DULUTH -- One of the biggest crowds of the year saw one of the Gwinnett Gladiators' worst games.
The Gladiators rank among the best teams in the ECHL, but didn't have any of the verve that helped them surge past South Carolina a night earlier at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The Stingrays snapped a six-game winless skid and beat the anemic Gladiators 4-0 in front of 6,806 on Friday night.
Only some fisticuffs, including a near line brawl, at the end of the game gave the faithful a reason to cheer. Gwinnett goalie Mike Lee even skated to the red line, but his counterpart, Ryan Zapolski just leaned on his untarnished net while the drama played out.
It was the biggest challenge Zapolski, who played 13 games for Gwinnett last season, faced during the game. He only had to make 26 saves for the shutout and few of those were high-percentage chances.
"It starts at both ends," Gladiators head coach John Wroblewski said. "From our forwards, there was a decent amount of jam, but I still don't think there was enough pressure to really stunt their breakout and get them back on their heels. When they have a composed and cohesive unit coming up the ice, it can be much more difficult to break out.
"And our defensemen certainly didn't do their job negotiating those circumstances in breaking the puck out efficiently."
The Gladiators, who have lost four of their last five games, offered up a dismal first-period performance and found themselves in a 3-0 hole.
They failed to control the play and looked out of sorts, missing all of their usual puck-possession alacrity. The first good pressure Gwinnett managed, late in the period, defenseman Justin Weller couldn't keep in at the point and it turned into an odd-man rush for South Carolina. Chris Langkow snapped a cross-crease feed that Ryan Hayes directed in at the post to make it a 3-0 game at 18:01.
The Stingrays converted on their first power play, needing a mere 28 seconds to find Robby Dee in the high slot and put the puck in the back of the net. They added to that lead with a goal by Andrew Cherniwchan just 17 seconds after another power play expired.
"It's assuredly the worst result (from a period this season)," Wroblewski said. "I wouldn't say it's the worst we've played. We've played as bad before, but that ranked up there before. South Carolina definitely made us pay for what we did.
"A lot of that I would say should be accredited to our lack of detail last night. We got away with it last night, giving up seven 2-on-1s. They only scored on one of those last night. Tonight, they didn't even need a 2-on-1. It was 3-on-2s or 4-on-3s where they just picked apart our defensemen and our trackers."
South Carolina scored a second power-play goal in the final minute, adding insult to injury. It was just the third time all season the Gladiators' highly rated penalty kill gave up two goals in a game.
"It was a collaborative effort," Wroblewski said. "The way we strive to play, there's not one area that can make up for another. It has to be a three-zone execution and we never got to where we wanted to get to in any one of those zones tonight. I can't think of a sustained period where we got to cohesive hockey."