Aces high: early goals trip up the Bulls

Saturday, the SF Bulls fell to the Alaska Aces by a score of 2-1.  It was the second of three games in three nights.  Unlike Friday, the Bulls surrendered that all-important first goal.  As if to bolster superstition, they gave up a second just over a minute later.  With 12:03 remaining in the first period, the Bulls were already down by two.  Alaska’s goals were scored by Alexandre Imbeault (a power play goal while Jordan Clendenning sat for roughing) and Garry Nunn respectively.

Those were the only goals scored by the Aces.  The Bulls’ Christian Ouellet scored the lone goal for the Bulls midway through the second period, assisted by Jordan Morrison and Sebastian Trudeau.  Aces goalie Gerald Coleman made 34 saves for the win, Taylor Nelson made 33 saves on 35 shots  The loss dropped the Bulls back to eighth place in the western conference.  A Utah win in Stockton further cemented San Francisco’s position in the standings.

The Bulls went on the power play at 13:14 of the period, a roughing penalty to Alaska’s B.J. Crum.  The power play failed to convert.  By the end of the period, the Aces led the Bulls by 2-0 and a demoralizing 12 shots to the Bulls’ 5.  The only bright side for the Bulls was that they had not given up a third goal in the period.

Meanwhile, the Stockton Thunder were again leading Utah 2-1 after the second period.    Another win by Utah could push the Bulls back to eighth place.  The teams began the day tied for seventh.  The difference between seventh and eighth place is likely to be negligible.  The Ontario Reign, also out of reach for every team ranked below third, had taken the lead from Alaska when the Bulls won Friday.  For a position in the standings to make any difference in the playoffs, the Bulls would have to jump to sixth at least.  Even then, they would probably still face Idaho.

The Alaska Aces share a distinction with San Francisco: they have a peculiar rink.  Where San Francisco’s is the smallest surface, Alaska’s is a full Olympic-sized rink, significantly wider than NHL ice.  Such a rink favors fast forwards and alert playmakers on the blue line.

The Bulls didn’t start the second well.  Jonathan Lessard was called for boarding just 1:32 into the period.  While killing that penalty, the Bulls’ Alex Tuckerman made a solid short handed attempt but couldn’t score.  More importantly, the team killed the penalty.

Much closer to the half way point of the period, the Bulls got a power play after Alaska’s Chris Haltigin cleared the puck out of play.  Nothing came of that, but the Bulls mustered some determined offense to follow it up.  Roughly six minutes later, the Bulls got another power play.  That power play also failed but gave the team enough of a boost to help Dean Ouellet draw a tripping penalty on a breakaway chance.

The team couldn’t convert on their third power play either, but they held the offensive zone well for the majority of the two minutes.  Almost as soon as it expired, Christian Ouellet rifled a shot by the Alaska goalie to bring the Bulls within a goal.

Two Bulls penalties ensued: Jordan Clendenning went to the box at 13:57.  Before he could come back out, Cody Carlson went in too, giving the aces a 5 on 3 man advantage for 10 seconds.  Both were tripping penalties.

So many tripping penalties, were the Bulls tiring on the big Alaska ice?  Tired or not, the Bulls killed the penalties off.  And then came another, this time to Jordan Morrison.  Having such a reliable penalty killer in the box after so many penalties was a very bad sign for the team.  Still the Bulls killed it off.  Mercifully, that brought them nearly to the end of the rocky second period.

Despite the Bulls’ four penalties, and with only two to the Aces, the Bulls were gaining some ground on offense.  They still trailed on the shot clock 20-15 for the period, but that was an improvement.

Stockton, now in their third period, was still ahead of Utah, 3-2.  That didn’t last.  Utah tied the game and Stockton fell in overtime.  It was the Thunder’s Teddy Bear Toss.  They had thrown the bears early in the game, but couldn’t hold off the Grizzlies.

Early in the third period, some confusion next to the Bulls’ net made the officials pause.  When a “no goal” call was announced, the crowd booed energetically, but a quick review on the overhead showed nothing conclusive enough to overturn the referee’s call.  That was some consolation for the Bulls but it would do them no good if they couldn’t retain possession of the puck.  They were not having a lot of luck with that.

The game wound down to the last five minutes.  Neither team had taken a penalty in the third.  Whether Alaska was sitting back, or San Francisco’s offense was finally firing, the Bulls kept the shots coming.  The push must have agitated the Aces.  With only 2:33 left in the game, Peter Sivak drew a tripping penalty, putting the Bulls on the power play.

@Jon_Allred: “Baffled as to why #SFBulls coach didn’t pull Nelson for 6-on-4 power play advantage when Aces were assessed penalty at 17:27 + down 2-1.”

Fair question, but then it is hard to guess when you’re so far away.  The 5 on 4 power play wasn’t enough to tie the game.

With 22 seconds left and the man advantage expired, Coach Curcio did pull Nelson for a sixth skater.  22 seconds isn’t much time to do anything, even in a hockey game.  The Aces held on for the win.

Final score 2-1 Aces, SOG 35-32 for the Aces.  Next game Sunday, January 27 4:05 PST

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