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October 23, 2019

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Utah’s hot power play burns Wranglers in shutout

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Despite having nearly a week off since their last meeting, the Las Vegas Wranglers still need more time to solve the Utah Grizzlies.

The Wranglers' affinity for the penalty box and inability to stop the Grizzlies' power play combined for a nasty result Friday night as Utah shutout Las Vegas 4-0 in front of a near sell-out crowd of 9,304 fans at the E-Center.

Utah scored on each of its first three power play chances while out-shooting the Wranglers 40-21. Las Vegas went 0-for-4 on the power play.

"It was terrible and that is what happens when you don't compete," said Wranglers head coach and general manager Ryan Mougenel. "When you don't compete and play to your system then that is the end result. One of our keys to the game tonight was to stay out of the box and we take ridiculous selfish penalties."

The Grizzlies (9-4) have commanded this season's series against the Wranglers (6-9) so far. Utah is 6-1 against Las Vegas and has outscored the Wranglers 30-17.

Both teams will meet seven more times this season, including two games in Utah this Saturday and Sunday night.

"It needs to be fixed immediately," Mougenel said. "The thing about this game is that we have another opportunity tomorrow and that psychological edge they are building up against us, we have to be stronger than that. We have to be men and look it in the face and act like men and step up to the challenge. It's a challenge for the guys, it's a challenge for me and that's what it is. We have to challenge each other and hold each other accountable. The selfish penalties are ridiculous."

The first penalty that came back to haunt the Wranglers on Friday was a holding infraction by defenseman John Schwarz late in the first period.

Just 10 seconds into that power play, newly acquired forward Brett Parnham scored his first career professional goal at the 15:43 mark.

Parnham finished second in scoring in the Ontario Hockey League last season behind 2009 first-overall NHL draft pick John Tavares. He had been recovering from a shoulder prior to sinking the Wranglers into a 1-0 hole.

"We obviously had a little bit of luck there," Parnham told Fox Sports Radio 1230 AM. "The puck was bouncing around and fortunately it came right to my stick… Whenever you are fortunate to get one in the first game, it definitely gets the monkey off your back."

Parnham's new teammates did the rest of the heavy lifting as Tom May notched the Grizzlies' second power play goal of the night 3:46 into the second period.

Then, with only 2:06 remaining in the second period, Dylan Hunter extended the Grizzlies' lead to 3-0 with another power play goal.

Utah now boasts the ECHL's leading power play unit with a 27.3 percent success rate (21-of-77). Yet, the Wranglers' penalty kill is one of the league's worst at 75 percent (72-of-96).

"We have 5 D and they have 5 D, the difference is their D are moving the puck a lot quicker than ours and we are getting hemmed in," Mougenel said. "We are making it difficult on ourselves. We have to get better from the back end out. Up front we are extremely strong, but when we are not committed to work it's an ugly game for us. We need to be extremely detailed and work hard for success. We are fighting that. We are afraid of success right now. It's a problem that will be rectified."

Utah forward Vlady Nikiforov capped the 4-0 victory with a penalty shot goal at the 17:49 mark of the third period.

Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas drops to 6-7 in his 10th consecutive start while Utah netminder Mitch O'Keefe improves to 5-1.

Stars of the game: 1. Mitch O'Keefe (21 saves, shutout); 2. Dylan Hunter (1 goal, 1 assist); 3. Tim Maxwell (1 assist)

Weston returns: Forward Ryan Weston made his Wranglers debut at the E-Center after spending nearly two months rehabbing a knee injury he suffered in the San Antonio Rampage training camp.

The 25-year-old Boston University graduate, who spent last season in the AHL with the Albany River Rats, notched two shots in his return to the lineup.

"Ryan Weston hasn't played in eight weeks, but he was arguably one of my best players, which is not a good thing," Mougenel said. "I wanted to ease him in, but he ended up getting some serious minutes. He'll be good for us."

Roster changes brewing: Displeased with his team's 6-9 performance so far, Mougenel announced vague plans to trim the Wranglers' roster next week.

Although Mougenel would not discuss specifics, the lineup changes would most likely impact the crowded list of forwards as well as the status of the current AHL call-ups. Mougenel also has to work with one of the tightest budgets in the ECHL.

"There are going to be changes here before Thanksgiving," Mougenel said. "That's kind of mandated and that's all kind of in the plan on how I have to make this thing work this year. I'm going to be cutting down numbers here in the next week. That's the reality of the situation right now."

Next up: The Wranglers remain in Utah for another tussle with the Grizzlies Saturday at 6:05 p.m.

Final word: "The tryout period is over," Mougenel said. "Guys need to understand that. There are plenty of people itching to be in this lineup."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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