The New Jersey Titans showed no signs of slowing down from a Thanksgiving dinner, as they defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights by a score of 5-3 at Middletown Sports Complex on Friday night.
Gavin Gulash scored two goals while Michael Outzen picked up a goal and an assist. Matt Ladd made 29 saves in his 10th win of the season, while the Titans improved its overall record to 14-9-0.
“For the most part we completed our game plan and executed what we wanted to do on both ends of the ice,” said Titans head coach Craig Doremus. “Coming off a holiday break you’re never really sure what to expect, especially with some holiday travel under your legs, so I was happy with the response and getting another good win here at home.”
Connor Merrill opened the scoring at 11:08 of the first period when he buried a rebound from a shot by Thomas Lacombe. It was Merrill’s first goal with the Titans and his fourth point in as many games since joining the team. The Knights responded at 16:40 when Shay Donovan worked a give-and-go with Sacha Guillemain and took a shot that bounced off Ladd’s glove and into the net for his first of the season.
The Knights took a 2-1 lead just over a minute into the second period when Zak Currie poked a loose puck away from Ladd and into the net. The miscue highlighted a sloppy start to the second period for the Titans, where pucks were bouncing over and under the players’ sticks leading to turnovers and missed opportunities.
Once the Titans settled down, they got to work and put up three unanswered goals. Cam Gendron made a nifty drop pass to Gulash in the slot, as he flung a wrister past the glove of Knights’ goaltender Samuel Vyletelka. Two minutes and eight seconds later, Lacombe ripped a one-timer from the bottom of the left-faceoff circle and picked up his fourth goal of the season.
Doremus spoke about the performance from the line of Lacombe, Merrill and Chris Garbe, who all finished the night with two points each.
“I think those guys have something brewing. Every time we have those three together, along with Chris Garbe, they play really well. Tonight is another night where they were able to lead the team with some really solid plays in all three zones,” he said. “They get rewarded on the scoresheet for finding the back of the net, but it’s also a matter of making nice little plays and being so hard to play against by hounding pucks all over the ice.”
Outzen capped the middle frame with a power-play goal from the top of the left circle and gave his team a 4-2 lead. Jacob Badal cut the Knights’ deficit in half at 4:34 of the third period, when he put away a rebound from a point-shot by Blake Kryska.
The Titans showed no signs of slowing down, however, and controlled the play for the rest of the period. New Jersey went to the power play just past the midway point of the period, as Gulash converted with his second goal of the game. Outzen managed to thread the needle with a pass to the right faceoff circle where Gulash slammed a one-timer past Vyletelka and extended the Titans’ lead to 5-3.
The Red Bank native spoke about his two-goal performance and acknowledged the chemistry between him and his linemates, Outzen and Gendron.
“It was a nice setup from Outzen on the second goal, which was a big thing in our game, wanting to be better on the power play and the special team battle which I thought we ended up winning tonight,” he said. “But all credit to my linemates, we had a really strong offensive showing tonight and it paid off.”
Doremus noted that Gulash was working on different parts of his game throughout the week, and said his two-goal performance was the result of the hard work he put in through practice.
“He spent a lot of time this week with assistant coach Bobby DiRico trying to work on different aspects of his game, so any time you see a kid get rewarded like that after putting in the work throughout the week is gratifying,” Doremus said.
The Titans will play the second end of a home-and-home against the Knights at Revolution Ice Centre tonight. Puck drop is slated for 7:30 p.m., and the game will be available for streaming on hockeytv.com.