Gwinnett Gladiators Brett Lyon (14), Kirill Tulupov (2) and Brenden Walker celebrate a goal by teammate Josh Currie (6) in last week’s 8-1 drubbing of Florida at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators have come quite a way since they last played Orlando nearly a month ago.
The Solar Bears surged to a 5-2 win after trailing 2-1 early in the second period on Dec. 15 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The Gladiators had lost their ace goalie, Peter Delmas, the night before to an injury and it was the first start for backup Matt Cooper. He lasted just 25 minutes after ceding three goals on 10 shots.
The situation in net is much more stable now with Brad Phillips and Paul Karpowich trading off starts. They’ve combined to win six of the last eight games and three straight. Phillips was in net for 4-0 and 2-1 wins over league-leading (but significantly depleted) South Carolina. Sandwiched between those games was an 8-1 blowout of Florida with Karpowich making 36 saves.
“We had excellent goaltending and timely goals (against South Carolina),” Gwinnett head coach Rick Emmett said. “Those runaway games are few and far between. It was an aberration. It was a night where we were throwing pucks to the net and getting sticks on it and they went in.”
The Gladiators will see if they can maintain the momentum gathered over the last few weeks against Orlando tonight and Saturday at home.
The Solar Bears, who are 3-0-1-0 in their last four games, were reassigned goalie Christopher Gibson from AHL Toronto on Thursday. The Finnish netminder has played 10 games with Orlando this season with a 3-5-1-1 record, a 2.97 goals-against average and .891 save percentage. His numbers in three games with the Marlies are significantly more impressive (.946 save percentage and 1.68 GAA). Gibson is expected to start tonight.
“Orlando is one of the hottest teams in the league,” Emmett said. “They’re right up there with Florida and South Carolina. They’re starting to get some players back. It’s going to be a good test for us to see where we’re at.”
Gwinnett’s lineup is also getting a boost. Forward Marshall Everson is coming off injured reserve, while defensemen Justin Weller and Rob Kwiet can jump back in after missing the last three or four games.
“We’ll get some injections here, stabilize our lineup and get more depth,” Emmett said. “Obviously we’ve had some success with five D, but in the long run, that’s not ideal.”
There is also the possibility of adding dynamic forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel to the roster. He’s been playing in Germany this season, but was expected back on this side of the Atlantic today. Emmett has talked with Pierro-Zabotel, but it remains to be seen if a deal is feasible.
“With the cap and immigration, there are hurdles,” Emmett said.
The season isn’t even half over yet — which is good news for the Gladiators’ playoff hopes. Gwinnett has made up some ground, but it will take continued success to salvage what started out as a disastrous year. The Gladiators have climbed out of the league’s basement and are on the verge of overcoming their nearest division foe, Greenville.
They are only six points out of a playoff spot, but Emmett is keeping a more narrow view.
“It’s just day to day,” he said. “If we focus on what we need to do and get more consistent, the math will take care of itself.
“We’re getting more consistent and we’re understanding simple things build momentum for us. Our detail is getting better. But we have to continue to make sure the compete level is high every night. I’m happy, of course. It’s better than where we’ve been at, but by no means are we satisfied.”