Preview: IceRays vs. Shreveport Mudbugs (Game 25)

Point Streak Ends in Close Call in Odessa
Last weekend felt like an injustice on so many levels. The IceRays scored a game-tying goal with just seven seconds left to force overtime and prolong their longest point streak of the season to seven gamen games on November 24th. A thrilling and heroic moment was soiled by an overtime defeat.

The next day, the IceRays were in the driver’s seat. They controlled the tempo of the game and had outplayed the Jackalopes throughout the first two periods. Unfortunately, they’d only managed to conjure a one-goal lead after 40 minutes of superb play.

A questionable roughing penalty called against CJ Regula late in the middle period cost the IceRays, as one of their best penalty killers was unavailable to help them fend off the impending Odessa power play. The Jacks would tie the game, and go onto another man-advantage which stemmed from IceRays’ frustration after the first one. They would score again on a long screen shot from the blue line, suddenly taking a lead that the IceRays could not overcome. It was the only time in November that the Rays had scored fewer than three goals in a game, and it was an anticlimactic ending to a very exciting streak. Another chapter begins tonight, with a new month underway and an opponent they haven’t seen since mid-October in the building.

The Matchup
The Shreveport Mudbugs are 7-1-3 since their last meeting with the Rays back on October 14th. They’ve taken at least a point in each of their last eight games. Neither one of these teams have lost a game by more than a goal since October 27th, when the Rays were beaten 4-0 in Amarillo and the Bugs were defeated 4-2 in Fairbanks.

Both squads have been extremely competitive of late, but Shreveport is at a significant handicap this weekend. Their head coach, Karlis Zirnis, was suspended for two games for his spirited disagreement over a call in Topeka last weekend. He is currently in Europe coaching Team Latvia in the Baltic Cup with his top goaltender Gustavs Grigals.

Home Dominance
Only once this season have the IceRays been defeated in regulation on home ice. They’ve been competitive in every appearance at the American Bank Center thus far, a building they have slowly been turning into a fortress. They took seven of a possible eight points in their four-game home stand in November. Going on such an extensive road stretch so early in the year seems to have made the IceRays appreciate playing in Corpus Christi that much more, and drawing over 2000 fans in each of their home tilts has certainly helped them keep the fire burning. They are coming off of their first sub-par offensive performance in nearly a month, and will be looking to regenerate the high-octane attack they demonstrated throughout November. Now that they’re back in the friendly confines for their last home weekend until after Christmas, Shreveport’s eight-game point will be put in jeopardy.

Special Teams Discrepancy
The IceRays’ power play has been a subject of criticism all season, as it’s been mired near the bottom of the NAHL for some time. However, it’s been far more effective on home ice this season, clicking at 18.8%. On the road, the Rays’ power play has converted at just an 8.5% rate. Shreveport’s penalty kill has a similarly large discrepancy. At home, the Bugs have fought off a whopping 97.4% of their shorthanded opportunities, while converting at just a middling 79% rate on the road. The Rays will want to use this large gap to their advantage this weekend against the lowest-penalized team in the division.