Darby Llewellyn scored a pair of goals, Jeremy Bracco registered a three-point night and Luke Opilka was once again his reliable self as the Kitchener Rangers defeated the Saginaw Spirit 6-2 in front of 6,939 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex on Friday night.
Opilka was sharp en route to his eleventh win of the season (11-1-2-0), stopping 32 of 34 shots he faced. The Rangers improve to 15-1-3-0 and 8-0-2-0 at the Aud, while the Spirit see their record dip to below .500 at 8-9-1-1.
Bracco’s knack for making plays and setting up goals continued on Friday, as the winger finished the night with three assists and a plus-3 rating. Llewellyn’s two goal performance gave him his 99th and 100th points of his OHL career and he appreciated the thoughtful acknowledgement by the fans in the stands as he was awarded the game’s second star.
“It was just an incredible night,” said Llewellyn. “It was two great plays to set me up by two great guys [Bracco and Adam Mascherin]. They’re two talented guys and I’m just glad I was able to finish those plays off and help my team pick up the win.”
Part of the reason Llewellyn was in the position to be set up by Bracco and Mascherin in the first place is the fact that Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn was again forced to do some juggling with his lines. Llewellyn was moved to centre after Ryan MacInnis was called for a match penalty for slew-footing near the end of the first period and was ejected from the game. The front-line centreman MacInnis had already notched a goal and assist prior to the call in the opening period.
“After we lost MacInnis we had to come together as a group and make up for the loss of that presence, and I think we did that,” Bracco stated. “With three games now in three days, picking up two points in the opener to the weekend is huge for us.”
He acknowledges that losing MacInnis for the remainder of the weekend due to an automatic suspension that comes with a match penalty for slewfooting would be less than ideal, it’s also adversity the Rangers believe they can surmount.
“We obviously want to have MacInnis in our lineup every single night, but if we don’t have him for the rest of this weekend we still have plenty of confidence moving forward for these next two games,” added Bracco.
Van Ryn acknowledged it was a big impact to lose a player like MacInnis who soaks up so much ice time, but he was happy with how his team stepped up.
“It was a little taxing on us tonight. A lot of guys played a lot more minutes than they’re used to, but I think we did a real good job,” he said. “The guys that needed to step up, did step up.”
It was MacInnis who opened the scoring for the Rangers with his 14th goal of the season – his sixth power play marker of the year – at 4:39 of the first period from Bracco and Frank Hora.
Mason Kohn would make it 2-0 less than two minutes later from Mascherin and Doug Blaisdell at 6:23. With the Rangers called for holding at 12:13, the Spirit would capitalize via a Cole Coskey goal from Artem Artemov and Dylan Sadowy to make it a 2-1 game on the power play at 13:04. But it was then it was the Rangers turn to respond.
Brandon Robinson picked up his first goal in five games – his eighth of the year – just 51 seconds later at 13:55 to give the home side a 3-1 lead with Bracco and MacInnis picking up the assists.
Shots were 12-9 in favour of the visitors after 20 minutes and 12-11 Saginaw after a scoreless second.
Llewellyn gave the Rangers a 4-1 lead from Bracco and Blaisdell at 3:16 of the third period before Saginaw’s Brady Gilmour made it a 4-2 game at 8:07 from Artemov and Connor Brown. Opilka and the home team would shut the door from thereon out however, as the Rangers would add goals from Llewellyn – his second of the night, assisted by Mascherin – at 13:42, then Jacob Cascagnette on the power play from Joseph Garreffa and Elijah Roberts at 18:46 to solidify the 6-2 victory.
The Rangers outshot the Spirit 14-10 in the third period for a game total of 34-34.
Evan Cormier was the starter in goal for Saginaw and took the loss, allowing three goals on nine shots before being replaced by David Ovsjannikov at the 13:55 mark of the opening period following the Robinson goal. Ovsjannikov played the remaining 46:05 and made 22 saves while giving up three Rangers goals.
The Spirit was 1-for-3 with the man advantage, while the Rangers were 2-for-4. The two power play goals earn another $200 donation to Clarky’s Kids courtesy of Heffner Toyota. The running total of the season is now up to $1,000.
MacInnis, Hora and Robinson each wore ‘A’s and skated as assistant captains for the game.
Bracco (3), Llewellyn (2) and Opilka (1) were chosen as the Three Stars of the game.
The Rangers are back in action tomorrow night, Saturday, November 14th when they take to the road to face the Owen Sound Attack for a 7:30pm start. They return to the Aud to finish a three-in-three weekend when they host the Erie Otters on Sunday, November 15th at 6pm.
Tickets for the Rangers game are available online at kitchenerrangers.com, by calling Centre in the Square, or through The Aud Box Office.