0

Conference-leading Gladiators keep winning close

Photo: Amanda Hertel  The Gwinnett Gladiators, led by goalie Mike Lee, have played nine straight one-goal games o and won eight of them. They play at home on Wednesday against Fort Wayne.

Photo: Amanda Hertel The Gwinnett Gladiators, led by goalie Mike Lee, have played nine straight one-goal games o and won eight of them. They play at home on Wednesday against Fort Wayne.

DULUTH -- Gwinnett Gladiators head coach John Wroblewski can't remember being part of a team that won 1-0 on back-to-back nights before now. Especially with two different goalies.

The Gladiators did last week, beating Orlando on consecutive nights and extending an incredible run of one-goal games to nine straight. The really impressive part is Gwinnett has won eight of those games.

Wroblewski just looked over at assistant Rick Emmett and chortled when the length of that stretch was discussed.

"Nine? Is that how many it is?" he said.

The last time the conference-leading Gladiators had a result decided by more than one goal was back on Nov. 3, a 3-1 win over Elmira.

"That was three weeks ago," Wroblewski said with a grin. "That's ridiculous."

The only blemish in the run was a 2-1 loss to South Division rival Greenville on Nov. 17.

"There are no complaints," Wroblewski said, then pausing to add, "I don't think you can ever be happy with success. Right now we're trying to evaluate and appreciate why we're winning those games. We've got a lot of guys who are committed to their endeavor, that are willing to do the things that are necessary to win one-goal games.

"We've got to figure out ways to have a little bit more explosiveness and we've got to figure out ways to create some more offense."

Rookie goalies Mike Lee and Louis Domingue earned 1-0 shutout wins last Thursday and Friday. In its last five games, Gwinnett has scored a combined seven goals.

"Offense is the No. 1 thing in the game," Wroblewski said. "We don't play a defensive system. We've been running into really good goalies, that's for sure. The goaltending in the league this year is fantastic.

"You look at the guys Orlando just threw at us, every single guy they have has NHL experience and the kid the other night, (Darcy) Kuemper, will have NHL experience some day. He's a phenomenal goaltender. That's one thing we have to appreciate."

Those goalies have been under fairly consistent pressure from the face-paced system Wroblewski employs.

"You look at the momentum we create and sometimes I think our style helps a goalie get into a game, for the opposition," he said. "Because it's a pretty active game. There's a lot of pucks going at him, so they might find their groove a little bit. So I think that might contribute to (the close games) a little bit.

"But as long as we're continuing to carry the pace of the game, and the momentum is going our direction, hopefully the goal scoring will take care of itself and we'll be able to continue to find a way to have one more than the other guys."

Gwinnett has gotten good goaltending this year, primarily from Lee as Domingue spent a month recovering from an injury suffered in the season opener. But the Gladiators have also done a good job in the defensive zone, limiting shots and giving the netminders good sight lines. Against Orlando last week, both goalies saw just 22 shots in their 1-0 wins.

"It's assuredly a collective effort," Wroblewski said. "It's a commitment level. It's a lot of respect that goes into it as well. You've got a lot of guys in there who value their job, who value being a part of a team. I think that's reflective in those one-goal games.

"We're going to have to make sure we keep reminding them that's our strength as a club right now and we're going to try to embrace that as much as we can."

The Gladiators are at home this week to play league newcomer Fort Wayne on Wednesday and Friday. They split the two meetings earlier this season in Fort Wayne, winning 4-2 and dropping a 1-0 game in late October. In addition to winning eight of their nine straight one-goal games to date, Gwinnett has lost just two of its last 14 overall.

"I don't think Rick and I are ever comfortable on the bench during those games," Wroblewski said. "You try to stay as calm as you possibly can and keep your mind active. Because it's a volatile situation. One goal isn't much. But assuredly it is the difference between good seasons and great seasons.

"I think this is the same thing we were in last year, so many of those one-goal games. It's just maybe the style we play. We don't take a lot of chances. We try to be as thorough as possible and keep games, not necessarily low scoring, but keep games in check. That's what we're striving for and that must be a reason we've been in so many tight games. It really can't be coincidental at this point."