By DAVE BORODY
PLYMOUTH, Mich. – The Sarnia Sting suffered a 6-2 loss to the Plymouth Whalers, Saturday night in front of 2,907 fans at the Compuware Sports Arena.
The win moved Plymouth into sole possession of first place in the West Division, two points ahead of the Sting. Each team has 20 games remaining in the regular season of the Ontario Hockey League.
The Whalers now own the coveted second seed in the Western Conference.
The two clubs were playing the second half of a home-and-home series as the Sting won 5-4 Friday night in a shootout at the RBC Centre.
And like the game in Sarnia, the Sting opened the scoring in this one before the game was five minutes old.
But this time the Whalers responded with three goals in a span of just over four minutes late in the period to take a 3-1 advantage after 20 minutes.
Sarnia would get no closer after that as Plymouth outscored the Sting 3-1 in the second period, two of those goals coming in a span over just over a minute to take a commanding 6-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Sarnia could muster just seven shots on goal in a scoreless third period.
“We were a little bit tired and we got away from our systems,” said veteran Sting defenceman, Alex Basso. “Also, we turned the puck over a couple of times and it cost us.”
Obviously the Sting faced a different Whalers team in their own building.
“They play different in their own building. In this rink it’s different, including the ice surface. They had a little more jump in their building. They are a good team,” said Basso.
The Sting did a great job of keeping star forward Vincent Trocheck off the scoreboard Friday night, but didn’t have the same luck in this game as Trocheck had a pair of goals along with one assist.
Mitchell Heard also had two goals and one assist for Plymouth while Garrett Meurs and Connor Carrick chipped in with singles.
Two defencemen did the scoring for the Sting as Craig Duininck notched his sixth of the year while Taki Pantziris scored his third. Basso, Reid Boucher and Nick Latta picked up assists.
Plymouth had a 41-25 edge in shots on goal while Matt Mahalak the winning goalie while Knick Dawe took the loss.
Each team had a power play goal as Plymouth had four power play tries and Sarnia just three.
Boucher was involved in a rare fight in the first period against Whalers captain Colin MacDonald. It was Boucher’s second fight of his career.
The game was the start of five straight on the road for the Sting. In fact seven of their next nine games are away from the RBC Centre.
Next weekend the Sting makes their annual eastern Ontario road trip. It begins Friday night in Ottawa, continues Saturday night in Belleville and concludes Sunday afternoon in Kingston.
Injured goalie J.P. Anderson was with the team in Plymouth. He says he hopes to be ready to play next weekend.
Attending last night’s game was injured defenceman Connor Murphy. He left the Sting the third week of December to join Team USA for the world junior championships.
Murphy, along with Sting teammate, Alex Galchenyuk helped Team USA capture gold medal. Unfortunately Murphy injured his left knee in the championship game. When he returned to North America, Murphy had surgery on the knee in Phoenix and won’t play again this season.
Murphy had his gold medal with him to show his teammates.
“It’s nice to see my teammates again. Playing in the world juniors was a great experience and something I’ll cherish the rest of my life. Unfortunately the injury is going to keep me out of action for the rest of the year.”
Murphy did return on the team bus to Sarnia, but says his recovery will take place at the family home in Ohio. He hopes he can begin skating in late March or early April.
Murphy is a first round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes and is signed.
Sarnia’s overall record is now 27-18-0-3.
When Boucher scored his 40th goal of the season Friday night, he became the 11th player in team history to score 40 goals or more in a season.
Here is the list.
Steve Stamkos - 58 and 42.
Jon Sim – 56 twice.
Ivan Novoseltsev – 57.
Nail Yakupov – 49.
Aaron Brand – 46.
Justin DiBenedetto – 45.
Wes Mason – 45.
Dusty Jamieson – 44.
Kris Newbury – 42.
Joey Tenute – 41.
Reid Boucher – 40.