Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wranglers revving up as regular season winds down

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, March 14, 2010 | 11:12 p.m.

It took nearly five months, but the Las Vegas Wranglers are playing their best hockey of the season at the most opportune of times.

The Wranglers on Sunday once again power-played their way through the Bakersfield Condors for their fourth consecutive victory over the Pacific Division leaders, winning 6-3.

“We’re finding a way,” head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “Guys are playing hard together, the power play is clicking and it was a tough grind for these guys to play eight games in 10 days, but they did it.”

In those eight games, Las Vegas went 6-2 and gained nine points in the National Conference standings.

“I think we’re playing our best hockey but not only that, learning a lot,” Mougenel said. “We’re still finding our identity as a team but we’re finding a way.”

Center Adam Miller and defenseman Craig Switzer combined for five of the six Wranglers goals, Miller recording a hat trick and Switzer two power-play goals.

The two Switzer goals marked the 11th consecutive game in which Las Vegas pushed home man-advantage goals and the third game in a row scoring two or more.

“Everybody’s playing a big part in this team winning,” Miller said. “Guys are coming to the rink and having fun, and it shows.”

Miller’s hat trick was capped off with an empty-net goal, much to the delight of the 4,585 in attendance at the Orleans Arena.

“Our power play is really connecting, guys are moving in quick and getting open,” Miller said.

Switzer’s second goal of the game, coming at the 13:16 mark of the third period, proved to be the game-winner, and was assisted by Miller, who added two assists to his three-goal game.

“I’ve said it before,” Mougenel said, “I think Craig Switzer is one of the best defenseman in the league.”

The Wranglers are now a season-best four games over the .500 mark and are two points behind Bakersfield for the division lead.

“Our goal is to get home-ice advantage,” Miller said. “We’re going to take these last nine games one at a time.”

Jimmy Spratt stopped 31 of 38 shots in the victory.

After taking a two-goal lead with Miller’s power-play goal from Mick Lawrence and Alex Bourret, Bakersfield climbed even with back-to-back goals late in the second period and halfway through the third.

Switzer’s goal was followed by another Miller tally, on a one-timer from Lawrence.

Lawrence and Bourret each recorded three assists.

Three stars: 1. Adam Miller (Hat trick, two assists); 2. Craig Switzer (Two goals); 3. Alex Bourret (Three assists)

Milestones: With the hat trick, Miller ties the franchise record for consecutive games with a point, equaling that of Chris Kenady, who accomplished the feat in the 2003-04 season.

Captain Chris Neiszner opened the game with a goal at the 4:09 mark of the first period, tying the team record for all-time goals with 58.

Up next: Las Vegas has three days off before hosting the Alaska Aces for three games, beginning Thursday night.

Final word: “I’m proud of the guys but we’re still far from where we want to be,” Mougenel said. “But this is a good stepping stone.”

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