Depleted Spirit Defense Battles to the End in 6-5 Loss to Niagara
St. Catharines, ON - The Saginaw Spirit hoped for a resurgence in the third period Thursday at the Meridian Centre against the two-time OHL Eastern Conference champion, Niagara IceDogs.
Despite going perfect on the power play, the Spirit allowed five goals after 40 minutes, picking up their first loss on the road in regulation since November 16 en route to a 6-5 final.
Saginaw drops to 14-11-1-2 on the season, tied with the Windsor Spitfires for second place in the West Division at 31 points, and remains fifth in the Western Conference standings. The IceDogs sweep the two-game season series after taking the first meeting on October 27 at The Dow Event Center in a shootout.
The Spirt unveiled a lineup with just five defensemen, coming into the game without the services of overager Reagan O'Grady, former 2015 IceDogs draft pick Hayden Davis and 17-year-old Duncan Penman.
The limited availability saw recently signee Ian Lemieux be promoted to the second line while third-year forward Danny Katic held the reins on the third line. Lemieux, the 2018 OHL Priority Selection sixth round pick, has played in all four games since committing to the Spirit on November 24.
Going on the power play at 8:25 in the first period was the Spirit, who ended a four-game streak without a man advantage goal last Saturday, taking the early 1-0 lead as defenseman Bode Wilde rifled the shot from the point was for his sixth of the year. It's the 17th game this season in which Saginaw has opened up the scoring (12-5-0-0).
Wilde, whose 24 points are seventh among all OHL defenseman, agreed to terms on a three-year, entry-level deal with the New York Islanders on Monday. Taken in the second round, 41st overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, the Plymouth, Michigan native is the latest of Spirit players to land his first professional contract.
Two penalties issued to Saginaw at the 16:38 mark paved way to Niagara forward Jason Robertson scoring back-to-back power play goals before the first intermission for his 28th and 29th of the season. The Dallas Stars prospect came into the game second in the league in points (52) behind Sault Ste. Marie's Morgan Frost. Shots on goal favored the IceDogs after 20 minutes, 17-13.
The first goal scored with both teams at full strength came at 5:52 in the second frame. Lleyton Moore, earning his second through 24 games played this year, gave Niagara its third unanswered for the 3-1 lead.
Just 23 seconds later, Saginaw veteran forward Cole Coskey's resiliency would cut the deficit for his second-of-three points on the night and 12th goal this season. Leading all Spirit players in points (30) and the first to surpass the 30-mark, Coskey was recently named to the preliminary roster Wednesday for the 2019 U.S. National Junior Team.
Coskey will compete for a spot on the 23-player list in representing the United States in the 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship from Dec. 26, 2018-Jan. 5, 2019, in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.
Robertson, completing the hat trick for the fifth time this season and first time since being traded from the Kingston Frontenacs on November 20, surpassed former 2014 Saginaw draft pick and current Ottawa 67's forward Tye Fellahber for the most goals among all OHL players (30), as the IceDogs notched their third power play goal with 7:31 remaining.
Selected in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft, Robertson, of Northville, Michigan, has finished with at least three points in nine games this season, picking up the assist on Niagara's final two goals.
The Spirit ended the second period with goals recorded by New York Islanders prospect Blade Jenkins (9) and rookie Cole Perfetti (13) at 14:06 and 15:26, respectively. Jenkins, with two points in consecutive games, is tied with overager Albert Michnac for second in points (24).
Ending a 10-game run without a point Thursday, Michnac was credited with the secondary assist on the Jenkins goal. Perfetti continues to impress as he's now tied with Ottawa forward Marco Rossi for the most goals among all OHL first-year players. The fifth overall selection in 2018 is also tied for second in points alongside Jacob Perreault of the Sarnia Sting.
Perfetti's sixth goal since returning from the 2018 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge on November 14 was the second on the power play for Saginaw, who have jumped to ninth in the league with 21 goals on 98 chances for a 21.4 percent success rate. The penalty kill is now 13th overall after allowing four to the IceDogs.
Niagara capped off its relentless exhibition on the power play at 3:51 in the third period, as Vegas Golden Knights prospect Ben Jones scored his 12th goal of the season for the 6-4 lead. This is just the fourth time through 22 appearances in net which Ivan Prosvetov has allowed six goals but also the second game since November 25 that the Russian born goaltender has made 40 or more saves.
Stopping 41 shots and picking up his sixth loss after being taken in the first round of the OHL Import Draft, the Arizona Coyotes prospect has a goals against average (GAA) of 3.49 and a .891 save percentage (SAV%).
Minnesota Wild third round pick Ivan Lodnia and 2018 Los Angeles Kings second rounder Akil Thomas, earning second and third-star honors respectively, combined for seven assists with former Saginaw 2015 draft pick Kirill Maksimov.
The late comeback for the Spirit started and finished on Detroit Red Wings prospect Reilly Webb's first goal of the year with 11:34 remaining in the third, assisted by Katic and captain Damien Giroux. With seven assists through 28 games played as well, Webb is close to leapfrogging the double-digit mark in points (eight). Katic also carved out two assists.
Applebee's Three Stars of the Game:
1. Jason Robertson (NIAG) - 3G, 2A, +1
2. Ivan Lodnia (NIAG) - 2A, +1
3. Akil Thomas (NIAG) - 3A, +1
The Spirit will head south of the border to Erie, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, December 8, for a 7:00 p.m. puck drop against the Otters. Saginaw won the first meeting at the Erie Insurance Arena, 4-3, on October 6 to begin the four-game season series.
Listen live on the flagship WSGW 100.5 FM Talk & Sports and fmtalk1005.com with Joey Battaino and Dennis Desrosiers. Pre-game coverage begins 15 minutes prior to puck drop at 6:45 p.m.
To purchase your tickets for all Saginaw home games, call (989) 497-7747, visit saginawspirit.com, or by visiting the Saginaw Spirit Store at 5789 State Street, Saginaw, MI.
For tickets and more information:
Reserve your seat at The Dow Event Center by calling (989) 497-7747 or visit www.saginawspirit.com for more information. YOUR Region. YOUR team. YOU'RE invited.
Images from this story
Saginaw Spirit RW Cole Coskey
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