DULUTH - Brad Schell and Derek Nesbitt each scored twice, powering the Gwinnett Gladiators to a suffocating 5-0 blanking of Greenville on Tuesday.
A sparse crowd at the Arena at Gwinnett Center was treated to a rare victory against the Grrrowl, who were stymied by an exceptional effort from Sean Fields between the pipes.
Gwinnett was 1-4-1 coming into Tuesday's game against Greenville. But the Gladiators made quick work of the Grrrowl this time and extended their winning streak to four games. Fields made 31 saves, posting his second shutout and 19th win of the season.
Gwinnett's last loss came vs. Greenville - a brutal 6-0 beating - and since then the Gladiators (27-9-5, 59 points) have jumped over Florida for the division lead.
"We were saying before the game that we owed these guys," Fields said. "They came out and whipped us pretty good last game and they've kind of had our number all season.
"So we had a strong game and got two more points ahead of them. These points can come back to haunt you later on down the season, especially if you're fighting for a bye or whatnot."
Three goals in the first period, capped by a gorgeous passing sequence on the power play, had Greenville (25-12-2, 52 points) in a bad way early.
"We came out just on fire, just dominating them," Fields said. "It's always nice to play with a three-goal lead and kind of takes a little bit of the pressure off."
Nesbitt chunked a shot from the point on net that goalie Jeff Deslauriers didn't get all of and it trickled over the line 8:01 into the game.
Then Schell, rolling since being reassigned from AHL Chicago, scored back-to-back power-play goals.
The first came 36 seconds after Nesbitt's tally and on a rebound banged past a sprawling Deslauriers, who was making his first ECHL appearance of the season after being assigned by AHL Hamilton.
The second, Schell's 16th of the season, was one the 21-year-old also assisted on. Schell was halfway down the boards inside the Greenville zone and snapped a pass to Troy Milam on the opposite point. Milam ripped it back to Schell, who had swept down to stand near the post. Schell buried the low shot into the far corner at 13:59 for the 3-0 margin.
The Grrrowl were outshot a staggering 26-6 in the first 20 minutes and though Greenville did finally get some good, sustained pressure on Fields, the deficit continued to grow after intermission.
Nesbitt scored his second goal of the game and 16th of the season, hammering home a rebound that came straight out to him at 13:49. It was the third consecutive power-play tally for the Gladiators and made it a 4-0 lead.
Gwinnett had 32 shots halfway through the game - compared to Greenville's nine. Fields came under heavy fire right about that time, but was deft in his refusal of repeated point-blank shots and kept the Grrrowl off the board for all 60 minutes.
"He made huge saves in the second when we needed him," Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said. "We just did what we had to do. We were much more disciplined. Our power play has been going good and we took advantage of that with some pretty nice goals. That's huge.
"Our power-play, right now we're one of the tops in the league and that's going to make us or break us if we can keep our penalty kill to be pretty solid. I was pretty impressed with what we did today."
Milam and Jeff Campbell each recorded three assists as the Gladiators went 3-for-6 on the man advantage.
Milan Gajic put the exclamation on this contentious fifth meeting in the month of January. Gajic took a sweet feed from Scott Kelman and scored on a wrap-around at 19:12 of the third period.
"We played the way we need to play against good teams," Pyle said. "We needed to kind of answer the bell and I thought we did."