It took 29 games and a countless number of shootouts, but Skipjacks coach Robbie Laird finally found a night to praise his much-maligned defense.
After the Jacks' impressive 3-2 victory over the injury-riddled New Haven Nighthawks last night at the Arena, Laird was all smiles.
"That was our best defensive effort of the season by far," Laird said. "A real gem. We have a guy who charts opposing shots that come from what we call the 'danger zone' in front of the net. We gave up three chances all night and we usually give up anywhere from 15 to 18."
It's no surprise that the biggest benefactor, goalie Shawn Simpson, was even more tickled that he wasn't peppered with shots.
"We had great third-man coverage and we kept away from breakaways and two-on-ones," said Simpson, who stopped 14 shots. "As long as I keep into the game, it makes my job easy."
Unfortunately for the Jacks, the victory came before the season's smallest home crowd of 1,806.
"It was the type of game -- a Tuesday night, a small crowd -- where some teams would have let up," Simpson said. "I think it's a real plus and a show of our character that we played as well as we did."
Several players weren't surprised to hear Laird was so supremely pleased during the post-game news conference.
"This is Robbie's kind of game," said center Vic Gervais. "When we're playing a tight-checking, low-scoring game and not giving up a lot chances that keeps the coach happy."
It was certainly a game that the fans at the Arena aren't very accustomed to seeing. As low as the scoring total was, it may be the only game all year where the goals (5) outnumber the penalty minutes (2).
The game's only penalty came at 7:43 of the second period when the Nighthawks' Murray Brumwell was whistled for cross checking. Kent Paynter, who was scratched due to an ankle injury, was joking with his teammates after the game, "At least you could have tripped somebody or something. I know I would have."
New Haven coach Garry Unger didn't seem too upset about being bested by a very good team.
"Both teams played well and I can't argue with a 3-2 loss when eight of our starters are out with injuries and sickness," Unger said. "We both stayed out of the penalty box and that's just as well with me. It means I don't have to kill them off."
But the brightest spot for the Jacks, who are now riding a three-game winning streak into Portland, Maine, tonight (7:30, WLIF-AM 1300), is just knowing they can win a tight, low-scoring game.
John Purves got the second goal for the Jacks in a see-saw battle and Thomas Sjogren scored the eventual game-winner at 15:25 of the second period, beating goalie Robb Stauer after making a steal.
VS. MAINE MARINERS
* WHEN: Tonight, 7:30.
* WHERE: Portland Civic Center.
* RADIO: WLIF-AM 1300.
* OUTLOOK: The Jacks boarded a bus after last night's game for the 10-hour trek to Portland. Coach Robbie Laird said he's looking for another fine defensive effort like last night's. The Jacks played without injured defensemen Jim Mathieson and Kent Paynter against New Haven, but Paynter might return tonight. The Jacks (17-11-1) have won three in a row. The Mariners (10-13-3) are currently the worst team in the AHL with 23 points. Maine is led by rookies Ralph Barahona (25 points) and Shayne Stevenson (24 points).