Las Vegas Sun

September 20, 2014

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HOCKEY:

Salmon Kings stymie Wranglers again

The Las Vegas Wranglers have certainly proved that they can skate with one of the top teams in the ECHL this weekend.

Unfortunately for the near-sellout crowd of 7,232 fans at the Orleans Arena Saturday night, figuring out how to beat those elite opponents is still a mystery for the Wranglers as the Victoria Salmon Kings picked up their second consecutive victory in Las Vegas 4-2.

Despite falling into a 1-0 hole early in the first period, the Wranglers' Chris Neiszner answered back with 4:44 remaining in the opening period to tie the game 1-1 with his 13th goal of the season.

But a poor decision by Las Vegas goalie Kevin Lalande helped the Salmon Kings (28-10-4) take a 2-1 lead in the second period that they never relinquished.

Less than three minutes into the second period, Lalande left the crease to play the puck behind the net despite heavy pressure by Victoria. Daryl Lloyd stole the puck and fed Shawn Landolt for an easy put away.

"Our goalie didn't do us or himself any favors," Gulutzan said. "You can't play the top team in the league and hand them a goal. You can't just give them one that they don't have to work for. In my mind that was the difference."

Salmon Kings' forward Sean O'Connor extended Victoria's lead to 3-1 with his second goal of the night with 5:04 left in the second period.

Neiszner, however, kept the near capacity crowd in their seats as he buried a feed from Shawn Limpright 25 seconds before the second intermission to cut Victoria's lead to 3-2.

Despite many scoring opportunities, including nine power play attempts, the Wranglers (16-17-4) could not close the gap before Chris St. Jacques added an empty netter in the final minutes of the contest.

The Wranglers' power play has been nothing short of abysmal this season as the 0-for-9 outing tonight showed. Las Vegas is last in the ECHL with a successful power play percentage of just 11.1 percent (23-of-207).

"I think it's gotten past the point of practice," Gulutzan said about his squad's impotent special team unit. "I think it's in the mental stage where everyone thinks that they can't get it done on the power play. I really don't know."

Stars of the game: 1. Sean O'Connor (2 goals); 2. Chris Neiszner (2 goals); 3. Todd Ford (38 saves)

Roster report: There were some notable absences on the Wranglers' bench Saturday as Gulutzan placed forward Tim Spencer and defenseman Sean Owens on the three-day injured reserve.

Perhaps the most glaring absence was forward Peter Ferraro's deletion from the lineup. Last year Ferraro notched 73 points, including a franchise record 36 goals in the regular season. In 31 games this year, Ferraro has struggled with just six goals and nine assists despite leading the team with 120 shots.

"Peter is still shooting the puck well, but things just aren't going in like they did last year," Gulutzan said. "You hope that he gets hot at the right time here for you."

Cheap shot artist: Two minutes into the second period, Victoria forward Olivier Labelle sucker punched Chris Neiszner while Neiszner was kneeling on the ice. Wranglers defenseman Chris St. Croix sprinted into the ensuing scrum to support his teammate and after a few shots to Labelle's head, Labelle cowered in fear and covered his head with both arms begging for mercy. He probably screamed for his mommy too.

Still fighting the blues: As I hiked from my parking spot back in Henderson to the Orleans Arena, I was amazed that the Wranglers could draw such a huge crowd on a Saturday night. Then I realized the Blue Man group was performing during the first intermission. Creepy blue men pounding on plastic pipes is not my thing, but it did draw more than 7,000 fans to a Wranglers game, so good job marketing department.

Happy birthday: A trio of Wranglers celebrated birthdays Saturday as forwards Chris and Peter Ferraro turned 36 and Mick Lawrence turned 26. I imagine their birthday parties will be a bit different.

Mad mouth sighting: Professional poker player Mike "The Mouth" Matusow took in the Wranglers game Saturday night. Naturally, he was dressed in Full Tilt Poker gear.

Up next: The Salmon Kings will hang around the Orleans Arena for a Sunday matinee at 2:05 p.m.

Final word: "It was a great crowd tonight," Gulutzan said. "I thought they got a good game. What they didn't get was a Wranglers win, but they saw some fights and some good hockey."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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