Game 32: Fuel vs. Cincinnati

The Indy Fuel came into Friday night with a new look, hoping to turn a few bounces their way as they launch themselves into the busiest part of the 2014-15 schedule.

With four new players in the lineup, the Fuel generated a number of chances as the game went on, but they fell victim to a couple of unfortunate breaks in a 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.

Veteran forward Nicklas Lindberg – one of four new acquisitions skating for the Fuel on Friday night – scored for Indy 37 seconds into the third period to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 2-1, but the Cyclones’ Geoff Irwin scored twice, including the game-winner in the second, to deliver Cincinnati the victory.

Cincinnati had a goal on a play where the puck appeared to come into the bench and back onto the ice, and another after a broken stick led to a rush the other way. Indy just missed a goal at the end of the second period, as a point shot crossed the line and hit the net a split-second after the final horn sounded.

But as the game went on and new combinations of forwards gained more experience playing with each other, the Fuel began to tilt the ice and had several good chances in the third.

“We’ve got a good group here. Coach (Scott) Hillman’s making some good adjustments, some good additions,” said Lindberg, playing his first game of the 2014-15 season a day after being acquired in a trade with Tulsa. “Some small tweaks – just look at today  – we get a bad break where the puck’s in our bench, and it’s a goal, we have a couple of breakdowns and they get an empty-netter. Our power play, even though we didn’t score, we generated a lot of chances. I think we’ve got a really good group here. I think we can turn this around.”

Cincinnati took a 1-0 lead 6:39 into the game when Chris Reed deflected Stephan Vigier’s shot from the point into the net for his fifth goal of the season.

Irwin’s eventual game-winner came shorthanded 4:41 into the second period. The puck came the point on the power play and popped in the air. Fuel players and coaches said it came into the bench and bounced back into play. The carom came to Shayne Taker, who started a 2-on-1 that saw Fuel goaltender Shane Owen make a post-to-post blocker save on Brian Nugent, but Irwin scored on the ensuing play.

With a near-goal coming moments late in the second, the Fuel built off their late second-period momentum in the third, and took just 37 seconds to get on the board. Lindberg and Robert Czarnik skated into the zone 2-on-2, with Lindberg sliding the puck to Czarnik at the right point and heading to the net. Cincinnati’s Sam Brittain made a pad save on Czarnik’s shot from the right circle, but Lindberg pushed the rebound into the open side to cut the deficit to 2-1.

“I got the puck up the middle and gave it to Czarnik, and then I tried to beat my guy to the net. Czarnik had a good shot on net and I picked up the rebound,” Lindberg said. “We had a couple more chances. I felt like it took a period and a half to get going, but at the end, we started generating more.”

Less than three minutes later, another unfortunate break saw the Cyclones regain the two-goal lead, as Dillon Fournier’s stick shattered while trying to one-time the puck from the point. Fournier followed the play without a stick to try to gain possession, but Cincinnati came up with the loose puck out of the traffic and David Pacan wired a shot in through traffic from the left circle.

The Fuel had several opportunities at an answer thwarted by Brittain – Czarnik had a strong drive through two defenders to the doorstep that was stopped with 13:00 to go. On a mid-period power play, Czarnik was robbed in front, and Garett Bembridge’s one-timer from the left dot saw Brittain make a post-to-post push to get a blocker on it. Later on the power play, Mathieu Brisebois fired from the point through a ton of traffic, but Brittain was able to get a pad on it and reach back and cover the puck.

Irwin added a shorthanded empty-net goal in the final minute after the Fuel had generated a number of 6-on-4 chances in the first minute of a late power play.

Indy drew three third-period power plays and outshot Cincinnati 12-5 in the final 20 minutes (and 28-26 for the game). The Fuel were 0-for-6 with the man advantage, and killed off both Cyclones power plays.

“We were buzzing pretty good,” Hillman said of the third period. “Lindberg scored a big goal to get us a little momentum and get things going. All of the personnel changes, the power play looked a little out of sync (early), but it looked really strong at the end.  Certainly in the 6-on-4, we had a lot of swipes at the net, a lot of traffic.”

New goaltender Shane Owen – acquired in a trade from Stockton earlier in the week – stopped 22 shots in the loss, making several big saves – stuffing Michael Neal on a cross-ice one-timer in the first, then stopping a breakaway by Brandon Gracel midway through the second to keep it a two-goal game.

“He battled hard and played well,” Hillman said of Owen. “That’s a pretty good start. We’ve got to get some goals for our goalies. We’ve got two quality goaltenders.”

Hillman was also pleased with the team’s other new acquisitions, especially as players developed chemistry with linemates as the game went on. In addition to Lindberg’s goal, Evan Vossen – acquired from Missouri earlier this week – generated a chance by skating through two Cincinnati defenders and getting to the net, and also was strong defensively. Center Kyle Stroh, who came in a trade from Rapid City, had a backhand chance from the low slot eight minutes into the game that Brittain had to make a tough save on.

“Lindberg hasn’t played (this season), and he played a strong game,” Hillman said. “Vossen, we saw a few shot blocks from him and he had a few good rushes and moves through their D, as well. Stroh had a good chance early in the game and played a good game at center. All the new guys contributed well. We’ve got to build. We’ve got to get that chemistry a little bit.”

The Fuel (6-20-6) will have that opportunity with an upcoming six-game road trip that starts Saturday in Toledo and then heads to Wheeling for a Sunday matinee. Next weekend, the Fuel will play four road games in five days against East Division teams – twice against Greenville and once each in South Carolina and Gwinnett before returning home Jan. 23 to face the Allen Americans.

ECHL boxscore
IndyFuelHockey.com story

Three stars

  1. Geoff Irwin (CIN) 2 goals
  2. Sam Brittain (CIN) 27 saves
  3. Nicklas Lindberg (Fuel) goal

Takeaways

  1. It took a while for the Fuel players to generate some offensive zone chemistry, with several new players, but once they did, they were good. The third period featured a number of strong zone entries, zone time and chances, and as noted, three power plays that generated a number of chances. Indy outshot Cincinnati 12-5 in the final 20 minutes.
  2. Lindberg’s insertion into the lineup at center allowed Robert Czarnik, the Fuel’s leading scorer, to move back to right wing on a veteran line with Mike Duco on the left side. “I’m a playmaker and he’s the scorer, and we’ve got Dukes there, too, which is really good,” Lindberg said. “It’s a good chemistry line. It’s going to get better – it got better the longer the game went.” Hillman also said he thought the line “looked good.” The trio combined for 11 shots – six by Czarnik, four by Lindberg and one from Duco.
  3. Dillon Fournier generated a lot of offense from the blueline, with four shots on goal.
  4. As noted above, Evan Vossen gave the Fuel a defensive look at forward, going down to block a number of shots. At one point, Vossen skated with two defensemen-turned-forwards – Kirill Gotovets and Mathieu Brisebois – on a “defensive” trio.

Lineup
Here’s the lineup that started the game. A few different line combinations were used as the game went on.

Mike Duco-Nicklas Lindberg-Robert Czarnik
Garett Bembridge-Kyle Stroh-Mathieu Brisebois
Kirill Gotovets-Matt White-Pete Massar
Evan Vossen

Dan Ford-Anders Franzon
Dillon Fournier-Justin Holl
Sam Posa-Nick Bruneteau

Shane Owen
BU: Mac Carruth

Next up: The weekend continues with the Fuel’s first trip to Toledo on Saturday, then a Sunday game in Wheeling, the first two games of a six-game, 10-day roadtrip. The next home game is Jan. 23 against the defending Central Hockey League champion Allen Americans, which will be the first of five home games (and six games) in a nine-day span.

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