Aided by two Zack Smith goals in the third period, the Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla defeated Kenai River 3-0 on Friday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"It's a big two points for us, that's for sure," said Avs head coach Dave Boitz. Every divisional game is important, he said.
"It's a four-point game every time you play someone in your division," Boitz added.
On Saturday, the Avs notched another division win, topping the Brown Bears 5-2. Kenai River fell behind 4-0 in the third, but goals by Braden Kinnebrew and Brad Fusaro gave the Bears a chance.
Micki Mahailovich ended the comeback attempt with an empty-net goal.
Kenai River is now 5-16-1 and in last place in the North American Hockey League West Division. Alaska is 15-3-4 and in second place.
On Friday, Smith notched his first goal toward the end of a power play 4:36 into the final period. With just 25 seconds remaining on the man advantage, Smith ripped a shot past Brown Bears net minder Mike Martin.
Just over five minutes later, Smith buried a close-range shot, giving his team a 3-0 lead.
Despite the loss, the Brown Bears remained upbeat, said interim head coach Oliver David.
"The bench was very positive," he said. "I never felt let down by our team."
Two minutes after Smith's second goal, Kenai River went on back-to-back power plays. However, Avs goalie Landon Peterson and his penalty killers kept the shutout through the four minutes.
Special teams was positive on the night, especially killing off the consecutive power plays in the third period, Boitz said. The two power-play goals were a plus, too, he said.
On Kenai River's first of the back-to-back man advantages, Jed McGlasson slid a pass to Derek Bayagich, who just put the puck wide of the goal. On the second power play, Bayagich found an open Kegan Kiel in the high slot. Kiel ripped a hard wrist shot but struck the cross bar and the puck caromed out of play.
Peterson turned away all 27 shots faced in the contest. Though three of the 40 shots Martin faced got past him, the score could have been more lopsided if not for his solid play.
"Both goalies were good," Boitz said. "It could have been an 8-4 game."
"He's definitely rising to the challenge," David said about Martin. "Losing or winning doesn't affect him. He's really, really stable and secure."
Both the Avalanche and Brown Bears goaltenders came up with big saves in the opening period to keep the game scoreless heading into the second.
In the first, Alaska's Robb Haider broke free and was hit with a pass just past the red line. He skated in on Martin untouched. However, Kenai River's net minder denied the breakaway opportunity. Haider moved right to left and Martin flashed his right leg pad to make the save.
Peterson equaled Martin's tremendous save when he denied Brown Bears newcomer Jesse Ramsey. Ryan Townsend chipped the puck into Alaska's zone, beating three Avs to the biscuit. He came behind the back of the goal and found Ramsey in the slot. But Peterson made the save and smothered the rebound.
Martin then bailed out defenseman Braden Kinnebrew. Kinnebrew had a turnover in his own zone, passing the puck right to an Avalanche player. But Martin made the save to keep the score knotted at 0.
Five new Brown Bears skated Friday. David said he was pleased with Ramsey's performance. He came to Kenai River from the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild in the trade for Dajon Mingo.
"Ramsey was steady at center," David said.
EJ Gann, who came from the San Jose (Calif.) Jr. Sharks Midget 18AAA team, also had a solid first game with the Brownies.
"EJ did exactly what I asked of him," David said.
"It is a very tough reality to face changing a third of the way into the season as much as we have," David said. "The reason for the change is to present a product that will eventually mature into something this town can be proud of."
Without Mingo and with Doug Beck out of the lineup Friday, Kenai River displayed a new top line of McGlasson, Bayagich and Brad Duwe. Duwe, Bayagich and Beck were working well together as a trio, David said. So, it was natural to throw a veteran like McGlasson into the line.
Duwe is a top prospect in the league, David said. "Jed is nonstop and very consistent," he added. Putting those two with a smart hockey player like Bayagich, David said he knew the line would have success.
"They definitely played some smart, elite hockey tonight," he said.
The Avalanche came away with a 1-0 lead after two periods of play, courtesy of a power-play goal. With Josh Royston in the box for cross checking, it took the Avs just 31 seconds to make the Bears pay for the penalty.
The puck was kicked out to Jake Parenteau inside the blue line but above the circles. He ripped a shot from the middle of the ice over Martin's glove for the goal. Parenteau's goal came nearly nine minutes into the period.
Kenai River had two good scoring chances just prior to the Avs goal. On the man advantage, Duwe slid a pass to McGlasson, who ripped a one-timer. But Peterson denied that chance and McGlasson's rebound attempt.
The Brown Bears goaltender made several important saves in the period to keep his team from falling further behind on the scoreboard.
One such save came when the Avalanche's Tyler Schwartz picked up a loose puck and let a slap shot go. Martin denied the shot and the rebound shot from Schwartz.
Martin was up to the task again when Raymond Stenehjem ripped a wrist shot from the high slot. Kenai River's net minder squared up to the shooter, making the save with ease.
Though he was happy with the win, Boitz said his team was too sloppy.
"We were hoping to come out a little sharper," he said.
Avalanche 3, Brown Bears 0
Alaska 1 0 2 -- 3
Kenai River 0 0 0 -- 0
First period -- 1. Alaska, Parenteau (Smith, Scott), pp, 8:45. Penalties -- none.
Second period -- No scoring. Penalties -- 3 for 6:00; Kenai River, 4 for 8:00.
Third period -- 2. Alaska, Smith (Scott, Parenteau), pp, 4:36; 3. Alaska, Smith (Nagtzaam, Scott), 9:55. Penalties -- Alaska, 2 for 4:00; Kenai River, 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal -- Alaska, 11-17-12 -- 40; Kenai River, 8-10-9 -- 27.
Goalies -- Alaska, Peterson (27 shots, 27 saves); Kenai River Martin (40 shots, 37 saves). Power plays -- Alaska, 2 for 5; Kenai River, 0 for 4.
Avalanche 5, Brown Bears 2
Alaska 1 2 2 --5
Kenai River 0 0 2 --2
First period -- 1. Alaska, Smith (Nagtzaam), 0:50. Penalties -- None.
Second period -- 2. Alaska, Nagtzaam (Scott, Van Allen), 3:40; 3. Alaska, Friese (Pichler), 5:21. Penalties -- Alaska 2 for 7:00; Kenai River 3 for 9:00.
Third period -- 4. Scott (Nagtzaam, Williams), 0:37; 5. Kenai River, Kinnebrew (Amin), 1:24; 6. Kenai River, Fusaro (un), 3:56; 7. Alaska, Mahailovich (Nagtzaam, Maly), en, 18:06.
Shots on goal -- Alaska 4-10-7--21; Kenai River 8-9-19--36.
Goalies -- Alaska, Robertson (36 shots, 34 saves); Kenai River, Hamby (13 shots, 10 saves), Martin (7 shots, 6 saves).
Power plays -- Alaska 0 for 3, Kenai River 0 for 2.
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