Pilgrim held its own against defending D-II champion Lincoln on Friday night, playing well after a rough first period. When the Pats returned to the ice Saturday against a Johnston/North Providence team with only two wins to its name, they built on that performance with two first-period goals.
And then it fell apart.
Johnston/North Providence scored four unanswered goals – all on power plays – en route to a 4-2 victory that left the Pats about as frustrated as they’ve been in an already frustrating year.
Pilgrim dropped to 1-10-1.
“They don’t get much more frustrating than that,” said Pilgrim head coach Chad Tvenstrup. “We started to build last night. We played a really good team, and the scoreboard doesn’t reflect how the game went. We played them pretty even. I was expecting tonight to come out strong like we did but to play a complete game that way. Like all the coaches said in the locker room, it was just not a complete game for us.”
The loss was Pilgrim’s seventh straight in league play. A 3-1 victory over Toll Gate on Jan. 4 remains the team’s only Division II victory.
The match-up with JNP seemed to represent a good chance to stop the slide. The Cougars have been in a similar boat this season, with one win to their name before this weekend.
While the Cougars did beat Portsmouth on Friday night, momentum belonged to Pilgrim early in Saturday’s game. Just 53 seconds in, Pilgrim freshman Patrick Reilly got loose on the left wing and slipped a shot past JNP goalie Joe Peters for the 1-0 lead. Dean Russo and Ronald Minear assisted.
Just over seven minutes later, the Pats struck again on a goal by Minear. Joe Paliotte carried the puck into the zone and ripped a shot on net. Minear was there for the rebound.
“Last night we were down 1-0 right away too,” said JNP co-head coach Fred Morrison. “That can be contagious – here we go again. But we kept the same attitude – battle back, pressure them.”
And Pilgrim opened the door. Twenty-two seconds after the goal made it 2-0, Pilgrim picked up a penalty. Just 12 seconds into the power play, Sam DaCosta scored for the Cougars to cut the lead in half. Jacob McCullough and Nicholas Threshier assisted.
In the second period, the Cougars again took advantage of a power play – and again wasted no time. With 14:14 left, the Pats went to the box. Just five seconds later, Stephen Morrison tied the game on a slap shot from the blue line that slipped into the net.
“They had a pretty good power play,” Tvenstrup said. “They set it up well, they were getting guys open, making passes. But our penalty kill traditionally is much better than that. More aggressive, better covering the lanes. I’m disappointed in the penalty kill tonight for at least half the time. The other half, we probably did what we usually do.”
Unfortunately for Pilgrim, JNP wasn’t done with the power play. With 4:46 left in the second period, Russo picked up a 10-minute major, plus a five-minute minor for a hit against the boards. That gave JNP a power play for five minutes, and the Cougars eventually took advantage. With 1:37 left in the period, Justin Harvey sent a pass from behind the net to Joseph McDonald on the left post. He slipped it across the crease to John Gesualdi, who punched it in for the 3-2 lead.
“Our power play, they’re finally learning to spread out and use each other,” Morrison said. “They’re just playing with more confidence.”
Nursing the 3-2 lead, JNP went to the box with 8:29 left in the third period. Finally on the offensive, the Pats got four good looks but Peters made three saves and Stephen Morrison made a diving block of another shot. To make matters worse for the Pats, JNP cleared the puck after each chance.
Pilgrim came up empty.
“They did a pretty good job clearing the puck,” Tvenstrup said. “We’ve had trouble getting anything going on our power play all year. We did alright with it last night actually. We had two power plays. Before that, I can’t remember the last time we had a power play goal.”
And one more time, JNP showed that it didn’t have the same problem. With 5:10 left in the game, Justin Gomes scored a power-play goal for the Cougars to make it 4-2.
JNP did pick up a penalty with 34 seconds left, but even with a 6-on-4 advantage after pulling the goalie, the Pats could get nothing.
“Penalties, D-zone breakdowns and our inability to run an offense effectively,” Tvenstrup said. “You’re not going to win games if you do those things. The amount of talent we have on the ice, the amount of skill, we should be scoring. But we’re having a hard time working the chemistry.”
Pilgrim goalie Kamron Murphy made 26 saves. Peters made 22 saves for JNP.
Pilgrim will try to regroup with two more games this weekend. The Pats take on unbeaten Cumberland on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Adelard Arena. On Sunday, they’ll face Portsmouth at 5:30 p.m. at Portsmouth Abbey.
“We’re going to move forward,” Tvenstrup said. “We’ve just got to focus, get back on the horse and get back working. That’s our agenda.”