Paxton Geisel appreciated the lock-down defensive effort in front of him, then he took care of the rest.
The University of Denver commit stopped 23 shots in regulation-time and overtime, then denied both attempts in the shootout to backstop the Dubuque Fighting Saints to a 2-1 victory Friday night in Des Moines. The two teams wrap up a home-and-home series at 7:05 p.m. tonight at Mystique Community Ice Center.
“It was a matter of staying focused on the game and competing, and, obviously, the guys in front of me did a great job of clearing rebounds,” Geisel said after improving to 4-2-0-2, lowering his goals against average to 3.14 and raising his save percentage to .882. “Big props to them for that.
“It felt good to get the win, but we have to put this behind us right away and come back ready to play again (tonight), because they’re a good team and they’re not going to want to get swept.”
Ryan Beck and Kenny Connors scored shootout goals as Dubuque won its second straight to improve to 9-4-2-2. Des Moines picked up a bonus standings point for losing in a shootout but dropped its fifth in a row to fall to 6-7-2-1.
Beck and Connors, the second and third shooters in the shootout, both beat goaltender Lucas Szyszka from the left faceoff circle on their attempts. Beck shot between the goaltender’s legs, and Connors went above the blocker to secure the win after Geisel denied Paul Davey and Killian Kiecker-Olson in the shootout.
“It wasn’t the first move I had in mind, but we all knew the ice was getting chippy,” Beck said. “I tried to make a move laterally, and that kind of opened him up so I could slide it past him. Kenny skated down the same side and tried to make the goalie think he’d take the same shot but he went up top instead.
“It felt good to win a game like this tonight. It’s something we’ve been harping on a lot lately. We didn’t want to allow a lot of chances, and I thought we killed a lot of their plays off the rush. We needed to bear down a little more on some of our offensive chances, but in a really tight-checking game, I thought we handled things pretty well.”
The Saints opened the scoring following a somewhat clumsy passing sequence in the top of the Des Moines zone while the teams skated 4-on-4 late in the first period. Zane Demsey kept the puck inside the blue line, and Beck settled it and sprung Connor Kurth with a touch pass in the left circle, where Kurth wired his 11th goal of the season inside the left post behind Szyszka at 13:49.
Des Moines tied the game with seven seconds remaining in the middle period. Geisel stopped Chase Ramsey’s shot from the right point, but Kiecker-Olson pounced on the rebound and scored his eighth goal of the season.
Szyszka gave his team a chance to win in his first start since allowing 10 goals in a 10-2 loss at Tri-City last Friday. Geisel also turned in his best performance of the season after allowing two goals in three other starts.
The Saints enjoyed three golden opportunities in the first 90 seconds of overtime. But Szyszka denied Connor Kurth on a breakaway and stopped Stephen Halliday from in tight twice shortly thereafter.
Des Moines had its own opportunity to win the game after the Saints took a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty with 2:27 remaining in the extra session. Saints goalie Paxton Geisel came up large during the 4-on-3 advantage to force the shootout.
“We’ve only practiced a 4-on-3 kill a couple of times, because you’re not really in that situation a lot,” penalty killer Zane Demsey said. “A lot of it was communication. We basically have two setups, depending on how they set up their power play. So, it was just a matter of communicating and a ballsy effort by all of us out there.”
The Buccaneers finished with a 24-21 edge in shots. Dubuque went 0-for-5 on the power play and denied all four of Des Moines’ man-advantage situations.
The Saints called up a pair of Mid-Fairfield (Conn.) Rangers players because five regulars were out of the lineup. Lucas St. Louis, a Harvard commit and the son of former NHLer Martin St. Louis, skated on a defense pairing with Austin Oravetz, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute commit Ryan Sanborn served as the back-up goaltender.
“It says a lot about these kids that we were able to win a close, tight-checking game even though we weren’t at full strength,” coach Greg Brown said. “They played a solid game and didn’t try to play outside themselves. Unfortunately, we didn’t bury some of our chances early, but the guys stuck with it and we were able to get that second (standings) point.
“The penalty kill in overtime was huge. (Assistant coach) Justin (Hale) reminded them what they needed to do before they went out there, and the kids executed. It gave us a chance to get the extra point.”