The San Francisco Bulls might be sick of hearing that the Alaska Aces are the best team in the league, how their 87.7% penalty kill leads the league, how they have been at the top of the standings pretty much all season, with or without locked-out NHLers. The Bulls weren’t happy after last night’s game to know that they only lost by one, again. They aren’t pleased that they outshot the Aces, even if it was an improvement over Wednesday. Scoring two goals instead of one wasn’t much comfort since they still lost 3-2. Head Coach Pat Curcio was at a loss to see the bright side:
I just think that we did everything right tonight. I mean one loose puck in the third, it’s tough, tough because I think we played a pretty good hockey game. But two goals isn’t going to be enough. We need to find a way to score more goals.
Friday’s game was the second of three games in a row against the Aces. Round two began with a fight between the Bulls’ Ian Schultz and the Aces’ Dustin Molle. The fighters were still in the box when Mikael Tam and Alaska’s Chris Clackson joined them after another fight. Before that second fighting major expired, Ian Schultz went back to the box for trying to fight again. He only got a roughing minor. The Bulls killed off the first penalty of the game.
At 8:36, the Aces carried the puck in, were pushed back out by the defense, but Alaska’s Alexandre Imbeault came back in and got behind the Bulls’ defense. Skating in front of the net, he lifted a backhand over Nelson’s shoulder.
Seconds later, the Aces’ Mike Baran and Bobby Hughes took simultaneous penalties for hooking and interference. All the Bulls got for the two minutes of five on three were several shots, despite holding the zone very well. Curcio explained that the Bulls’ power play was the weak link in the game:
The power play was terrible. We need to find something the make that power play work. One goal on the power play could have made the difference.
The power play had been over for a couple of minutes when Yanni Gourde tied the game, assisted by Nick Walsh. As on previous nights, Gourde had a standout game on every part of the ice.
The Bulls had three well-spaced power play opportunities to start the second period, one at 2:07, one at 4:38, and another at 7:22. They still came up empty. About that top-ranked Alaska penalty kill, Curcio said:
They press so hard, and they don’t give you a lot of time, and when you do get a scoring chance they’ve got a goaltender that makes unbelievable saves… I have no answer right now.
When the Aces finally got a chance after Bulls’ defenseman Scott Langdon was called for elbowing, it didn’t take them long to score a power play goal. With players fighting for the puck in the corner, Mazzolini found himself alone with an open net. When the puck came out of the corner to him, Nelson couldn’t get across the crease in time. It was Mazzolini’s 33rd of the season, 9:50 into the second.
Alaska had the next power play as well Bryan Cameron went to the box for holding with 4:44 left on the second period. Alaska’s power play was as formidable as it’s penalty kill and the Bulls had a lot of trouble clearing the puck, but they kept the Aces from scoring again. The Bulls had a fourth second period power play with 1:18 left in the period. They didn’t score, so started the third with 42 seconds left in the power play.
The power play generated nothing, but nearly two minutes later, the Aces sent the puck into the netting above Nelson. It was a defensive zone faceoff, for which Curcio sent out Jordan Morrison with Kory Falite and Bryan Cameron. The Bulls were hard pressed to control the puck, and just barely got it over the blue line. The Aces couldn’t quite handle the puck in the neutral zone. An almost accidental misdirection fooled the Aces into letting their guard down. Because the Bulls’ forwards were so close to the bench and slowing down, it may have looked like the Bulls were about to make a line change. Cameron explained later how the the puck landed on his stick:
Yeah, he was trying to make a D to D pass, and I was kind of hiding behind the other guy and he [passed] it right to me. I just tried to get a shot off… I think we had just checked a couple of guys right in that spot and it threw them off because they couldn’t see how many guys were there.
That goal tied the game. The teams remained tied for almost six minutes. The Aces took the lead again when an Alex Hudson shot squeezed under Nelson. The Bulls’ goaltender thought he had stopped it, but it trickled behind him and sat exposed in the blue paint for a second before Hudson came around in front and pushed it over the line.
The Bulls pushed back, though Morrison, Falite, and Dean Ouellet each went limping to the bench during the third period. The Bulls played well in the final minute, not giving the Aces much opportunity to clear or shoot at the empty net. Still, they ran out of time.
Bulls’ Captain Scott Langdon explained what he thinks the team has to do to win these close games:
Limit our little mistakes that always seem to end up in the back of our net, like there at the end of the game. We battle hard in the third period to score a tying goal and then four or five minutes later we make a poor decision at their end with the puck, and it comes down as an odd man rush and it ends up in the back of our net. That’s the way it goes these days for us and we need to stop doing that.
Final score: 3-2 Alaska. The final shot count was 32-29 San Francisco. Around the ECHL, the Utah Grizzlies lost to Colorado in overtime, but the Bakersfield Condors defeated Ontario 4-2. The Bulls still sit in eighth, but they are now six points behind Utah and only six ahead of Bakersfield.
The Bulls play their third game against the Aces tonight at 7:15 PST. It’s Eco Friendly Night at the Cow Palace and the Bulls will be giving away travel mugs, so be there if you can. If you can’t get to San Francisco, listen online at KNBR or watch on America One Sports.
Scores & saves:
Alaska: Alexandre Imbeault(17)(Trupp, Mazzolini), Nick Mazzolini(33)(PPG, Trupp, Lafranchise), Alex Hudson(11)(Harrison, Kremyr). Gerald Coleman made 30 saves for the win.
San Francisco: Yanni Gourde(3)(Walsh, C Ouellet), Bryan Cameron(18). Taylor Nelson made 26 saves for the Bulls. The Bulls’ power play went 0/6, their penalty kill 2/3.
(Originally published at Inside Hockey)