By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
Another week over in the ECHL and yet another week of frustration for the Gladiators. One point earned from a possible four in two games against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits leaves the team bottom of the south division and 26th out of 27 teams in the league standings. After 18 games, the Gladiators are 5-10-3, with their hopes of making the playoffs all but gone. The results haven’t gone Atlanta’s way, despite some improved performances recently, wins seem so elusive for the Duluth based team.
On Friday night the Gladiators took on the Swamp Rabbits at the Infinite Energy Arena, desperate to add to their win tally. Miroslav Svoboda was given the start in net, coach Pyle showing faith after some incredible saves in recent weeks. The Gladiators capitalized on an early power play with Alex Overhardt scoring the games first goal, assisted by Zach Malatesta and Brett McKenzie. It didn’t take long for Greenville to tie the game. Five minutes after taking the lead, the Glads allowed Jon Jutzi to get the Swamp Rabbits level. The second period began with Greenville comfortably in control, and they took the lead through Brendan Harms. Towards the end of the second frame, the Gladiators found some momentum and managed to assert some pressure on the Swamp Rabbits.
Veteran forward, Derek Nesbitt, leveled the game early in the third period, making an important contribution as he often does for the Gladiators. Both teams continued to push for a game-winning goal but to no avail. The score remained tied 2-2 after 60 minutes. This was a crucial point for the Gladiators, but the job wasn’t finished. They still had to endure overtime. The spirited comeback wasn’t enough as Michael Pelech scored the winner for Greenville, a disappointing end to the game for the Gladiators who fought bravely.
After falling just short in the first game of the weekend, the Gladiators shifted their attention to the Saturday night rematch against Greenville, this time on the road. Svoboda was given the start again, and the Glads set about securing the win. Both teams exchanged plenty of shots, but the game remained scoreless through the first two periods. Four minutes into the third, Michael Pelech continued to haunt Atlanta with his second goal of the weekend, putting the Swamp Rabbits in front. Desperate to get something from the game, the Gladiators threw everything at Greenville, but they couldn’t beat netminder, Chris Nell, who held on for the shutout. With one last roll of the dice, Svoboda headed to the Atlanta bench to create a man advantage for the Glads, but it was in vain as Stephen Pierog scored an empty-netter to wrap the game up for the Swamp Rabbits. 2-0 the final score. Svoboda had an outstanding game in net for the Glads, finishing with 35 saves from 36 shots.
After the weekend games against Greenville, the gap is growing in the south division with Atlanta now trailing by six points. At this stage, it will be difficult just to get out of last place, let alone challenge for a playoff spot. It’s hard to find positives as things stand, and failing to score on Saturday doesn’t bode well for Atlanta. The Gladiators need to go back to basics, they have one of the most efficient power play units in the league and must start taking advantage of it. While the lack of goals this weekend is a problem, the defense has improved in recent games. There is still potential for this Gladiators team to succeed, though the clock is ticking.