Pierro-Zabotel, Gwinnett edge Solar Bears

ORLANDO, Fla – Highs and lows. Ups and downs. Ebb and flow. All of these phrases could be applied to the marathon that is a professional sports season. Maintaining the perfect level of play over a long period of time is one of the most difficult things to accomplish during a schedule that winds its way over a long period of time.
After hitting a high point with wins in five of six games, the Orlando Solar Bears have found the low of a losing streak. Thursday night, that streak hit three games as Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored two goals to lead the Gwinnett Gladiators to a 4-3 win over the Solar Bears at the Amway Center. Pierro-Zabotel’s effort offset a two goal, one assist night by Orlando’s Ryan Ginand.
The victory, Gwinnett’s third in three meetings with Orlando, pushed the Gladiators into first place in the ECHL South Division.
“We’re a little bit snak- bit right now but we’ll come back from it. The guys are all positive and upbeat in there (locker room),” Solar Bears head coach Drake Berehowsky said. “We’ll be able to rebound.”
After losing to Gwinnett in overtime Wednesday night, the Solar Bears had a bit of a new look with forward Derrick Burnett, an active duty member of the Air Force who had been cut in training camp, in the lineup. They also had Hannu Toivonen, a former Boston Bruins draft choice, on the bench as the new number two goalie after placing Mike Brodeur on the 21-day injured list.
Once again it was the opposition that got on the board first. 5:53 into the first period, Evan Bloodoff, who had scored a goal in Wednesday’s game, made a strong individual rush into the Orlando end, got leverage on the defenseman and fired a shot between the legs of netminder John Curry to open the scoring. 35 seconds later, Justin Weller took advantage of Curry being down in a scramble to double the lead. Feeling that he had been interfered with, Curry protested the score but referee Andrew Wilk felt otherwise as he both allowed the goal to stand and hit Curry with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The ensuing Gwinnett power play proved to be an advantage for the Solar Bears as the home team cut turned defense into offense. 26 seconds into the penalty kill, Scott Tanski took advantage of an odd-man situation by sending a quick pass across the slot to Ginand who drove the puck home.
Late in the period, Orlando’s Mike Liambas crushed Pierro-Zabotel into the boards, drawing a boarding penalty. When another Gwinnett player came to the defense of his teammate, Liambas dropped his gloves while his opponent didn’t, earning Liambas a second minor penalty. The ensuing four-minute power play turned to gold for the Gladiators as Pierro-Zabotel deflected a Doug Jones shot past Curry to push Gwinnett’s lead to 3-1.
“It seems like we shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes. We take some penalties. We take the momentum away from ourselves,” Berehowsky said. “That’s one thing we’re trying to establish is momentum in games and have everyone rolling and having everybody chipping in. When that doesn’t happen, when you take yourself out of those situations, it hurts you.”
Orlando seemed to pull some of that momentum back early in the second period thanks to the individual effort of one of its leaders. Kevin Baker carried the puck into the Gwinnett end and got off a good shot at Gladiators goalie Mike Lee (33 saves). The puck followed Baker below the goal line where he grabbed it and saw Olivier Fortier driving hard to the net. Seeing a space between Lee and the side of the net, Baker slid the puck through the space to Fortier who slammed it home.
The Solar Bears picked up the tempo after the Fortier tally but Gwinnett, riding a five-game winning streak coming into the contest, took the air out of the Amway Center five minutes later. Pierro-Zabotel, who overtook Orlando’s Nick Petersen for the ECHL scoring lead in the game, got loose for a backhander that beat Curry at the 8:14 mark of the middle stanza to reestablish the Gladiators’ two-goal lead.
Orlando had a chance to cut the margin before the period ended, getting two back-to-back power play opportunities in the final three minutes. Lee and his teammates had other ideas, keeping the Solar Bears off the board.
“We’re not getting any bounces right now. We’re working hard. We’re doing the little things (but) this happens in the course of a season,” Solar Bears captain Ryan Cruthers said. “We do have to start bearing down. We have to start scoring. Our power play has to get going but this happens in hockey.”
Try as they might, the Solar Bears couldn’t dent Lee and the Gwinnett defense for most of the third period. With just 2:12 left in regulation, Ginand tipped home a shot by Fortier to cut the Orlando deficit to 4-3. In the final minute, Berehowsky pulled Curry for an extra attacker but the Solar Bears lost the advantage when Petersen was forced to take a holding the stick penalty to prevent a possible breakout toward the empty net. Gwinnett played keep away with the puck the rest of the way to close out the victory.
Orlando has a day off on Friday to regroup before the Elmira Jackals come to town on Saturday followed by a Veterans Day afternoon game against Gwinnett on Sunday at the Amway Center.
Contact the author at don.money@prohockeynews.com Follow us on Twitter @prohockeynews

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