the shots tide against Grant Valentine.
The Knights netminder was also up to the early challenge as he did well to stone Aaron Maguyon from in close and fought through an Andrew Hart screen to stick away another puck. One strategy that quickly became evident was Aston’s goal of crashing straight to the net. The Knights early defensive efforts were strong in clogging up the middle of their own zone, diverting many cross-slot feeds out of danger’s way.
Dorian Dawson’s backchecking stood out on a play in which he raced back to poke a puck off the stick of Aston’s speedy forward Andrew Bellant as he tried to best Dawson one-on-one.
After being bogged down in their own end and neutral ice for a few shifts, the Knights awoke again just prior to the period’s halfway mark. Joe Schuler rung a puck off a post, Mike Gelatt dispensed checks liberally, and Mike Morrissey and Paul Maust buzzed around the net of Mitens to create two good, yet unsuccessful scoring chances.
It appeared at the 12:12 mark that the Knights were being given an early advantage when the Rebels were called for hooking. They were on the power play for 37 seconds before committing an infraction of their own as they tried to establish possession behind the net of Mitens.
In the 4-on-4 period that followed, the Rebels began to find more success in their efforts to crash the net. In one such instance, a Knight attempting to slow a Rebel forechecker barreling in off the rush collided with Grant Valentine. Play was stopped but Valentine would continue. Unfortunately the hit would be a precursor of more things to come for the Knights workhorse goalie.
Like his pairing mate Dawson, Markuss Komuls brought an impressive knack for disruption in his own zone Saturday night. Late in the Aston power play that followed the end of 4-on-4, Komuls raced back and took away a 2-on-1 rush for the Rebels when he dove to the ice to sweep away a connecting pass in front of Valentine. That effort allowed the Knights to return to even-strength unscathed on the scoreboard.
Mike Gelatt picked up where he left off throwing the body as he continued to open space on the ice with several more punishing hits. The Rebels responded with Gianluca Esteves very nearly scoring on a wraparound chance, only to be thwarted by Valentine’s quick, lateral movement.
The Knights had their own near-miss when Matt Kidney worked his way to the top of the Aston slot, made a quick deke and let a shot go that shaved the paint off the crossbar. The first 20 minutes came to a close without a score, largely due to stellar goaltending on both ends of the ice.
In the second, the Knights were in search of more established offensive possession. Most of their chances were still coming primarily off the rush. For their part, the Rebels seemed intent on getting bodies to the net of Grant Valentine. With both teams struggling to inflict their respective wills on each other, things turned chippy in a hurry.
The Rebels earned the better looks in the opening minutes of the second, as Carter Woolley and Jensen Zerban came up with quality chances, with Valentine stopping the first and Zerban missing just high on the second.
Jim Elser countered by streaking behind the Rebels last line of defense only to be denied by a spectacular, legal diving poke check by Ryan Solomon from behind the would-be breakaway.
Five minutes into the period, the Rebels took advantage of an awkward deflection in front of Valentine that allowed Andrew Hart to backhand the puck out of the air and into the twine.
The 1-0 lead flipped the swing of momentum to the Rebels attack. Shortly after Hart’s score, as another odd-man rush came crashing down towards Valentine, but Komuls added to the game’s growing list of defensive highlights with a diving block that disrupted the cross-ice pass to the otherwise open Gvido Jansons.
The path to the Knights net continued to attract Aston forecheckers, and with their presence came more bodies slamming into Grant Valentine. The first of the period came at 7:31, and in the ensuing post-whistle fracas, the Knights were assessed a cross-checking penalty.
Valentine would again rebound from contact quickly, turning away Jansons on a heavy slap shot and denying another from Esteves. The Knights penalty killers were quick to occupy shooting lanes that stopped would-be Aston shots through heavy screens.
Unluckily for the Knights, another kill would not provide needed relief as just two minutes after discarding their second penalty of the contest, they were back it again following an interference penalty. A combination of Morrissey killing clock with crafty possession in his own end, and Valentine making another flurry of saves would bring the Knights up to 3/3 on the shorthanded effort for the evening. They had little time to celebrate. At 14:09 they’d head right back to the box for high-sticking.
It would be deja vu all over again for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as individuals on the kill would make valiant plays to slow a potent Aston power play. Markuss Komuls and Mike Morrissey would again get low to block shots, Joe Schuler would tangle up and drag the puck to the boards to kill a large chunk of a time and Valentine stopped whatever got past those in front of him. The Knights appeared to finally gain reprieve as their fourth PK of the game was cut eight seconds short when Aston headed to the box for cross-checking.
That relief would be short-lived when just 49 seconds into the power play the Knights would again take a penalty, this time for boarding. On this occasion a battle-weary kill unit couldn’t quite fend off the Rebels.
Just 12 seconds prior to going a perfect five-for-five on the penalty kill, the Knights saw Gianluca Esteves get behind the defense and quite literally crash the net. As Esteves let go a puck that crossed the goal line, he bowled over Grant Valentine. After seeing their goalie hit the ice yet again, the Knights had had enough. In the pile up around the goal, gloves were dropped and punches were traded between both teams.
When the dust settled, the officials ruled that the power play goal was scored before contact was made with the Knights netminder, and the penalties that were assessed for the events afterward were coincidental.
Still, the Knights couldn’t escape the frame without taking one more trip to the sin bin. With just 33 seconds left before second intermission, hooking was called and the Knights were sent to a penalty kill that would ultimately carry over to the third.
Following the frustration of 40 minutes of playoff hockey, and absent the reward of a goal, the Knights were looking to get the final frame started on a high note. They did succeed in killing the penalty from the end of the second, bringing their total up to 5/6 on the evening. That said, neither team sustained much of any offense following an taxing middle frame.
It took nearly seven minutes of play for anyone to record an official shot on goal and it came when the Knights got in close and a threw a puck off the body of Mitens. Somehow, the Rebels goalie was able to go all the way down to the ice and keep the bouncing puck out, while a rain of bodies poured down on top of him.
Just seconds later the process would repeat itself, with Mitens again ending up at the bottom of a dogpile and again successful in his efforts to keep the Knights off the board.
The Rebels found their offensive execution shortly thereafter but were thwarted once more by the efforts of Dorian Dawson. The Brown University commit blocked back-to-back shots from Dom Garcia and Andrew Bellant with both having been taken directly from the middle of the slot. After the Knights and Rebels were assessed another pair of coincidental penalties, Dawson was a wall once more blocking another chance just over halfway through the third.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton came back and forced a penalties first at 11:04 and a gain at 13:51. As they had all weekend, the Rebels penalty killers responded with a back-to-back cancellations of a Knights power play unit that had entered the playoffs red hot, converting 30 percent of their chances since the beginning of March.
Following a few close opportunities around Mitens’ net, the Knights were determined to find some kind of advantage to get back in the game. With just over two minutes to play in regulation, they began a shift in the offensive zone with their net empty. At 17:56, Joe Schuler found a Dorian Dawson offering in front, turned and fired it past Mitens to give the Knights hope in the game’s closing moments.
Down just 2-1, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would again pull Valentine in the game’s final 60 seconds. This time the Aston defense would hold, and at the horn, the Rebels found themselves in possession of a two-game lead.
A pivotal game three will be played Friday, April 21st at the Revolution Ice Centre. Faceoff is set for 7:30 pm as the Knights will fight to get back into the series with the benefit of home ice. Come out and support the team, or tune into hockeytv.com and follow on twitter @wbsknights for wall-to-wall coverage of all the action!