The Reading Royals were unable to pull off a much-needed win at home Saturday night against the Elmira Jackals for the chance to move up in the standings. The opposition was not deterred by the bright, golden jersey worn by goaltender Mark Owuya as they put four goals by him and were knocked off, 4-1.
From start to finish, the Royals could not gain any momentum and were out-played the entire 60 minutes and showed little effort in the third to try and fight back.
What cost the Royals most were the penalties against them as the Jackals went 2-for-4 on the power play.
“The difference was the special teams,” head coach Larry Courville said. “We allowed them to basically score three goals on the power play, even though on that last one the guy just jumps out of the penalty box.”
The additions of Ray Macias and Casey Haines off injured reserve and the return of Yannick Riendeau and Marc Cantin couldn’t help the fortunes of the Royals as they squandered the chance to gain in the playoff race.
“I thought the addition of Casey Haines and Ray Macias it would add a spark,” Courville said. “I know we lost [Olivier] Labelle. We lost that net presence in front tonight. That would have been nice to have him. It didn’t seem like we had any jump tonight.”
For the first time in 13 games, the Royals were not the ones to get on the scoresheet first. Artem Demkov made a spin-o-rama pass from along the goal line to an open Mike Radja at the bottom of the left circle for an easy goal 1:21 into the game.
The Royals tied things back up at 13:45 while short-handed. Matt Caruana kicked the puck to his stick and skated in on a breakaway, beating two Jackals. Caruana cut across the crease and was able to poke the puck through Brian Stewart’s five-hole as he was tripped up and went flying into the boards.
The Jackals responded quickly, taking the lead right back forty seconds later while on their second power play. A horrible turnover in the defensive end from Mikael Bedard led to Radja’s second of the night as he backhanded it over Owuya’s glove.
The Jackals extended their lead with another power-play goal in the second period. Radja’s wrap-around attempt was stopped by Owuya, but the rebound kicked out to the ECHL’s rookie scoring leader, Dustin Gazley, who wristed it for the 3-1 lead at 15:25.
With 5:27 left in the second, the Royals faced a scary situation when Jackals defenseman Jimmy Martin wiped out and slid into Owuya and knocked him flat on his back. Owuya stayed down as a scrum ensued and had to be checked by the trainer. The success of the season hung in the air because without Owuya, the Royals only had EBUG Brent Troyan as Karel St. Laurent was up with the Providence Bruins.
Owuya was able to shake off the incident and remained in the game.
The rest of the team, however, did not shake off the first two periods and seemingly checked out in the third.
The Jackals tacked on one more before the end as Radja capped off a hat trick at 11:28 of the third to make it 4-1 seconds after the penalty to Caruana expired. Radja finished the game with a hand in all four goals for Elmira in his first game after being returned from Houston of the AHL.
With the loss and wins from Cincinnati and Chicago, the Royals’ playoff window is shrinking considerably as they are down to 13 games in the season.
The Royals can no longer afford the starts like they had or take any games or shifts off this late in the season.
“We definitely had a slow start,” Courville said. “They score on the second shift of the game when they had initial jump and we didn’t respond. We came out flat. They were the better team, no question about it.”
Yannick Tifu and Owuya took part in the Silver Skater and Golden Goalie event voted on by fans.