The Trenton Titans saw their five-game win streak and their seven-game point streak snapped this week, as the squad lost a pair of games to the Conference-leading Reading Royals.
Although the Titans managed to eke out an overtime victory last Thursday against their division rival, Trenton lost back-to-back contests to Reading on Friday and Saturday to suffer consecutive losses for the first time since December 8-9.
Friday’s setback was nearly a spectacular comeback, as the Titans lost 5-4 at the Sovereign Center.
Stephen Schultz registered his 10th goal of the season and assisted on two others for his second three-point performance in a five-game span, while he extended his point streak to six in the process. Marcel Noebels concluded his point streak at eight with a three-assist tilt to record seven points in a three-game span and 13 over the streak. The Royals beat Niko Hovinen twice in the opening 5:08 before Schultz found the back of the net late in the first to go into the second period down 2-1. A tally from Adam Comrie and two from Yannick Tifu gave Reading a 5-1 lead they held on to until the middle of the third period. With just under ten minutes to play, Ian Slater produced his sixth goal in 12 games, and seventh on the year, to cut the deficit to 5-2. A little over five minutes later, Andy Bohmbach became the second Titan in the final stanza to beat Sergey Kostenko to make it a two-goal game with 4:37 left in regulation. Blake Kessel trimmed the lead to one 93 seconds later with his fourth of the year, but Trenton couldn’t find a fifth goal to send it to overtime.
Also in Thursday’s game, the Titans and Royals engaged in a hostile affair, as the clubs combined for a total of 132 penalty minutes. A majority of the penalty minutes came in the final stanza, as the game had only seen 10 PIMs in the first 40 minutes. In the final period, however, six fighting majors were handed out in addition to four game misconduct majors. Alexandre Carrier and Dustin Stevenson were the first tandem to mix it up 7:27 into the period, while the game’s first melee came just under five minutes later. Matt Mangene earned himself a game misconduct for spearing, while Danick Paquette was dealt a game misconduct for being the aggressor.
Less than 80 seconds after Mangene’s and Paquette’s exits, more pandemonium ensued. Tyler Hostetter fought Comrie, as the pair earned game misconducts for being involved in a secondary altercation. At the same time, Justin Taylor attempted to draw David Vallorani into a scrap, an action Taylor was ejected for since Vallorani refused.
If the violence wasn’t enough, an absurd ending took place as well. With five seconds left on the clock, a pair of players started to shove one another at Trenton’s blue line and drew a whistle from the refs. After the apparent whistle, time ran out on the clock. This left both teams confused and a lengthy process to solve the issue followed, as the Royals skated to the locker room and the Titans stayed at the bench to wait for an explanation. In the end, the Titans suffered the loss, as the referees determined there was no time left on the clock.
On Saturday, the Titans started the contest on the right track back on home ice, but blew it in the final period and suffered an avoidable 3-2 defeat.
Schultz provided his second straight multi-point performance, as the forward opened the scoring 16 seconds in and gave Trenton an insurance goal at the 2:37 mark. Kelly Zajac had both primary assists and Jacob Cepis had both secondary assists, as Schultz’s first tally was on a nice feed from Zajac in the corner to the slot and his second goal was on a rebound in the slot. Trenton held on to the two-goal lead until a few minutes into the third period, where ECHL All-Star Starter Denny Urban broke up Scott Wedgewood’s shutout bid with a blast from the point through traffic. After Urban’s 13th of the campaign made it 2-1 with 17:21 left, Ian O’Connor one-timed a Stevenson feed through Wedgewood’s five-hole to even the score at two with 12:43 left in regulation. Tifu registered his third goal in two nights with a ridiculous snipe from the bottom of the circle that went far post and whizzed by Wedgewood’s blocker, as the forward clanked his 12th of the season off the bar just inside the net. The loss snapped Wedgewood’s three-game winning streak and dropped Trenton to 3-6-1 against Reading this year.
A major hit from Paquette early in the game led some to believe a second straight night of brawling was set to take place, as the Royals’ skater boarded Trenton blue liner Ryan Grimshaw one second before the nine-minute mark of the first period. Jacob Drewiske jumped in and stood up for Grimshaw with a bout, as the defenseman was fine and the game was calm with a total of 29 PIMs.
Wedgewood, who suffered the loss with 37 saves on 40 shots, believed his teammates thought the game was already in the bag before the final period started. “When you’re up by two going into the third, people say it’s the worst lead in hockey. You just have to be smart in your own end. We gave up a guy at the point, we gave him too much time to get a shot, and they get a screen in front with a guy in the slot and it’s a two-two game. Then, Tifu made a ridiculous shot there. Credit to him for placing that there, but it was a 2-on-4. He shouldn’t have even got a chance to put the puck there. We got complacent, that’s the way it was.”
As for Tifu, the New Jersey Devils’ prospect thinks his squad gives the Royals too much space to work: “I think we might give him a little too much respect. I mean, he’s a great player, we know that, but when you stand two feet back from him…it’s like basketball. You give a guy like Kobe Bryant a chance to shoot, he’s going to shoot. You almost have to stand up on him, give him no time, and just take everything away from him. We’ve just been a little bit too lazy playing against him. He’s a good player, but you just have to give him no time.”
Head coach Vince Williams didn’t want to use fatigue as an excuse for his club’s loss on Saturday and talked about some missed opportunities. “The culture is you have to learn to play three (games) in three (days). We always say that your head will get you into more trouble than your legs. We sat back a little bit on that last goal. We really had numbers, we could have stayed up. Whether it was fatigue or just the confidence to stay up on them to keep them outside, we have to close off. We came out the way we wanted to come out, but we didn’t sustain it. We didn’t execute and capitalize on the chances.” Williams also talked about his team’s missed opportunity on the boarding major to Paquette in the first, as well as the fact his squad could have produced 40 shots if they had focused on shooting at the right time rather than looking for an additional pass.
In terms of transactions this week, the Titans completed a trade and saw several players leave for the Adirondack Phantoms.
Andrew Conboy was dealt to the Cincinnati Cyclones in exchange for Paul Cianfrini, who made his Titans’ debut on Saturday night. Conboy had a goal and six helpers in 20 games for Trenton, while he compiled 101 PIMs with a minus-6 rating. In two games so far with the Cyclones, he has one goal and seven PIMs. As for Cianfrini, he was a member of the Wheeling Nailers before he was dealt to Cincinnati, who quickly shipped him to Trenton before he ever played a game with the affiliate for the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins. He posted two PIMs in Saturday’s loss to Reading.
The trio of Noebels, Kessel, and Slater left the Titans’ roster this week to join the Adirondack Phantoms in the AHL.
Noebels had nine goals, including one hat trick, and 12 assists for 21 points in the month of December to be named the ECHL Rookie of the Month. He registered at least one point in 12 of the 14 games he played in the month and recorded five multi-point performances, which included two three-point games and a four-point showing.
Kessel enjoyed a seven-game point streak before he was blanked in Saturday’s loss. The blue liner had two goals and seven helpers during the streak, which included a three-assist affair in Trenton’s 6-3 victory over the Evansville IceMen on December 21st. He played in 56 games for Adirondack last season, where he had a goal and 17 assists.
Slater was another point producer as of late for the Titans’ blue line, as he had a goal and two assists in the team’s last five games. The defenseman racked up a four-game goal streak in early December, as he recorded six tallies and three helpers in the month. The Satellite Beach, Florida native is doing well in his first professional season with a point total similar to his final two seasons as the captain of the Western Michigan University Broncos.
The Titans endure an important road trip this weekend with a trio of contests against divisional rivals who sit close to them in the Eastern Conference standings. Tonight and tomorrow night, the Titans travel to Wheeling to take on the Nailers. Although Trenton is in 10th and the Nailers trail behind them in 11th, the Titans will need to come away with some wins, as the only thing that seperates the clubs in points is Trenton’s one extra victory in 2012-2013.
After a pair of games against the Nailers, the Titans finish the weekend with a trip to Elmira to face the Jackals. The Ottawa Senators’ affiliate is one point ahead of Trenton in the standings, but they have also competed in 32 games compared to the Titans’ 31.