KIRKLAND LAKE - Jonathan Langford’s second goal of the game, midway through the third period, lifted the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to a 3-2 victory over the Abitibi Eskimos Wednesday night.
The loss was costly for the Eskimos, as it allowed the Espanola Rivermen to creep within one point of them in the NOJHL standings.
While the Eskimos were losing in Kirkland Lake, the Rivermen skated past the Sudbury Nickel Barons 8-3, even though Sudbury enjoyed a 3-2 advantage early in the contest.
As a result, the Rivermen pulled to within one point of the Eskimos, who hold down third place in the standings, and Espanola still has three games in hand.
Even though the Eskimos were only able to generate 17 shots on Kirkland Lake goalie Kenny Fitzgerald, coach and general manager Paul Gagne thought his team played well Wednesday night.
“I was happy with the way we played,” he said.
“We had the opportunities to win the game when it was 2-2. We had a couple of two-on-ones here and there.
“We played a great game. We were denied a few penalties, but that is part of the game.”
The Eskimos drew first blood Wednesday night, with Brady Clouthier beating Fitzgerald for his team-leading 28th goal of the season seven minutes into the opening frame.
“Clouthier has been playing some incredible hockey,” Gagne said.
“Last night and the game before he played some great hockey.
“He is committed defensively and offensively. He has been playing incredible hockey. It’s nice to see.
“He has been consistent, but some games he just raises his level of play.”
Austin Rust got that one back, however, when he put his 27th of the season past Eskimos goalie Brody Wagner five minutes later.
The Eskimos retook the lead a minute-and-thirty-seconds later when Erik Robichaud netted his 24th goal of the season.
Kirkland Lake was able to get back on even terms before the end of the period, however, as Langford, a defenceman, scored just his third goal of the season.
Neither team could find the back of the net during the second period, setting the stage for Langford’s game-winning goal in the third period.
“The last two goals were just the result of little mistakes in front of the net,” Gagne said.
“Those things happen, but hopefully not often.
“It was a game that we could have won easily.”
Even though the Eskimos gave up the winning goal in the third period, the coach feels it was the second period where the momentum switched to the home side.
“During the second period we didn’t have too many shots,” Gagne said.
“We stopped dumping it in and we weren’t working it in deep. They put a little pressure on us and we didn’t adapt as well as we should have, but in the third period I thought we had better opportunities.
“We worked it down low, so we were happy in that department.
“Overall, it is disappointing we didn’t get the two points but I thought we played some pretty good hockey.”
Gold Miners coach Marc Lafleur, on the other hand, was not too impressed with his team’s efforts despite earning the victory and the two points.
“I thought we played well, for the most part, but I am really not happy with the mistakes that we made that cost us goals,” he said.
“We stress puck management all the time and it’s to the point now where it is crunch time.
“I told the guys after the first period, if somebody doesn’t produce or do their role that night we have about three other guys who will do it.
“That’s how our team is built. Last year was a different story, but this year out depth is incredible.
“If players are not ready to start the game they are not going to see much ice time.”
The Eskimos were missing a couple of key defencemen Wednesday night due to injuries.
Steven Pettite is suffering from a lower body injury, while Jamey Lauzon is experiencing concussion-like symptoms following a hit late in Sunday’s game against the Rivermen in Espanola.
Rivermen forward Brennan Dubchak was handed a two-game suspension as a result of the hit, but Gagne is none too pleased with the discipline.
“He got hit from behind by Dubchak, the top scorer in our league, in the last minute of the game and he got a five-minute major and he got expelled from the game,” he said.
“The league reviewed the hit and they gave him a two-game suspension. Who knows how long our player is going to be out of the lineup.
“And then we have young (David) Becker who received a four-game suspension for the check he delivered from behind and the player he hit played the next shift. He didn’t even go down when he got hit.
“Dubchak gets a two-game suspension and our player gets four games and the kid didn’t even have a concussion, yet who knows how long Lauzon is going to be out of the lineup now.
“I just wonder what the rational is behind that. I don’t know what the decision makers are making their decisions on, it’s not on the injury, that’s for sure.”
To compensate for the loss of Pettite and Lauzon, the Eskimos gave extra ice time to Bryce Robert and Sheehan Moore.
“Bryce played lots,” Gagne said.
“He has been playing well. He made a nice play on the second goal. He held onto the puck at the line in the offensive zone, got a good shot on net. He made a good play.”
The Eskimos were also missing forward Shane Hiley during Wednesday’s game, as he served the third game of his three-game suspension.
Fitzgerald stopped 15 of the 17 shots the Eskimos fired his way to pick up the victory, while Wagner made 28 saves for the Eskimos while suffering the loss.
“I can’t complain about our goaltending,” Gagne said.
“Brody made a glove save last night that everybody in the rink thought was going to be a goal.
“It was a wrist shot from the top of the circle and he had a lot of traffic in front of him, but he made a great save.
“He has been consistent in that regards, too.”
After playing four-straight games on the road, the Eskimos will return to home ice on Saturday as they host the Elliot Lake Bobcats at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
Game time is 7:30 p.m.