The Indy Fuel’s seven-game winning streak and nine-game streak without a regulation loss was snapped Friday night, but the Fuel delivered a ferocious rally in the second and third periods before falling to the Reading Royals 3-2 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Indy fell behind 3-0, but rallied back on a beautiful midair rebound goal by Vincent Arseneau and a power play tally by Kyle Stroh, but was unable to get the equalizer, thanks to a 29-save performance by Reading’s Connor Knapp – a goaltender who has played two NHL games within the last year.
Nick Jones had assists on both Fuel goals.
Reading jumped ahead 2-0 in the first 10:09 on a deflected shot from the point and a power play goal, and then took a three-goal lead in the second on Cam Reid’s second goal of the game. But Indy had a significant jump from there and generated a number of chances and two goals.
“A lot of compete, a lot of battle,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “A bit of a slow start, we’ve got to be out of the gate quicker. A tough power play goal we gave up, a mistake we haven’t made in months. But there’s going to be wins and losses, so it’s good to see the compete after going down early.”
Shane Owen made 23 saves in the Fuel net, as Indy outshot Reading 31-26.
Reading took an early lead 1:44 into the game, when Zach Davies’ point shot into traffic was redirected in front. The Royals went ahead 2-0 at 10:09 when, 16 seconds into a power play, Reid fired a shot through traffic from the left circle and scored.
Indy generated a number of good chances on Knapp, who stopped Rhett Bly’s hard one-timer on a 4-on-2 rush midway through the first, got a pad on Kyle Stroh’s bid from the top of the circle after a strong backcheck by Garett Bembridge led to a turnover and extended pressure for the Fuel, and in the second, he made a pad save on Arseneau at the top of the crease, and then got a blocker on a wraparound attempt by Pete Massar.
Reading eventually took a 3-0 lead at 9:36 of the second on Reid’s second of the game and 17th of the season.
A minute later, the Fuel generated one of their best chances of the night when Bembridge carried in on a 2-on-1. His initial pass was blocked, but Bembridge stuck with the play, recovered the puck and got off a shot on goal.
Indy finally broke through with 6:00 to go in the second. Kyle Stroh won a draw that Bembridge helped back to Nick Jones. Knapp stopped Jones’ blast from beyond the circle, but Arseneau batted the rebound out of the air and into the net for his fourth goal with the Fuel.
“Good faceoff by Strohzy, good shot by Jonesy, and I just tried to keep my eyes on the puck and hit it into the net,” Arseneau said.
“It was a pretty neat goal to watch,” Hillman said. “It was a heck of a play off the rebound to baseball that and wait for it to get below the crossbar before hitting it. It was a smart play, a heads-up play, and you love to see guys doing that.”
Indy killed off two late penalties and then tried to take advantage of a wild end of the second period. Reading was whistled for too many men on the ice with 50 seconds left in the period, and was then issued two bench minors and a game misconduct to the bench by the end of the period, giving the Fuel a full two minutes of 5-on-3 spanning the intermission. Indy generated a strong chance, but Reading was able to kill it off and keep the score 3-1.
“You get so few chances over the course of the year,” Hillman said. “That’s maybe our fourth time all year we’ve had it. We looked great (at the start) – you get one great scoring chance and we kind of stumbled after that. It’s a tough one – you work on it in practice but you don’t get much live practice on it. You hope for production, and we just didn’t execute.”
The Fuel kept building, and Arseneau, Nicklas Lindberg and Bembridge had well over a minute of pressure on a shift that led to a good chance in tight by Arseneau with 12:00 left. Moments later, Dean Chelios got a breakaway and was tripped, drawing a power play. It took just 20 seconds for Stroh to make Reading pay, rifling a shot from the mid-slot into the net for his seventh goal as a member of the Fuel and 14th of the year.
Indy got one more late power play, but Reading’s PK was strong and the Royals were able to generate enough pressure to limit the Fuel’s time and opportunities 6-on-5.
Indy is now 14-22-7, while Reading improves to 27-13-2 with its sixth straight victory. The Fuel remain four points back of Kalamazoo for the final playoff spot in the North Division.
“That’s a heck of a hockey club that’s climbing to the top of an awfully strong division,” Hillman said. “They’d won five in a row coming in, so we knew how well they were playing. Overall, if you’re losing by one goal to one of the top teams in the league, you’re continuing to do things right. When you’re disappointed when you leave, that’s a good sign. We believe we could’ve won the hockey game.”
The Fuel are back in action at 7:35 p.m. Saturday against Elmira, closing out a three-games-in-four-nights homestand.
“We had a good stretch, we won seven in a row,” Arseneau said. “Let’s start a new one tomorrow.”
- Cam Reid (REA) 2G
- Nick Jones (Fuel) 2A
- Vincent Arseneau (Fuel) G
- Play was stopped late with the Fuel in the zone on the power play as Vincent Arseneau went down after what appeared to be a blindside hit in the offensive zone. He was able to get up and skate to the bench under his own power. “I was skating and looking at the puck, and I got hit blindside. I don’t know if I got hit or just ran into someone,” Arseneau said. “I’m fine. It’s part of hockey. It’s all right – it’s contact.”
- Kyle Stroh’s scoring streak was snapped Wednesday, so he might as well start another one on Friday. Stroh’s goal now gives him seven goals and six assists in his last nine games. He was +1 tonight and is now +10 as a member of the Fuel.
- Defenseman Nick Jones has been an asset since being sent down from AHL Worcester. Tonight, he had his best game yet, with two assists, four shots and a +1. Jones started the year with the Fuel, but was called up to the AHL after the Nov. 23 game in Reading, and played just one more game in Indy before being reassigned last week. He has three assists and is +3 since coming back. “I don’t think any of us realize how hard it is to switch teams, especially given the substantial amount of time he was gone,” Hillman said. “A game or two, get used to everybody again, get used to the style of play. He had a big game for us tonight. That’s what we expect from him. He’s a great first-year pro.”
- Arseneau and Bembridge continue to pile up scoring chances. Tonight, the two combined for 11 shots (Arseneau 5, Bembridge 6), and Arseneau had a goal and Bembridge an assist. Arseneau now has four goals and two assists in nine games in Indy, and has goals in his last two games. Bembridge’s second assist on Arseneau’s goal extended his scoring streak to six games. He has four goals and four assists in that stretch.
- Pete Massar got the second assist on Stroh’s goal. He now has points in three straight games.
- There’s some light at the end of the tunnel for the Fuel, who have had a really busy January. Saturday’s game will be the team’s 18th since Dec. 26 – a span of just over five weeks – and 15th game in January. The Fuel have been fortunate to be largely healthy through this stretch and have rotated defensemen to provide some rest for the blueliners.
- Justin Holl celebrated his 23rd birthday, then launched four shots on goal for the Fuel.
- Owen was again solid for Indy, making a number of in-tight saves. The first two goals were a deflection and a screened shot through traffic, and the third came in traffic in front of the net. Despite getting the loss, he continues a run of good goaltending from both netminders.
- Indy and Reading are close – literally. Although the Royals have won all five games in the season series, virtually every game has been a one-goal game, discounting empty-netters. As noted above, Reading is challenging the Florida Everblades for the lead in the very tough East Division.
This is the lineup from warmups, but Stroh and Lindberg flipped lines during the first period and Stroh primarily skated between Arseneau and Bembridge from that point forward. Bembridge, Evan Vossen and Nick Bruneteau wore the alternate captain “A”s tonight.
Vincent Arseneau-Nicklas Lindberg-Garett Bembridge
Evan Vossen-Kyle Stroh-Pete Massar
Dean Chelios-Matt White-Rhett Bly
Anders Franzon-Nick Jones
Kirill Gotovets-Justin Holl
Sam Posa-Nick Bruneteau
BU: Mac Carruth
Scratches: Garrett Klotz, Mike Duco.
Roster moves: Dillon Fournier was called up to AHL Rockford. Dan Ford was placed on reserve. Kirill Gotovets and Anders Franzon were activated from reserve.
Next up: The Fuel host Elmira on Saturday, then head to the road for two games at Evansville next weekend before a Feb. 8 date with Kalamazoo at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Saturday’s game will be the first meeting of the year between Indy and Elmira.