The Indy Fuel came out Saturday night with a red-hot start against the Wichita Thunder.
But a number of penalties thwarted their attempts to add to it in a 2-1 loss to the Thunder at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The Fuel were playing their third game in three nights, facing a Thunder team that had been resting in Indianapolis since early New Year’s Day. Indy’s penalty kill was strong, killing off all eight Wichita power plays – including three consecutive in the middle stages of the third period – but Wichita was able to generate momentum and zone time from them.
“There were spots, but with three in three, four in five, five in seven, and with no extra bodies where you can plug a guy in here or there, guys battling through injuries, they tried to find a way, they came close a few times, but it was just one of those nights,” Fuel assistant coach Bernie John said after the game. “Especially after last night was such a hard-fought game and a long one. They fought hard, they just couldn’t find that extra goal.”
Indy also dropped a 2-1 decision in a physical game Friday to Fort Wayne. With two players on injured reserve, another called up to Rockford this week, and another on reserve with an injury, the Fuel have been playing much of this stretch with 16 available healthy skaters.
Mac Carruth stopped 24 shots in the Fuel net in a solid effort.
The Fuel’s penalty kill was strong throughout the night, killing off a season-high eight power plays. Twice, turnovers forced by the penalty-killing unit led to Thunder minors that canceled out the man advantage – and gave Indy a brief power play. The Fuel were 0-for-5 with the man advantage, although three of those power plays were abbreviated.
“Our kill was really good. Obviously when a team goes 0-for-8 on the power play, you’re doing something right,” John said. “We’ve got to try to stay out of the box. That really takes a toll, because certain guys play the kill more than others, especially with a three-in-three.”
Indy’s start was strong, as the Fuel were buzzing the Wichita net early, and had six of the game’s first seven shots, building off an early penalty to the Thunder’s Kenton Miller. Kyle Stroh had two good looks on the power play, and shortly after it ended, Peter Schneider had a shot at a loose puck in front. Indy kept up the pressure and continued the cycle, with Matt White finding Anders Franzon in the high slot.
Franzon stepped into a shot and blasted it into the net for his first goal of the year, giving Indy a lead 4:16 into the game.
“I’ve had a lot of chances this year, it was nice to get one to go in. It feels nice, and to give the team some energy felt good,” Franzon said. “I crept over. The D-men usually stay wide, but Whitey cut to the middle and their forward didn’t stay with me. Whitey made a nice play.”
It was the defense generating offense. It was Franzon’s first goal. Ben Marshall and Kevin Quick are both among the Fuel’s assists leaders, and Zach Miskovic has also had a strong offensive stretch. But the Fuel have also allowed two or fewer goals in seven of their last nine games.
“It’s a world of difference having some guys that have played having to settle it down back there,” said John, who was a standout defenseman as a player and works with the defensive units. “They’re making the right plays. We’re not giving up a lot of goals, we’re not giving up a lot of shots. We’re playing well from the back end out, and we’re getting some offense generated from back there. They’re playing well. I’m really pleased with the way they’re working.”
The tables turned a bit as the Thunder got four power plays in the first period. While Indy killed off each, Wichita was able to tie the game shortly after its second PP expired, as Martin Nemcek was able to push a puck into the net out of a goalmouth scramble with 7:38 left in the first.
The Thunder took a lead 2:41 into the second off an offensive-zone faceoff, as Miller drew the puck to Logan Nelson, who scored on a quick wrist shot through traffic to give his team the lead.
Indy was able to generate chances in the period – Cody Sharib had a nearly-perfect tip that forced Wichita’s David Shantz to make a shoulder save, and Schneider won the puck out of the cycle and skated alone to the front of the net, but Shantz stayed with his deke and made a pad save. A late-period stretch pass to Garett Bembridge got the Thunder on their heels and drew a penalty, and both Schneider and Sharib had solid chances at the netmouth.
In the third, Indy killed three straight penalties, and its best offense came off the penalty kill. During the first, a steal by Schneider led to a 2-on-1 that he whistled just wide. During Wichita’s third power play, Schneider collected a rebound and whistled it to an open Daniel Ciampini in front of the net, but it was unable to find his stick. Indy’s best even-strength chance came late, when Kevin Quick’s point shot through Matt White’s screen was smothered by Shantz with 50 seconds left and the goaltender pulled.
“We’re just in a little scoring drought right now, too,” John said. “We’re clenching the sticks a little tighter, we’re trying to push it a little bit. We’re going to break out of it. It’s going to be nice to get a rest for a week and be able to heal our bruises a little bit.”
Indy will return to the Indiana Farmers Coliseum next weekend to face the Evansville IceMen Friday and Saturday, with 7:35 p.m. puck drops both nights.
- Logan Nelson (WIC) GWG
- Kenton Miller (WIC) 2A
- Anders Franzon (Fuel) G, 3 shots
- Indy wrapped up one of its busiest stretches of the year Saturday, with six games in eight days coming out of the Christmas break. The Fuel went 3-3-0 in those six games, winning the first three. The last two games kick off a January where Indy will play 12 of its 14 games at home.
- Defensemen continue to get in on the scoring action – Anders Franzon scored his first goal since April 5, and his fourth as a member of the Fuel. Five of the team’s six active defensemen have now tallied a goal this season. Franzon and Kevin Quick each had three shots to tie Michael Colantone for team-high honors.
- Wichita was making its first appearance in Indy since the 2003-04 season, when the Thunder made regular visits to face the Indianapolis Ice in the Central Hockey League. The Thunder swept the two-game season series from the Fuel.
- The win for Wichita was its third road victory of the season. Indy is now 7-7-0 at home.
- Matt White and Rhett Bly each had assists on Franzon’s goal. It was White’s fourth point in six games, Bly’s fourth point in seven games.
- The Fuel have dropped consecutive 2-1 games. Seven of the Fuel’s 33 games so far have been by 2-1 scores. The Fuel are 2-5-0 in those games.
- Mac Carruth’s streak of four straight winning starts was snapped, but he allowed two or fewer goals for the ninth time in 16 starts this season, and the fifth straight start. Since Dec. 19, he has a .954 save percentage and a 1.32 goals against average in six games and is 4-2-1.
Alex Lavoie-Kyle Stroh-Garett Bembridge
Daniel Ciampini-Michael Colantone-Peter Schneider
Derek Roehl-Cody Sharib-Rhett Bly
Kevin Quick-Ben Marshall
Patrick Koudys-Zach Miskovic
Sam Jardine-Anders Franzon
BU: Shane Owen
Scratches: Dylan Clarke (res), Josh Brittain (IR), Dillon Fournier (IR)
Roster move: Goaltender Jordan Ruby was waived Saturday after Carruth returned from his AHL callup.
Next up: The Fuel (14-17-2) will host Evansville on Jan. 8-9, with 7:35 p.m. puck drops.