The Orlando Solar Bears, after struggles early in the season at their home den, the Amway Center, had a chance Monday to finally climb above .500 at home for the first time all year.
The South Division rival South Carolina Stingrays scored twice in the second period and made those goals stand up in a 5-2 win during a stretch of five games in seven days before Christmas for the Solar Bears.
Coming off a 2-1 win over the Atlanta Gladiators on Sunday that put Orlando at 6-6 at home, the Solar Bears (13-10-2) dug themselves into a 2-0 hole in the second period and never fully surfaced.
“I don’t think we played very well,” Coach Drake Berehowsky said. “We didn’t execute, too many turnovers and fancy plays. You’re not going to win that way. If you’re not going to work, the skill doesn’t matter.”
Special teams were a problem, and a plus. Orlando was 22nd out of 27 on the power play (12.9) and dead-solid-last on the penalty kill (74.6) coming into Monday, and gave up a power play goal early in the second period Monday to Matt Pohlkamp to open the scoring.
Orlando did use the power play to make a game of it early in the third period when defenseman Michael Brodzinski scored on a 5-on-3 advantage to trim the lead.
Later, Mathieu Forget would bury a pass from Chris LeBlanc for his eighth goal of the year, but it wasn't enough. The Stingrays were 12-0 when leading after two periods coming into the game and made that mark stand.
The team is having to find its footing on offense after a handful of its key scorers were called up to the Syracuse Crunch, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate, or suspended. Forward Hunter Fejes just returned from a five-week stint in the AHL.
“We just have to pick the pieces, and this a golden opportunity for some guys to step up and make plays,” Berehowsky said.
In the 2-1 win Sunday, Mitch Hults and Dylan Fitze found the back of the net, and goalie Martin Ouellette, fresh off a stint with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, made 14 saves in the third period to help the Solar Bears skate away with their second straight victory.
"I thought we played well in the first period,” Berehowsky said.
The Solar Bears can still end the week over .500 at home; they host their state and division rivals, the Florida Everblades, tonight and Friday before traveling southwest to Estero to play them there Saturday.
Friday night’s game is the annual Teddy Bear Toss; fans are encouraged to bring a stuffed animal to throw on the ice when Orlando scores its first goal. Those bears will be donated to underprivileged children.
"We have to realize these are division games and we can't let points slip away. Our home record isn't as good as we want it and we have to work on that,” Berehowsky said. “That's something the acknowledge and we talk about it and hopefully it corrects itself."