For the first month of the season, the South Carolina Stingrays had the best special teams in the league.
The Stingrays' power play and penalty kill were ranked in the top 5, but as players began getting called up to the American Hockey League, the special teams began to suffer.
South Carolina's power play had become so anemic during one stretch in December, the Stingrays recorded just one goal in 35 chances with the man advantage.
But as players have started to trickle back from the AHL, the Stingrays' special teams have gotten better. Special teams turned out to be the difference Friday night against the Florida Everblades.
Peter Boyd had a goal and an assist as the Stingrays scored two power play goals to beat Florida, 4-2, before a crowd of 3,665 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Stingrays, who are just 5-5-0 in their last 10 games, improved to 27-10-3 (57 points) and remained in first place in the ECHL's Eastern Conference. The Everblades fell to 22-12-3 (47 points).
Not only did the power play score twice in five chances, the Stingrays' penalty kill shut out the Everblades on all four of their man advantage opportunities.
"Special teams were huge tonight," said South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery. "Our power play has been clicking here a little bit lately, and we came up with a couple of huge kills in the second and third periods."
After a lackluster start against an Everblades team looking to make up ground in the standings, the Stingrays finally found their legs after Wayne Simpson's power play at the 10:20 mark.
"We hadn't done a whole lot up until that power play," Carbery said. "Florida is such a dangerous team, they come at you in wave after wave and if you're not moving your feet, you don't have a chance against them."
The Stingrays pushed their advantage to 2-0 on Jack Downing's one-timer on the power play early in the second period. It was Downing's fourth goal in the last five games.
"We were zipping the puck around pretty good on the power play and Jack's really found his rhythm out there," Carbery said. "He's got such a powerful shot. Not many goalies are going to be able to catch up to the puck when he gets a hold of one."
The Everblades cut it to 2-1 on Kyle Bonis' rebound goal late in the second period.
After a couple of strong shifts from the Everblades, Paul Rodrigues wristed a shot past Florida goalie Connor Knapp six minutes into the third period to give the Stingrays a 3-1 advantage.
Florida answered when former Stingray Trevor Bruess scored to cut the gap to 3-2 with 6:06 to play in regulation.
"We had a couple of lapses late in the second and again in the third," Carbery said. "It cost us a couple of goals tonight."
Boyd got the empty netter to finish the scoring.
"It wasn't our best game, but I'm not going to complain when we can get two points off of Florida," Carbery said. "They've got a great club, so any win against them is huge."
Florida 0 1 1 - 2
South Carolina 1 1 2 - 4
First Period: 1. SC, Simpson 12 (Gongalsky, Vidmar), 10:20 (PP). Penalties: Rempel, SC (interference), 2:06; Langelier-Parent, F (tripping), 9:47.
Second Period: 2. SC, Downing 10 (Price, Boyd), 8:34 (PP) 3. F, Bonis 14 (Merrifield, Stejskal), 17:05. Penalties: Bonis, F (too many men), 3:02; Gauthier, F (tripping), 8:01; Langelier-Parent, F (boarding, double - roughing), 9:25; Nielsen, F (fighting - major), 9:25; Collins, SC (double - roughing), 9:25; Rempel, SC (fighting - major), 9:25; Currie, SC (boarding), 13:06; Roy, F (interference), 14:16; Collins, SC (roughing), 19:23.
Third Period: 4. SC, Rodrigues 3 (Sparks), 6:28. 5. F, Bruess 7 (Carzo, Gauthier), 13:54. 6. SC, Boyd 12 (Gaul, Jakaitis), 19:23 (EN). Penalties: Downing, SC (interference on the goalkeeper), 2:49.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 9-10-5-24; Florida: 11-10-5-26. Penalties: Stingrays 7-17; Florida 8-19. Power Play: Stingrays 2 for 5; Florida 0 for 4. Goalies: Stingrays - Jeff Jakaitis (19-4-3) 26 shots, 24 saves. Florida - Connor Knapp (7-8-3) 23 shots, 30 saves. Att: 3,665.