The third and most crucial period in hockey has not been kind to the Williamsport Outlaws as they remain stuck in their first season in Williamsport without a win.
The Outlaws have struggled throughout the early parts of the season in the third period, which helps explain the team's inability to put games away in the most crucial moments.
Thursday's return to Airmen Pond acted as the perfect showcase for the Outlaws' improvement in the third period. And, for the first time all season, the Outlaws logged more third-period shots than the opposition, outshooting 1000 Islands, 11-6.
But as good as the improvements were for the Outlaws, a third-period goal by Corey Bellamy and 11 stops by goaltender Matt Anthony dampened the improvement as 1,000 Islands escaped with a 3-2 win at Airmen Pond.
"We made a couple mistakes and 1,000 Islands capitalized," Williamsport coach Chris Firriolo said. "We have to continue to learn from some of the mistakes we've made."
And compared to the team's two previous home games, both of which were loses, the improvement was evident when the Outlaws responded to Bellamy's goal when Nick Vandenbeld punched a score in to pull within a goal.
"We played a good hockey game tonight and I'm proud of the team," Firriolo said. "We want to win and we're going to win. It just takes some time. That first win is the toughest to get."
In last Friday's home contest against Danbury, the Outlaws basically played hockey's version of "bunker ball" as they stuffed the goal without moving the puck into the attacking side of the ice much. The style of play resulted in 17 Danbury shots fired at goalie Mike DiLorenzo, who stopped 42 of 46 shots on the night. To put Danbury's third period output into perspective, prior to entering the third period the team had combined to put 21 shots on goal.
As DiLorenzo attempted to withstand being peppered throughout the final 20 minutes, Cody Ayers and Anthony Pisano broke the Outlaws stand to force overtime, the first in Airmen Pond's short history. Once in the extra period, Williamsport's lack of numbers showed as an exhausted group of Outlaws let a soft shot from Tom Tilla slip through for a 4-3 Danbury win.
The Outlaws have let up an average of 16 1/2 shots in the third period through the first four games of the season. Williamsport has also been outscored in two of those periods, tying in two and winning just one. Of the Outlaws 12 periods of hockey and one overtime prior to entering Thursday night's game, they've been outscored in 10. Which might help explain why the team is still in search of its first win since relocating to Williamsport.
Williamsport has also surrendered an average of 45 1/2 shots a game. And that type of punishment on the team's goalies and defensemen has shone late in games.
Williamsport has posted just four third period goals, whiling giving the opposition seven tallies over the same stretch.
If there's any consolation to be found in Williamsport's less than impressive third period output, it's the fact last season's championship year opened with a loss, but saw the Outlaws, then in New Jersey, rebound to rip off four consecutive wins. Yes, one loss isn't quite five like this year, but it does show the team is capable of getting past struggles on the ice.
"Obviously I'm disappointed by the loss," Firriolo said. "We're making mistakes, but I think we understand why we are making them. This is going to be a whole different hockey club in two weeks."
After scoring the team's first goal at Airmen Pond in Williamsport, Rob Sich has cooled off, missing on opportunities in two consecutive games before breaking through for two goals against 1,000 Islands last Saturday. Sich did record a five minute major for fighting in the Outlaws second home game, slamming a Danbury player to ground and landing some serious punches.
Sich, the SPHL's all-time leading scorer, was brought in to help the Outlaws offense, but has struggled to gel with the team due to lack of practice time on the ice. Initially, the outdoor rink at Bowman Field went through some hick-ups, which was expected, but made practice time difficult to log. Sich has only been on the positive side of the +/- column once through five games for the Outlaws.