Wranglers ice Utah for fifth win in row

The Wranglers weren’t as sharp Sunday at the Orleans Arena as they had been the night before, and the Utah Grizzlies had a real goalie in the nets.

But it didn’t matter as Las Vegas had its power play cranked up, leading to a 5-3 win over the Grizzlies in front of 3,085.

The Wranglers’ fifth straight win and eighth in a row at home got them to the .500 mark. Las Vegas is 14-14-2-1 and tied for second place with Ontario and Stockton in the ECHL’s Pacific Division with 31 points.

“We’ve risen from the dead,” coach Ryan Mougenel said, referring to his team’s woeful 1-9 stretch in November after a 5-4 start. “We’ve got a good thing going now, and they’re working on it.”

The Wranglers were 3-for-8 on the power play Sunday, getting third-period man-advantage goals from Chris Neiszner and Josh Pruden to break a 3-3 deadlock after Jeff Hazelwood had tied it earlier in the period.

Las Vegas made life tough for Grizzlies goalie Mitch O’Keefe, one of the ECHL’s top netminders. O’Keefe, who came on for backup Beau Jackson on Saturday night, faced 37 shots and was under duress a good portion of the game, particularly in the final 20 minutes.

“We got a lot of traffic in front of him, and sometimes being simplistic is the best way to go,” Mougenel said of his team’s direct power-play approach.

Las Vegas struggled clearing its own zone the first two periods and allowed two second-period goals as a result.

A turnover led to Tony Romano’s shot from just inside the left faceoff circle that beat Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas, giving Utah a 2-1 lead early in the second period.

After Matt Kang’s power-play goal for Las Vegas made it 2-2, more sloppy play in the Wranglers’ end resulted in Utah regaining the lead. The Wranglers failed to clear the zone late in the second period, leaving Jadren Beljo all alone in front of the net. He easily slipped the puck past Ouzas to put the Grizzlies back in front, 3-2.

“We talked about tightening it up in our end between the second and third periods and getting five guys playing together in each zone,” Mougenel said. “The guys did a good job of adjusting, and in the third period, we were much better.”

Things seesawed until the Wranglers finally took control in the third. Mougenel said while the team is maturing, getting caught up in a back-and-forth game is something to avoid.

“I’m fine with labeling our team as immature,” he said. “But we’ve learned a lot of lessons over the last 30 games, and the bottom line is we found a way to win.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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