Palazzese stopped all 30 shots to earn his second straight shutout and fourth shutout of the season. In the third period, with the Wolves holding a 1-0 lead, Palazzese thwarted Kitchener’s Scott Teskey on a breakaway to keep his team ahead in the game.
When the team needed him to make a big save, Palazzese was there. Again. Palazzese has been on a red-hot tear over the last month. The puck stopper was named the Vaughn OHL Goaltender of the Month for December earlier in the week by going 8-1.
Palazzese had a lot to talk about after the game Saturday. None of it had to do with him. Palazzese was talking about the team in front of him and how much they have changed since the start of the season and how that change is the reason the Wolves are surging up the standings and are 10-1 since the start of December.
“At the start of the year, we would win or lose a game and the guys would be a little bit passive about it,” Palazzese said. “Now, we go into every game and there is no option to lose. We want to win every game. No one is passive about it. Everybody is on board with it and we really have become a team in the last month or so. It makes a difference.”
Once again, the Wolves showed they could grind out a win in a defensive battle and facing a hot goalie - scenarios which will surely follow in more games in the second half and in the playoffs.
Friday night, the Wolves won a tight 2-0 game over Oshawa. Once again, players were doing the tough, little things to ensure success. Plays like defenceman Jeff Corbett blocking a shot in the second period and being in obvious pain but not relenting one bit in the defensive zone with the Rangers buzzing the net.
Palazzese appreciates the gritty effort in front of him.
“The credit goes to the whole team for back-to-back shutout wins,” he said. “They are blocking shots and everyone is buying into playing defence and it is translating into wins. At the beginning of the season, we were winning games by scoring six and seven goals. Now, we are scoring two or three goals and finding ways to win games.”
The Wolves penalty kill was front and centre again versus Kitchener as Sudbury killed off both penalties it took. It was the third straight game the Wolves killed off all infractions.
Head Coach Paul Fixter had to praise his team on their effort and dedication to taking playing defensive hockey to another level. Fixter was also happy to see the team ramp up its shots after only getting 15 against Oshawa on Friday.
“Everybody played tonight and everybody contributed,” Fixter said. “We had great offensive chances from all the lines and that’s a good sign. We generated more (shots). I think most importantly, we generated good scoring chances. The team has taken a lot of pride in the defensive-side of the game. It’s a commitment. It’s been a mindset change for this team. They have bought in.”
Sudbury forward Jacob Harris tipped in a shot to register the game’s first goal at 16:58 of the second period. It had been six games since Harris had potted a goal, and he was thrilled he could provide the game-winning goal for Sudbury.
Sudbury captain Kevin Raine helped seal the win with an empty net goal late in the third period - his first goal of the season.
“It had been a while since I put one in the back of the net,” Harris said. “To get the game winner, it feels good.”
Harris and his teammates have been students of the game over the last month, learning defensive hockey wins games. Goals were hard to come by against Kitchener.
The Wolves know goals will be harder to score in the future, especially in the playoffs. They need to know how to win tightly contested games.
“We did a good job of shutting down Kitchener’s top line. We did a good job of shutting down Oshawa’s top line Friday,” Harris said. “We are not giving good scoring opportunities to teams we play. We are learning to minimize our turnovers, especially in our own zone. We have to bear down on defence. I’m excited with the direction this team is going.”
The Rangers are a team in major transition after taking a run at the league title last year and making trades which gutted the immediate future of the club. The Rangers certainly came to play in Sudbury and made the Wolves earn the two points.
Kitchener goalie Matthew Greenfield was exceptional, making 38 saves on 39 shots he faced. Kitchener head coach Troy Smith feels the team is on the right track.
“We work hard in the majority of games,” Smith said. “The players have resiliency. They don’t give up even when there are times nothing is going our way. It’s a good sign as we move forward. We have to tighten up defensively and we need to work on being better on our specialty teams.”
The Wolves are back in action Friday when they host the Mississauga Steelheads at 7:30 p.m. Sudbury then hits the road for two games - versus Belleville and Oshawa - on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
The game’s three stars were: Franky Palazzese (first), Matthew Greenfield (second) and Stefan LeBlanc (third).
Sudbury scratched Troy Timpano, Dominik Kahun, Kyle Capobianco, Austin Veleke and Brody Silk.
Kitchener scratched Dylan DiPerna, Brandon Robinson, Paxton Leroux, Jacob Cascagnette and Radek Faska.