The Trenton Titans took on the Gwinnett Gladiators on Wednesday night as they sought to move within three games of .500 on the season and get a measure of revenge for a 4-2 loss in December. From the outset, it was clear tonight would be a back-and-forth affair. Unfortunately for Trenton, they again came up a little short, falling 3-2 to the Gladiators.
The first period started out choppy, with the Titans (18-23-3-3) and Gladiators (29-18-2-1) exchanging icings and neither team finding a way to establish much sustained pressure. In what was probably the Titans’ best foray into the offensive zone, some solid work behind the goal line was lost on an errant pass from Jacob Cepis to Alexandre Carrier at the point. The Gladiators, meanwhile, patiently worked the point, testing Scott Wedgewood with clean point shots that he trapped with relative ease.
The Gladiators eventually broke the scoreless tie at the 15:20 mark of the first. Gwinnetts forwards attacked the net, collapsing down low. After Wedgewood made two quick short-side saves in tight on Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Andy Brandt, Scott Arnold hammered the second rebound home from the far post as he waited, seemingly unmarked. The Titans had a chance with 2:45 left to tie it up, but an ugly power play against Gwinnett’s highly ranked PK unit wrapped up the first with the Gwinnett Gladiators still up 1-0 and leading 14-6 in shots.
Gwinnett wasn’t going to let the second start as slowly as the first. Sensing a chance to take hold of the game, the lone scorer of the first period, Scott Arnold, walked in for a solid scoring chance less than a minute in. He put a shot high and wide to the far glove side, though, and the Titans were able to escape. Trenton took their chance to respond in turn, getting a power play on a hooking call against Jason Clark shortly after Arnold’s chance and immediately going to work. A frenetic sequence down low saw the puck trickle through the crease and go just wide of the left post, where it was handled by the Gladiators. Undeterred, Jacob Cepis converted a rebound off of a left pad save by Louis Domingue, putting it home into an open right side of the net at the 2:12 mark for the power play marker. Jesse Todd and Brian Haczyk had the helpers on Cepis’ 13th tally of the year.
The pace settled back down as the period progressed, with neither team establishing much of a zone presence. Kevin Baker of the Titans made a great play at the Gladiators’ blue line to block a pass and walk in on Domingue uncontested, but the masked man was up for the challenge as he deftly sealed the five hole and turned Baker aside, deke and all. Wedgewood, meanwhile, almost left a different kind of mark on the game, as he made a few questionable puck plays towards his defensemen that resulted in some tense moments. The Gladiators were able to throw a couple towards the net thanks to the mistakes, but they weren’t able to make the Titans netminder pay.
Less than five minutes after Cepis’ mark, Gwinnett was able to respond with a goal by Cody Brookwell on a sneaky wrister through traffic from the right circle. Helpers went to Scott Arnold, his second point, and Jason Clark, who redeemed himself for the earlier penalty. Wedgewood was working around the screen, leaning to try and get a lane, when the shot found a way to get through and tickle the twine.
The Titans were offered a third power play chance by the Gladiators a mere 2:30 after Brookwell’s goal. Much like the first Trenton attempt with the man advantage, however, there was little sustained pressure thanks to hurried breakouts and missed passes. The Titans worked to force shots, but they found more defensemen than goalie. Capping it off, Cepis took a tripping penalty with 17 seconds left on the power play. Fortunately, the Titans seized the opportunity to show why they have the best penalty kill in the league, clogging the middle of the ice, restricting lanes to the net and ultimately frustrating Gwinnett on their lone chance on the man advantage.
Late in the period, the Gladiators gave themselves a couple of ripe chances, but were unable to convert. Gwinnett goaltender Domingue sprung teammate Pierro-Zabotel, who was parked in the far neutral zone, for a break with a beauty of a saucer pass, but Pierro-Zabotel missed the mark by a good stick’s length. Another Gladiator, Joey Haddad, nearly tucked one in during the waning moments of the period after walking in alone on Wedgewood and beating him, but he hit the right post on a politely lifted backhand.
After the second intermission, the Gladiators again came out flying. Wedgewood responded very well, making a nice blocker save on a shot from the right wing and an even better save on the rebound, as it bounced off of traffic in front and ricocheted back on net. The Titans keeper kept it up, playing a fantastic early third period and fighting to keep Trenton in the game.
The desperation seemed to finally infect Trenton’s bench a few minutes later, as they started to establish some good pressure in the Gwinnett zone. Working the puck around better than they had all night, they generated some solid chances that just wouldn’t break through. Indicative of how the rest of the night would go, the Titans walked in on a 3-on-2 odd-man rush with Ullrich sweeping to the center of the ice, only to have his shot find a home in Domingue’s chest protector.
The Gladiators held strong against the Titans newfound energy, eventually evening out their keel and scoring on a subtly tipped point shot with 7:23 left in the third to take a 3-1 lead. On the ensuing faceoff, the Titans found a way to respond, as Ullrich walked in on Domingue, deposited the biscuit through the wickets on a nifty deke, and totally redeemed himself.
Further propped by the quick retort, the Titans continued to attack. Forced to the outside in the offensive zone, however, their chances were not too threatening, and Domingue was very capable at handling the short-side attempts without putting rebounds into the slot. With a little over a minute left, Wedgewood was pulled for the extra skater. The Titans held the offensive zone and continued to look for the equalizer. With a little over 30 seconds left, Domingue stepped into the forbidden zone behind the goal line, earning a delay of game penalty and gifting the Titans with a two-man advantage for 30 seconds. Trenton couldn’t strike paydirt, though, and the game would ultimately wrap up without any additional scoring.
Gwinnett’s win gives them a two-game sweep on the season series and helps to further solidify their playoff standing. The Titans, meanwhile, know they have a fight in front of them to remain relevant in the playoff race. After the game, Titans Head Coach Vince Williams acknowledged that the shuffling lineup and changing locker room presence is providing a challenge, but he was also optimistic, as he felt his players were executing well and that they just weren’t getting the breaks.
Trenton’s next two games are at home. They take on the Reading Royals at 7:05 PM on Friday, followed by the Kalamazoo Wings at 7:35 PM on Saturday night.