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October 21, 2014

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Special teams the difference in Steelheads’ win over Wranglers

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STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sean Wiles loses an edge while carrying the puck behind the Idaho net early in the first period on Friday night.

Wranglers vs. Steelheads

Geoff Paukovich celebrates with teammate Cameron Cooper (5) after scoring a goal against the Idaho Steelheads late in the third period to bring the Wranglers within two goals on Friday night. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel hates losing. In fact, hate might not be a strong enough word.

Whatever word can describe his feeling toward defeat, Mougenel and the Wranglers are at a boiling point with it, following a 6-3 loss to the Idaho Steelheads on Friday at the Orleans Arena.

Mougenel laid down the gauntlet for Saturday's meeting with the Stockton Thunder.

Prove you care and fix your mistakes or I will find someone else.

"It's about who wants to keep their job," Mougenel said. "It's not a threat. It's a reality. ... If you repeatedly don't get your job done, unfortunately you don't have a job. We're a result-orientated business.

"When you don't dictate or care a lot, you won't play for me. There are some guys who haven't figured it out. They better bring it (Saturday)."

The Steelheads did most of their damage on special teams.

Idaho's Tristan King scored both of his goals on the one-man advantage, while Austin Smith added a power-play goal of his own in the second period.

It should come as no surprise, however.

The Steelheads were the league's second-best power play unit, converting on 26 percent of their power-play chances. They had little problem with a Las Vegas penalty kill unit that was ranked third in the ECHL, as the Steelheads converted on three of their four opportunities.

When the Steelheads failed to score on a power play in the third period, it ended a string of seven straight power plays that ended in goals.

"We have a lot of guys who can move the puck really well," King said. "If you find space, you get shots then good and positive things happens. That's what we did tonight."

It's not like the Steelheads are bad down a man as well.

Idaho (15-5-0-2) came into Las Vegas ranked fifth in the penalty kill, killing off 85.9 percent of power plays. They're also adept at scoring down a man, leading the league in shorthanded goals.

Idaho's David de Kastrozza and Justin Dowling each scored a shorthanded goal in the first period to bring the number to eight.

When coupled with the strong power play, it makes winning easier.

"Your special teams (penalty kill and power play percentages) has to be over 100 percent combined," Idaho coach Brad Ralph said. "Your power play is going to win hockey games, and fortunately ours is working."

Incidentally, two of Las Vegas' goals came on special teams as well.

Chris Francis scored the Wranglers' first goal in the second period when he went top shelf on a power play. Judd Blackwater and Jamie Fritsch assisted on the goal.

Eric Lampe added to his team-leading point total with a shorthanded goal in the third period after stealing the puck in the Idaho defensive zone for an easy goal.

But other than that, Las Vegas continued its power play woes, going 1-for-9, and didn't look like a team that was killing off 88.7 percent of power plays.

"We have a ton of looks on the power play and we're just not scoring," Mougenel said. "And our PK definitely let us down tonight."

The loss was Las Vegas' third straight, and also marked the 16th time that the Wranglers fell behind first in a game — a well-documented problem.

On the contrary, scoring first hasn't been a problem for the Steelheads. Idaho has scored first 14 times in 22 games, improving to 13-1 when it does so.

"We've turned it around the last week or so," King said. "It's just being smart and coming to the rink prepared. Everyone is buying the system and letting your skill take over."

Geoff Paukovich scored the final goal for Las Vegas, while Adrian Foster scored the Steelheads' other goal.

Three Stars: 1. Tristan King, Idaho (2 goals — both on power plays); 2. Austin Smith, Idaho (1 goal, 1 assist); 3. Eric Lampe, Las Vegas (1 goal, 1 assist).

Up Next: The Wranglers wrap up a quick two-game homestand with a game against the Stockton Thunder on Saturday. The puck is set to drop at 7:05 p.m.

Final Word: "It's easy to be a good coach when things are going well. It's more important to get ourselves out of this jam that we put ourselves in." — Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel on the team's struggles.

Paul Delos Santos can be reached at 990-2416 or [email protected]. Follow Paul on Twitter at twitter.com/pauliedelos.

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