DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators watched an early lead slip away and lost to lowly South Carolina 4-2 on Friday, their second loss in as many nights.
The Gladiators entered Thursday as the ECHL points leader, but were hammered on the road by Greenville and failed to rebound against the Stingrays a day later in front of 8,526 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Stingrays 4, Gladiators 2
What happened: Matt Krug scored the game’s first goal, but Gwinnett failed to hold off South Carolina and dropped its second straight game. Krug also effectively scored the Gladiators’ only other goal, unleashing a booming shot from the blue line on the power play. The long rebound hit Danick Paquette’s skate and went into the net with a little more than 10 minutes left in regulation. But Matt Scherer added his second goal of the period during a 5-on-3 power play to keep the Stingrays ahead.
Volum-inous crowd: The annual “Sing for Santa” event drew kids from 18 area elementary schools, upping the ambient noise level by a considerable margin and packing one end of the stands. The first 90 seconds of the game, even the usual sounds of play were drowned out by the cheering. The kids also performed a selection of holiday songs during the first intermission for the event.
Watchful eyes: Atlanta Thrashers’ vice president Larry Simmons took in the game, checking over some of the NHL team’s prospects and other talent playing for its affiliate in Gwinnett.
Next: Greenville, which took over first place in the division with a 7-1 shellacking of the Gladiators on Thursday comes to the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Sunday for a 4:05 p.m. rematch.
Defenseman Matt Krug opened the scoring on the power play, but the Stingrays rallied to take a 2-1 lead in the second period. Gwinnett remains winless when trailing after 40 minutes this season (0-4-0-3), despite getting within a goal.
“We kill ourselves with penalties,” Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said.
Gwinnett took 11 penalties and gave South Carolina nine chances on the power play.
“We got what we deserved. Both nights,” Pyle said. “If you're going to take those penalties, you deserve to lose.”
A night after getting routed by Greenville 7-1, the Gladiators (12-6-4) got going with a power-play goal from Krug at 12:47 of the first period.
Then they gave it back in the waning seconds to go into the intermission tied with South Carolina, which ranks among the bottom five teams in the league standings.
A power play that has struggled to find its stride set up well on its second opportunity of the game with three crisp passes that ended up with Krug wide open on the right side for an easy put-back. Michael Forney started it, working the puck in the left corner and dishing a back-handed pass to Tim Miller in the slot. Miller adroitly flicked it right over to Krug who scored his second goal of the season.
Gwinnett played four of the last six minutes of the period on the penalty kill, but it was an even-strength breakdown that allowed the Stingrays (8-10-1) to tie it. Goaltender Billy Sauer, who faced 40 shots in the loss, had little chance when what was a centering feed from the left side slid past its intended target in the slot and all the way to an unguarded Justin Milo on the far post. Milo scored with 24 seconds left in the period.
“Defensively, we weren't very good,” Pyle said. “The first goal was a breakdown. We just leave our guy. It's simple. You leave a guy open to make a play.”
South Carolina grabbed a 2-1 lead on a quality effort from Josh Godfrey 8:07 into the second period.
Godfrey cut around Gwinnett defenseman Tim Filangieri, pulled Sauer out of the net and roofed a shot. His fifth goal of the season stood as the decisive one in the game through the second intermission.
“We missed some opportunities at 2-1 to go up and then we took stupid penalties,” Pyle said. “They get a little frustrated and all of a sudden it's not about us as a team, it's about them.
“The team has to be the most important thing and this weekend it hasn't been.”
Matt Scherer scored the first of two third-period goals that kept the Stingrays just far enough in front. Scherer's first goal came unassisted just seconds after a power play expired at 6:04. The second was during a 5-on-3 advantage for South Carolina, less than two minutes after Gwinnett closed the gap to 3-2.
“We couldn't get a break,” Pyle said. “We worked hard and then we killed ourselves. Until they care enough not to take those penalties, we're going to struggle.”