KITCHENER - Stefan Noesen scored the only goal in a shootout and first star Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 52-of-54 shots he faced through 65 minutes plus four shootout attempts as the Plymouth Whalers defeated the Kitchener Rangers, 3-2 in a shootout, before 7,241 Friday night at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
VIDEO - See the highlights of the game.
Plymouth has won four in a row and improves to 30-16-5-4, good for 69 points and first place in the Ontario Hockey League's West Division The Whalers are four points ahead of Sarnia (31-22-0-3, 65 points), who moved into second place Friday with a 2-1 win over Windsor. Sault Ste. Marie (idle on Friday) is in third place in the OHL West with a record of 31-2-4-4, good for 64 points.
Nedeljkovic continues to be an excellent compliment for Plymouth lead goaltender Matt Mahalak. Nedeljkovic improved his won-loss record to 9-1-1-1 while lowering his goals against average to 2.69 and raising his save percentage to .920 over 15 games.
Vince Trocheck continues his torrid offensive pace for Plymouth, figuring in on both Whaler goals in regulation in setting up Zach Lorentz for his 10th goal of the year and then tying the game in the third period with his 41st of the season. Trocheck is third in the OHL scoring race with 41 goals and 43 assists for 84 points in 50 games.
Matt Puempel scored both Kitchener goals (25-26).
At times, it seemed as the Whalers were not only battling the Rangers and a sellout crowd at the Auditorium, but referees Ryan Carroll and TJ Foster as well. Plymouth penalty killers and Nedeljkovic were tested all night long and went 8-for-9. The Whalers received two power plays in return.
The first period was evenly played and the shots were 10 aside.
The Plymouth penalty killers turned offensive in the second period and Torcheck and Lorentz teamed up for the first goal of the game with Ryan Hartman off for high sticking at 4:27. Trocheck held the puck along the left-wing half-wall in the Kitchener zone and found Lorentz all alone at the right circle. Lorentz - with no Ranger anywhere around him - wired a shot from the right circle at 4:50 to give Plymouth a 1-0 lead.
Puempel tied the game at 1-1 at 13:28 of the second period, scoring on a partial breakaway with a shot from the hashmarks.
Kitchener outshot Plymouth, 16-4, in the second period, with most of the shot advantage coming on five Ranger power plays in the period. Nedeljkovic and the Whaler penalty killers played well in the frame.
The Rangers took their first lead of the game at 2-1 at 5:55 of the third period, on the power play. Puempel took a pass from behind the Plymouth goal from Matia Marcantuoni and scored the just outside the Whalers blue ice as he was checked.
The Trocheck-Hartman-Tom Wilson line clicked to tie the game at 10:41 of the third period with Trocheck scoring from the right hashmark into the top shelf.
As the game continued, Kitchener started shooting from all over the ice, but Nedeljkovic stopped everything he saw.
After Nedeljkovic stopped Matt Puempel, Josh Leivo, Justin Bailey and Brent Pederson in the shootout, Noesen decided the game with a shot from just outside the Kitchener blue ice that Vienneau got most of, but the puck trickled over the line.
After a video review, referees Foster and Caroll awarded Noesen the goal and Plymouth the victory.
Although the shootout goal does not count in Noesen's overall total of 17, it could be a foreshadowing of good things to come. Tonight's goal is the first of any kind for Noesen since Dec. 5.
Plymouth hosts Guelph on Saturday at 7:05 pm at Compuware Arena (6:45 p.m., 88;1 FM WSDP; 7 p.m., Comcast 900).