TROY, N.Y. -- Teams used to enjoy coming to play the Capital District Islanders at the Houston Field House, where the larger ice surface would allow them more room to open up on offense.
That's all changed this season, and the Baltimore Skipjacks noticed the difference last night in a 2-1 loss to the Islanders.
The Skipjacks, playing the first of a two-game series that concludes tonight, were mostly stifled by a Capital District defense that has allowed only 20 goals in 10 home games this season.
The Islanders' defensive prowess at home makes sense, said Skipjacks coach Rob Laird, who argued that those who think they will score more goals on a larger playing surface are making a mistake.
"When you see a bigger rink, people get the idea that it's conducive to offense," Laird said. "I strongly believe it's the other way around.
"The defense has more room and more time to move the puck, so it's harder to forecheck in a place like this. You have to rely on strong neutral-zone play to open things up for you."
The Skipjacks and Islanders battled in the neutral zone the entire game, creating a high-tempo, crisply played contest from start to finish. But the Skipjacks failed to score on the best of their few opportunities, and didn't take advantage of their four power plays, either.
Thus, the 2-1 lead that Capital District took during the second period held up. Rookie goaltender Jamie McLennan made 32 saves to win his first AHL game in three career starts.
"We were strong five against five, but the difference was the special teams," Laird said.
Following a well-played first period during which both teams had several fine scoring opportunities, Capital District jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the second period.
Capital District's special teams contributed to both goals. Brent Grieve scored his ninth goal of the season on a power play at 5 minutes, 37 seconds on a backhanded shot from the slot. Grieve, left alone about 10 feet in front of the net, received a crisp pass from Greg Parks, who had recovered a loose puck along the left-wing boards.