Fuel Rewind: December 16 vs. Fort Wayne
Game breakdown and analysis from Indy Fuel Insider Andrew SmithDec 17, 2017
In the end, the scoreboard is the most important part of any sporting event – but it doesn’t always tell the full story.
Summing up the Indy Fuel’s second 5-2 loss to Fort Wayne in as many nights Saturday, captain Michael Neal put it simply.
“Those were not 5-2 games,” Neal said.
The Fuel had a season high in shots Saturday, drew an early power play and scored the first goal on one of the most impressive passing plays of the year. But they fell victim to a fluky bounce that gave Fort Wayne the lead early in the second period that changed the complexion of the game, as well as a hat trick by Shawn Szydlowski.
The loss came one night after Fort Wayne scored the go-ahead goal on a seemingly-harmless shot that bounced off two bodies and into the net and followed with two empty-netters to set the same score.
“Last night, we got a crappy bounce and empty nets,” Neal said. “Tonight, they got one. It’s frustrating. We did a lot of good things, we had a couple of breakdowns, and they end up in the back of the net. We’re playing well, we’re getting chances. We had (47) shots. I think we need a few more bodies to the net.”
The loss snaps the Fuel’s four-game home winning streak. Indy went 1-3-0 in a four-games-in-five-nights stretch that saw road games in Wheeling and Fort Wayne that saw good efforts but regulation losses. In-between, the Fuel beat Quad City 2-1 Thursday before the home-and-home with Fort Wayne.
“We’ll try to build off the positives as much as we can. We thought we deserved better fates – even the game in Wheeling, we thought we deserved better. To get that many shots. We had a lot of Grade As we didn’t score on, and they had some lucky bounces that ended up going in. We’ve got to stay mentally strong, build off the positives and look forward to the next game.”
Neal scored the first goal 6:22 into the game on the game’s first power play, a rush up-ice with speed that led to a tic-tac-toe passing play, as Matt Rupert fired a diagonal pass across the penalty killing box to Johnny McInnis, who centered the puck for Neal for a one-timer on the doorstep.
“It was a great rush,” Neal said. “They made a great play. I went to the net, with my stick on the ice and got a great pass.”
Neal then followed with a heavyweight tussle with Fort Wayne’s Bobby Shea a minute and a half later, the only fireworks on a long night. Both teams were playing at the end of a long week – the Fuel playing their third game in three nights and fourth in five, the visitors playing their third game in four nights.
Fort Wayne answered when Szydlowski scored through a screen after a faceoff, had a push late in the first, and took the lead on a strange bounce early in the second, as a dump-in caromed wildly off a stanchion, then landed in the crease where Zac Larraza found it before Fuel netminder Matt Tomkins. Cam Reid answered by finishing another highlight-reel passing play off the rush – a give-and-go between Alex Wideman and Nick Bligh that found Reid at the end of a cross-crease pass for a one-timer.
“It was a great play by Wides and Bligh on the give-and-go,” Reid said. “I tried to go back door and Bligh gave me a great saucer pass. The goalie got over there quick, but it trickled across the line.”
Reid nearly had another goal with an open side on the power play, but Fort Wayne’s Michael Houser got a piece of it to deny the chance.
Reid’s goal drew the Fuel even, but Fort Wayne re-took the lead less than two minutes later. A penalty put the visitors on the power play, where Szydlowski scored from the left circle on a shot through traffic just inside the blocker-side post at 12:25 of the second. For the second time in the period, the Fuel were chasing the score, and this time, were unable to come up with the equalizer.
“A goal against, and the penalty kill,” Fuel assistant coach Ryan McGinnis said. “You have to chase to get momentum back, and you’re also fighting the clock. Time’s ticking away, and you have to fight to grab momentum back. We have to understand that – we have to respect that and be calm. Even though they score early in the second and we take a penalty, we have to weather that. Those are things Bernie and I will go over – more on the mental side of things, getting through that four or five-minute stretch.”
The dagger came early in the third, with the Fuel on the power play looking to tie the game. Instead, Fort Wayne broke out with a shorthanded 2-on-1 and Mason Baptista found a rebound of a Szydlowski shot to make it 4-2. Szydlowski finished the hat trick with 4:54 left.
“We had a good start, but we have to finish, as well,” McGinnis said. “The first period and a little bit of the second was good, but we tailed off. It’s a game of inches. It’s a game of 60 minutes. We just have to understand that. Any little mistake or any little bit of ice you give them, they’ll take advantage of that.”
After a busy stretch, the Fuel will have three days off before returning to the ice for two home games this week – Wednesday against Kalamazoo and Saturday against Cincinnati.
“Things are going to heat up in the second half with a lot of three-in-threes,” Reid said. “It’s good to get a taste of that. I feel like we’re on the brink of finding our game, finding our identity. We’re trying to build off the positive.”
1. Shawn Szydlowski (FW) 3G/A
2. Mason Baptista (FW) G/3A
3. Michael Neal (Fuel) G
1. One of the reasons for the Fuel’s recent success has been good starts. Indy again started strong Saturday, getting the game’s first four shots, eight of the first 10 and scoring the first goal for the third straight night. “We’ve been scoring first a little bit, which is always nice to play with a lead,” Neal said. “We’re having good starts. We’re having some success on plays and pucks to the net. We just didn’t get a couple of extras we needed tonight.”
2. Saturday’s 47 shots were a season high. The previous high was 43 on Oct. 21 in a win over Tulsa. Fort Wayne’s Michael Houser made 46 saves. Matt Tomkins stopped 41 of the 46 shots he saw in the Fuel net. Both Fuel goals came off the rush, as rebound chances were often cleared. “We need a few more bodies there, that’s all,” Neal said. “When you’re getting that many shots, if you get some bodies, some traffic, you can go to work in the dirty areas.”
3. Szydlowski’s first-period goal ended a stretch of 20 consecutive penalty kills by the Fuel. Both teams were 1-for-3 on the power play.
4. Neal continues to be red hot offensively. He scored for the third consecutive game and the fifth time in six games. He has points in six of his last seven, and has nine goals and an assist in his last 10 games. He became the first Fuel player to reach double digits in goals this seaon.
5. Matt Rupert, who had the second assist on Neal’s goal, has points in four of his last five games and six of his last eight. Nick Bligh and Alex Wideman, who had assists on Cam Reid’s second-period goal, both have points in back-to-back games. Reid broke a three-game scoreless streak with his goal.
6. With Ryan Rupert out of the lineup, Michael Neal centered Matt Rupert and Johnny McInnis. The trio combined for 16 of the Fuel’s 47 shots, including nine off McInnis’ stick. The Reid line had 12 shots, with Bligh landing seven on goal.
7. Indy is 0-3-0 against Fort Wayne. The next of the nine season meetings will be a home-and-home Jan. 5-6.
Alex Wideman-Cam Reid-Nick Bligh
Matt Rupert-Michael Neal-Johnny McInnis
Stephen Collins-Reed Seckel-Nathan Noel
Jack Burton-Zach Miskovic
Garrett Clarke-Troy Vance
Nolan Descoteaux-Anthony Cortese
BU: Etienne Marcoux
Scratches: Andrew Schmit, Ryan Rupert, Riley Sweeney
Next up: The Fuel host Kalamazoo at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.