0

Blog: Silver linings in a shootout loss

The Gladiators lost in a shootout - again - on Saturday night against South Carolina. It was the third shootout loss I've seen this season. But at least Gwinnett scored once this time. The two previous shootouts ended without the Gladiators ever getting a puck home.

Downstairs after the game, everyone appeared to be OK with the point they got for the shootout loss. It probably helped that A) they got three of four points on the weekend and B) it came against the division-leading Stingrays who are obviously a talented team.

Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle was waiting in the hallway outside the locker rooms to congratulate his South Carolina counterpart, Jared Bednar, on the game. Pyle said Bednar was complimentary of the Gladiators' play.

Even in the locker room, things were subdued (no music) but it wasn't tomb-like as it can be after a loss.

Pyle, despite a 3-4-3 record, said he likes the team he's got. It's gone through a lot of changes in the first few weeks of the season. In the last six days alone, four transactions have been made. Defenseman Ryan Mahrle and forward Jeff Prough were traded away on Monday (to different teams). Goaltender Josh Johnson was acquired from South Carolina on Thursday - which then necessitated the jettisoning of rookie netminder Charlie Effinger. Effinger was dealt to Trenton.

The Gladiators also got forward Matt Siddall assigned from AHL Chicago this week.

It's been like that all season and you can certainly use the constant personnel moves to excuse any lack of chemistry on the ice.

But it seems like things are settling down. Gwinnett beat Charlotte on Friday and came close to knocking off South Carolina on Saturday.

Johnson was impressive between the pipes for much of the game, his first since coming over from the Stingrays.

I forgot to mention it in my game story - I was so focused on his efforts to stop a trio of breakaways in overtime - but Johnson also denied South Carolina's leading scorer Michael Dubuc on a penalty shot in the third period with the game tied. That was obviously a huge deal, but got overshadowed a bit by the subsequent OT and shootout. Sorry about that.

On my way out the door of Jeff's office, I asked if he was making any more roster changes. He laughed and said no, he was tired of doing paperwork. But then he said he might have to look for a defenseman because Phil Youngclaus will be out for the rest of the season with a knee injury he sustained late in Friday's game.

Youngclaus was behind the bench helping coach on Saturday, but I didn't realize how serious his injury was until after the game.

It's the second year in a row the Gladiators have lost a player in the first half of the season to a knee injury. Dirk Southern, who just recently rejoined the team from AHL Manitoba, missed the vast majority of the 2007-08 season with a similar injury.

It's a tough break for Youngclaus, obviously, and for Gwinnett. He was a steady and strong force on the blueline in his third professional season.

The Gladiators also played without forward Brandon Kaleniecki for the third straight game after he suffered a concussion during last week's trip to Florida. But he should be back fairly soon and they'll benefit from his hard-working play.

All in all, Saturday's game was entertaining, especially the play of both goalies - Johnson and Michal Neuvirth.

Aside from all the impressive saves, Neuvirth added a moment of levity ... although not intentionally. Neuvirth, a Czech, was only playing his third ECHL game after being assigned to South Carolina from AHL Hershey. It was also his first ECHL shootout and apparently no one told him it's a best-of-five, not three like in the upper levels. South Carolina took a 2-1 shootout lead on Paul McIlveen's back-hander and Neuvirth denied Southern in the Gladiators' third try. Neuvirth threw his arms in the air and skated toward the Stingrays' bench waiting to be mobbed by his teammates. Since Gwinnett was due at least one more shot, Neuvirth had to turn around and go back to his net.

But three shooters later, Neuvirth got to celebrate for real. And his teammates did mob him, pounding on the 20-year-old who is a promising Washington Capitals' prospect.