Fuel Rewind: February 20 vs. Cincinnati
Game breakdown and analysis from Indy Fuel Insider Andrew SmithFeb 20, 2018
The Indy Fuel’s playoff push has been powered by the team’s special teams.
That would be put to the test Tuesday, when the ECHL’s top two power play units met at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum for the Fuel’s first Education Day game.
The special teams were just that for the Fuel, as Indy went 2-for-2 on a pair of second-period power plays to rally Indy out of a two-goal deficit, while Matt Tomkins and the Fuel penalty killers kept Cincinnati’s top-ranked power play unit off the scoreboard.
It set the table for a 3-2 Fuel victory, which moved Indy within six points of a playoff spot with 21 games to go, and gave the Fuel another win over a team directly ahead of them in the standings.
The Fuel are now 11-2-0 since Dec. 23 against Cincinnati, Kansas City and Kalamazoo – the three teams directly in front of them. Indy has 51 points, while Kansas City has 52. Kalamazoo – sitting in fourth place in the Central Division and the final playoff spot – has 57 and Cincinnati 58.
“Everyone in that room knows what’s on the line,” Fuel defenseman Robin Press said. “These are the games you have to win in order to climb in the standings. We want to push ourselves a little extra.”
The game turned on power play goals by Press and Johnny McInnis in the second period. They came after old friend Rob De Fulviis and Jesse Schultz put the Cyclones up 2-0 in the first.
“We made the adjustment about 15 games ago, stressing shoot the puck,” Fuel assistant coach Ryan McGinnis said of the power play. “It’s nice to see results from that. It’s nice, more importantly, for the players to see results. It’s a snowball effect. That’s kept us in games, and put us over the top in games. That’s something we’ll look to continue, taking advantage of the special teams and shooting the puck”
With the game tied 2-2 going into the third, Ryan Rupert scored the game-winner in the opening minute, cashing in a feed from Nolan Descoteaux.
Matt Tomkins followed with 11 third-period saves, including three on a late-period Cincinnati power play, to keep the Fuel in the lead.
“We have a good group of older guys that know how to win,” McInnis said. “Once you get a lead in the third period this time of year, you can’t lose it. We saw that Saturday in KC (in a game the Fuel eventually won in overtime). We need the points right now, as many as we can get. Anytime you get two, it’s a good day.”
Playing at 10:30 a.m. less than 48 hours after completing a three-games-in-three-days road weekend and traveling from Tulsa, the Fuel spent the opening 20 minutes shaking off the rust from the trip. Cincinnati carried the play, held an 18-9 shot advantage, and took a two-goal lead.
But the opening shift of the second period changed the tone for the game, as the Fuel held Cincinnati without a shot for the first five minutes of the second and drew a power play.
“We got going a little bit in the second,” Press said. “We kind of hemmed them into their zone for a couple of good shifts. We got momentum and we just went from there. We kept on playing, started getting more shots and more traffic.”
Indy drew to within 2-1 when Michael Neal drew the puck back to Josh Shalla, who fed Press at the left circle for a perfect one-timer.
The second power play came late in the period, and was a result of dogged forechecking by Matt Rupert. With the Fuel a man short, he dove below the goal line to challenge Cincinnati goaltender Jason Kasdorf, who came out to play a cleared puck. Kasdorf grabbed Rupert’s stick to prevent him from winning the puck and taking it to the open net.
Shortly thereafter, Johnny McInnis sprung out of the penalty box, took a stretch pass from Press in stride and beat Kasdorf on the ensuing breakaway to tie the game.
“There was a faceoff in our zone with 11 seconds left (on the power play), and I was thinking to myself, ‘there goes the home run pass.’ It’s funny how things turn around. We won the puck, and we’re off,” McInnis said. “It was a great pass. Head-up, perfect timing, I was right at the line. I was trying to get a good shot off before the D-man caught up to me.”
The two power play goals give the Fuel a 21.3 percent success rate, tops in the league. Indy is at nearly 30 percent in its last 54 attempts.
“We find the open man,” McInnis said. “We don’t try to force the play. When we shoot, we’re finding the back of the net more than anybody else. We do a good job of being competitive with each other. It’s a privilege to be on the power play. We want to do right by our guys and we want to make sure we’re taking care of business out there. It can win you hockey games like today.”
The Fuel’s playoff push will largely happen at home. Counting Tuesday’s game, 15 of the final 22 contests will be at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. All but three will be against Central Division teams.
“We control our fate here,” McGinnis said. “We not only play a lot of home games, but a lot of the games remaining are within the division. We control who goes up, who goes down and who stays put. We can do that in the comfort of our own rink. It’s nice.”
1.Robin Press (Fuel) G/A
2.Ryan Rupert (Fuel) GWG
3.Johnny McInnis (Fuel) G
1. The Fuel entered the day a percentage point behind Cincinnati in the league’s power play rankings, but Indy’s 2-for-2 day vaulted the Fuel into the league lead at 21.3 percent. Cincinnati is now at 20.1 percent after Indy was 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
2. Even though the Fuel were home, Tuesday was the classic “trap game.” It was the first game back from a seven-game roadtrip, the fifth contest in a very busy eight games in 11 days stretch, and a morning game after the Fuel had made a long trip back from Tulsa after playing – and losing 6-2 – Sunday afternoon. The first period looked like Indy was shaking off its legs, but from there, it was a different game. “I like the way we came back,” McGinnis said. “We had a rough start, but I like our resilience and our mental focus, understanding this game is 60 minutes. We didn’t like what we put out there in the first period, but we made some adjustments and we did that. Besides the Xs and Os, at this point, with as many games as we’re playing, it’s about the mental strength to gather yourself and come back strong in the second and third period.”
3. However, it’s also big to be home. Tuesday was the first home game in 17 days. It was also the first of seven home games in an eight-game, 13-day stretch. “It’s amazing to be back in your own bed,” Press said. “You don’t really realize how much you miss it until you get back to it. When you’re on the road, you eat, you sleep and you play. Coming back home, it’s really great.”
4. One way to look at the strength of a team’s special teams is to add the team’s power play and penalty kill percentages. Any number over 100 indicates a strong special teams performance. The Fuel are now at 103 – with the top-10 penalty kill up to 81.7 percent. Cincinnati’s chances on the power play were few during Tuesday’s contest.
5. Press has had a hot stick of late, and his first goal was a wired shot from the left circle. It extended his scoring streak to five games. He has a point in 10 of his last 12 games, tallying five goals and eight assists in that stretch. Alex Wideman also extended his scoring streak to four games, as he had the second assist on Ryan Rupert’s goal. Wideman has scored a point in every game since returning last weekend from a month-long callup to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs.
6. Josh Shalla had a seven-game scoring streak snapped in Sunday’s loss to Tulsa, but he got back on the scoresheet Tuesday with an assist on Press’ goal. Neal snapped a three-game scoreless streak with the second assist on that tally. Ryan Rupert now has a point in nine of his last 12 games. He has six goals and nine assists in that span.
7. Not to be overlooked is Matt Tomkins’ play. He made 38 saves, and was especially stellar in the first period when his net was under siege. His best work came when he stopped Anthony Florentino on a first-period breakaway.
8. Indy is now 5-0-0 against the Cyclones, with four of those wins coming at home. The teams play again March 2 in Cincinnati, the first of three consecutive Friday nights the teams will play.
Darian Dziurzynski-Michael Neal-Josh Shalla
Alex Wideman-Ryan Rupert-Matt Rupert
Stephen Collins-Reed Seckel-Johnny McInnis
Jack Burton-Zach Miskovic
Robin Press-Anthony Cortese
Nolan Descoteaux-Riley Sweeney
BU: Etienne Marcoux
Scratches: Garrett Clarke, Cam Reid, Brandon Anselmini, Andrew Schmit
Next up: The Fuel host Quad City at 7:05 p.m. Thursday for the first of three games in three nights between the teams, all at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.