The Indy Fuel and Toledo Walleye’s power plays have been lights-out in their meetings against each other this season.
So it was somewhat fitting that special teams again stole the headlines Sunday afternoon at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in the fifth of their seven meetings this season.
Visiting Toledo won the special teams battle, and the game, with Joel Chouinard’s power play goal midway through the third period holding up to hand the Fuel a 4-3 loss.
Each team scored once at even strength, but the Walleye were 3-for-4 on the power play, while the Fuel were 2-for-6 with the man advantage in the game.
“The first one’s a little bit fluky. It was a scramble goal. The second one was a 5-on-3. We did a great job on the 5-on-3 the other night, and that one kind of squeaked in. We had a bit of a breakdown on the third one,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said, recounting the three power plays. “We controlled a lot of the game. We controlled the pace.
“The third game in two and a half days, the guys played with incredible energy. They gave everything they had, unfortunately, we lost the contest, but I’m real proud of their effort.”
Chouinard and Dominic Zombo each had a goal and an assist for Toledo. Captain Zach Miskovic had a goal and an assist for Indy.
The Fuel did control the pace against one of the league’s top teams – and an excellent 5-on-5 team – despite playing not just their third game since Friday night, but their fourth in five days, a stretch that involved trips to Toledo and Evansville. Indy launched 36 shots on goal and had a number of incredible scoring chances, but Walleye netminder Jeff Lerg showed why he has one of the league’s top goals against averages.
“There were a lot of goalmouth scrambles there in their end,” Hillman said. “There was a lot of traffic, a lot of near-misses, a lot of miraculous saves down at their end. There was one in particular – Cody (Sharib) had it going low blocker-side and somehow he got a toe on it.”
That chance by Sharib came out of a Fuel flurry early in the third period with the game tied 3-3. He pounced on a rebound in front and Lerg managed to smother it. Shortly thereafter, Indy had a four-minute power play thanks to a high-sticking call on Walleye captain Jared Nightengale, but only managed one shot and struggled to set up in the zone.
“It’s frustrating – I wish it was basketball, we could call timeout and draw it up,” Hillman said. “That was a tough point in the game because it’s four minutes and it kind of zapped our energy, but the guys battled back and started going.”
Later in the period, with the Fuel shorthanded, Ben Marshall stole a puck at center and broke in on a shorthanded breakaway. He made a perfect deke to get Lerg sprawling across the crease and elevated the puck with his backhand, but the diminutive netminder was able to reach his trapper in the air and snag the puck.
Toledo won the ensuing draw and set up for an extended cycle in the offensive zone. After nearly a minute of zone time, the puck cycled to Chouinard at the left point, who cranked a slapshot through traffic that banked off the post and into the net, giving the Walleye the 4-3 lead with 9:23 left in the game.
The Fuel had a couple of solid late chances – a tip in front that Lerg smothered with 6:30 left, and a high-glove side cannon from Nick Mattson from the left circle in the final minute that was snagged by the netminder.
One positive sign, the Fuel scored three goals for the second straight game – after a stretch of 13 games with two goals or less in regulation despite having several recent games where they generated a number of quality chances – and could’ve scored more if not for an outstanding performance in net.
“I think that’s something that we’re having a hard time with for a bit, scoring one or maybe two goals in a game,” Miskovic said. “We’ve got to generate more offense. Guys were playing hard today, they were driving the net, they were getting to the paint. That’s what you need, drive the net, get pucks on net.”
Toledo skated away with a 1-0 lead after a period despite the Fuel launching 17 first-period shots – a flurry that began on the first shift of the game. Josh Brittain had an early wraparound chance that was stopped, and late in the period, Sharib had a tip in front that Lerg was able to snare despite being sprawled across the ice. Anders Franzon created another close call with a shot from the point that generated a rebound scramble with a down-and-out goalie that the Walleye were able to clear.
The Walleye’s chance came on an early power play, an offensive-zone penalty whistled against the Fuel. Indy again had the best chance early, with Daniel Ciampini getting a clean steal at center and swooping in on a partial breakaway, where he was stopped. On the ensuing rush, Toledo’s Ralfs Freibergs fired from the right circle. Starting netminder Shane Owen stopped that and a rebound, but Josh Shalla was able to get to a third rebound and score.
It didn’t take long for the Fuel to tie it up – doing so with traffic in front. Off the second period draw, Indy set up in the Toledo end. Miskovic corralled a puck at the point with Rhett Bly providing a screen. Miskovic’s shot hit a Toledo player in front and caromed into the net 16 seconds into the period.
Just over two minutes later, a tripping call on Toledo’s Max Gaede gave Indy its third power play of the game, and the Fuel took advantage. Again, Bly camped out in front of the net for a point shot – this one from Ben Marshall. Bly got a stick on it to deflect it into the net to give Indy a 2-1 lead.
“We had a good traffic in front, good screen by Bly and a great stick, too,” Miskovic said. “We definitely need more of that. Good hand-eye from him to get that through and tip that. Again, we just need to keep getting pucks to the net. That’s how we’re going to generate our offense.”
Toledo re-took the lead when Alden Hirschfeld pounced on a loose puck in a scramble for a rebound and roofed it 6:32 into the period, followed with a goal by Dominic Zombo 15 seconds into a 5-on-3, giving the Walleye a 3-2 lead.
Indy answered back with 2:39 left in the second. Again on the power play, Alex Lavoie fed Ciampini from the corner, and in one move, Ciampini spun from the right post, stickhandled the puck around Lerg’s pad and fired it into the net, setting up a tie game going into the third period.
Indy outshot Toledo 36-24 for the game. Lerg made 33 saves in the Walleye net. Owen started the game for the Fuel and stopped 13 shots in two periods. Carruth started the third period – Hillman said it was a “gut” move – and stopped seven of eight shots. “He had pretty good vision on most of those,” Hillman said. “The one shot – post and in – was a perfect shot.”
- Dominic Zombo (TOL) G, A
- Scott Czarnowczan (TOL) 2A
- Zach Miskovic (Fuel) G, A
- Rhett Bly’s contributions are hard to overstate. He’s a high-energy forward who was critical in the Fuel’s first two goals. His ability to camp out in front of the net and screen Lerg was critical on the Fuel’s first goal, and although he didn’t get a point on the goal, his screen was vital. On the second goal, he was again in front taking away the goaltender’s eyes, this time getting a tip and the goal. “He’s doing everything. He’s working his tail off. He’s really contributing all over the ice,” Hillman said of the second-year forward. Bly has six goals on the year, and he snapped a four-game scoreless streak with his second-period tally.
- The Fuel put together one of their better 5-on-5 games, especially for playing their third game in three days, especially in the first period when they had numerous outstanding chances and 17 shots on goal.
- The Fuel scored three regulation goals in back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 7-13 against Quad City and Alaska. They had a stretch of four games with three goals in October and early November, as well. One thing Coach Hillman stated a couple of weeks ago – taking care of the little things often sees teams go from long winless streaks to long winning ones, because they’ve been doing the small things well. This game marked the Fuel’s second regulation loss when scoring three times. The Fuel are 10-2-1 when scoring thrice.
- The three-goal second period was also the most scored by the Fuel in a period this season. Indy has 14 multi-goal periods on the year, the most recent before today coming Nov. 28 at Missouri.
- The Fuel’s two power play goals were also a season-high. The Fuel came into the game 25 percent on the PP against Toledo, and Toledo was clicking at 29 percent with the man advantage against the Fuel. Both teams exceeded those percentages today.
- Indy is now 1-4-0 against Toledo this season. There are two games remaining between the teams – one in each building – with the next one set for Feb. 28. At 16-7-4 – despite playing 18 of its 27 games on the road – Toledo is one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, and has now won four straight. Indy is 11-15-2.
- Toledo’s three power play goals snapped a string of 13 straight penalty kills for the Fuel.
- Alex Lavoie had the first assist on Ciampini’s second goal, giving him a three-game assist streak, and extending his team points lead to 24. He has eight goals and a team-high 16 assists. Ciampini also has points in two consecutive games.
- Miskovic snapped a six-game scoreless streak with his tally. It marked his first multi-point game as a member of the Fuel. “The offensive part of the game is a plus for me,” Miskovic said. “My goal is to play good defense, and it’s extra to get an offensive point. Things are going well offensively, obviously, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t get the two points.
- Sunday was new signee Derek Roehl’s first game in front of the home fans. He made his Fuel debut on Saturday night. On Sunday, he was scoreless but showed a physical side. Roehl, a former Western Michigan Bronco, had played two and a half seasons in Europe before joining the Fuel. “He’s working hard. He’s been banging some bodies, he’s in the right areas most of the night he brings some good energy,” Hillman said. “It’s a step in the right direction of what we’re looking for. He had a couple of good games for us.”
- Daniel Ciampini and Cody Sharib led the Fuel offense by each getting five shots on goal. Nick Mattson and Peter Schneider each had four.
- Garett Bembridge, the Fuel’s leading goal-scorer, was out of the lineup for the second straight game. Hillman said he would be back after the holiday break.
Alex Lavoie-Kyle Stroh-Rhett Bly
Daniel Ciampini-Cody Sharib-Peter Schneider
Derek Roehl-Josh Brittain-Dylan Clarke
Nick Mattson-Zach Miskovic
Kevin Quick-Ben Marshall
Sam Jardine-Anders Franzon
Scratches: Patrick Koudys, Tim Hall (res), Garett Bembridge (res), Dillon Fournier (IR)
Next up: The Fuel – and the rest of the ECHL – will head into the holiday break for the week, during which rosters are frozen. Indy will return with a busy stretch, starting with a home-and-home Dec. 26 in Quad City, with the return matchup at 3:05 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27 at home against the Mallards. It’ll be Princess Day at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.