The Toledo Walleye suddenly find themselves in a goal-scoring slump after suffering consecutive shutouts for the first time since 2013.
Toledo surrendered a shorthanded goal and could not generate many quality chances as the Walleye were blanked 3-0 by Cincinnati on Friday night.
At faceoff, the temperature outside the Huntington Center hovered at a brutal 4 degrees, but a crowd of 6,642 attended the first game of the new year. Yet Toledo's offense remained ice cold as it dropped its second in a row.
The Walleye were shutout by rival Fort Wayne 3-0 on the road on New Year's Eve. It was the third time Toledo has been held without a goal this season, but the first time the Walleye have been shutout at home. Toledo was held goalless just once last season. It's the first time since November, 2013, the Walleye have suffered back-to-back shutouts.
“Guys start gripping the stick harder and want to make the perfect play instead of going to the hard areas to score goals,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “That first goal is going to have to be an ugly one. I don't care if it goes off a shin pad or somebody's body.”
Cincinnati center Shawn O'Donnell scored a shorthanded goal early in the second period that stood up as the game-winner. The Cyclones made it 2-0 as Justin Vaive was left alone in front of the Walleye net with 13 minutes, 58 seconds left in regulation and went up by three on Winston Day Chief's goal with 5:14 remaining.
Toledo (20-10-3) is now 11-4-0 at home. Fort Wayne (21-9-2) also jumped over the Walleye into first place in the Central Division with a 6-2 home win against Indy. Cincinnati (20-11-1) pulled within two points of Toledo.
Cincinnati coach Matt Macdonald said his team came out with good energy and asserted itself.
“Any time you beat Toledo it's a big win, especially in this barn,” Macdonald said. “It's a tough feat. It's only their fourth loss at home. Coming into this arena against Toledo, you know it's going to be an extremely tough game.”
Walleye veteran goaltender Pat Nagle, who was named to the ECHL all-star team Thursday, finished with 26 saves. Just 1:52 into the second, Nagle slid across his crease to stop a point-blank one-timer from Brycen Martin.
Toledo then had a 3-on-2 rush with Shane Berschbach, Kyle Bonis, and Mike Borkowski but could not get off a shot. Bonis, who finished with four shots on goal, said the players are trying to be a bit too precise on their shots because of the goal-scoring funk.
“Sometimes you have to just get it there quickly and those will fool the goalie,” Bonis said. “We were trying to pass it through too much rather than trying to get to the net and getting a greasy goal. When you're struggling to score like we have the last couple of games, you have to start funneling pucks to the net and just bang one home.”
Bonis said the team must have more sustained pressure in the opponents end.
“We just need to play a simpler game,” he said.
O'Donnell gave the Cyclones a 1-0 lead 3:41 into the second, when his shot deflected off of Walleye forward Erik Bradford's stick. At the game's midpoint, Cincinnati held a 19-10 edge in shots.
Watson said he didn't like his team's jump and it turned the puck over too many times.
“I didn't like our energy,” Watson said. “It wasn't there. Cincinnati makes you pay for mistakes. They have an attack mentality and are opportunistic and they exposed our lack of puck management.”
Cincinnati goalie Jason Kasdorf, who finished with 29 saves, was not tested often to earn his first shutout.
In the scoreless first, Nagle kept it that way with a solid save on Daniel Muzito-Bagena three minutes in and came up with a snap glove save on Justin Valve moments later.
“We had some chances early on, but Nagle is an all-star for a reason,” Macdonald said. “He's always been a great goaltender.”
Watson said Nagle was sharp.
“He held us in there big time. It could have been 3-0 after the first period,” Watson said. “We wasted a good effort from our goalie.”
Toledo also had solid chances from Christian Hilbrich and Simon Denis in the early going. But Cincinnati carried the play for the majority of the first, outshooting the Walleye 8-3.
Toledo has four more games at home on a five-game homestand, including 7:15 p.m. game Saturday against Manchester.
Watson said his team must turn the page quickly against another quality opponent.
“This league is difficult and our guys have to step it up,” Watson said.
FISH TALES: The team gave away 2,000 bobbleheads depicting captain Alden Hirschfeld before the game. Hirschfeld, who is sidelined for the rest of the regular season with an injury, called it a huge honor.
“It's awesome,” Hirschfeld said. “Obviously, it's special even just to play for my hometown team. It's great to have the support and love from the fans.”
Hirschfeld, who has begun light physical therapy after major knee surgery, is off crutches. He is back behind the Walleye bench as an assistant coach. He also dropped the ceremonial first puck before the game.
■ The Walleye players also wore special Harry Potter themed jerseys. The tribute will continue Saturday night.
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