Joe Coombs can be forgiven if he was a bit stunned by the way February began for his Philadelphia Rebels.
The North American Hockey League East Division leaders saw a three-goal lead get away in the third period of a 4-3 loss to the Northeast Generals on Thursday morning to begin a three-game weekend series that the Philadelphia- and Boston-based teams are completing prior to sports fans being occupied by a Super Bowl matchup between teams from those cities on Sunday.
The Generals did all their scoring on special teams, something that is not easy to do against the Rebels, who started the day as the only team in the top three of the 23-team NAHL in both power-play and penalty-killing efficiency.
Even after the tough day, Philadelphia remains among the league’s best teams in just about every metric of special-teams play.
“Everything up until today has been very good,” Coombs said in a phone interview after the game. “Our power play for the most part has been executing at a high level and our penalty kill has been competing, doing the little things to be successful, like clearing pucks 200 feet and blocking shots when necessary.
“It’s a lot of those little things that don’t show up on the scoreboard where we’ve been very good.”
Coombs was able to find production on the power play even early in the season when he stuck with three units while assessing the team.
The Rebels (27-9-3-0) have had a dozen players score multiple power-play goals led by team scoring leader Aaron Maguyon, Jensen Zerban and Brandon Stanley with four each.
Maguyon, a 19-year-old from Margate City, New Jersey, leads the team with 11 assists on the power play. Zerban, a 19-year-old Air Force commit from Elk River, Minnesota, has one of the team’s three short-handed goals.
Ryan Patrick, Andrew Bellant and Adam Peck, who join Maguyon and Zerban as the team’s top five scorers, have all been effective on both the power play and penalty kill.
Peck is one of the team’s most consistent penalty killers. Patrick has a short-handed goal. Bellant joins Maguyon and Zerban in double figures in points generated while on special teams.
“Our penalty killing last week in particular, in the three games against Jersey, was absolutely fantastic,” Coombs said. “We’ve had 11 or 12 guys on both units who have done a really nice job.”
The Rebels have outscored opponents by 17 goals while on special teams. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are the only NAHL team to exceed that number.
Philadelphia has been strong throughout all areas of special teams play. The loss to Northeast was just the third time this season that the Rebels allowed a short-handed goal.
The Rebels are second in power-play percentage (26.1), second in fewest power-play goals allowed (20), tied for third in power-play goals (37) and, even after allowing three goals Thursday, fourth in penalty-kill percentage at 85.8.
“When you’re killing penalties, you have to do the intangibles and outwork them,” Coombs said. “I think our penalty-kill forecheck is a key. Like a lot of teams, if you don’t spend a lot of time in your zone, your penalty kill is better. The more time you spend in your zone, the more opportunities you’re giving up.
“When we’re really playing well, we seem to deny entry and really make it tough for teams to set up.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.