Preview: IceRays vs. Lone Star Brahmas (Game 21)

Photo: Rebekah Bing

Rays Win Four Straight
On Saturday, the IceRays again showed they have the ability to erase deficits, coming from behind after trailing 3-1 to win their 10th annual Stars & Stripes Night in overtime. Heading into their four-game stretch against the Topeka RoadRunners, the IceRays knew there were some things they had to change. They’d been coming off a weekend in which they were shut out in back-to-back nights and they’d lost four straight games. Then in four contests against Topeka, the Rays scored a whopping 19 goals and gave fans a glimpse into their offensive potential. Of course, it’s no coincidence their scoring prowess skyrocketed once they took on a team that’d been struggling defensively, but to go from a span of scoring just three times in four games to scoring nineteen in as much time is an enormous discrepancy and one which can be attributed to more than simply the opponent they were facing. The IceRays’ attacking game is alive right now, but it will be put to the test against the best defensive team in the NAHL this weekend.

The Matchup
While the Rays have built their winning streak on the premise of scoring, the Lone Star Brahmas have built theirs on defending. Lone Star just snuck into first place last weekend after sweeping the Amarillo Bulls in North Richland Hills. They come into Corpus Christi on a three-game winning streak, having only allowed three scores over that span. They suffocated the Rays’ offense in the teams’ last matchup at NYTEX, thanks in large part to brilliant goaltending by Harvard commit Mitchell Gibson. Currently second in the NAHL in both save percentage and goals against average, Gibson has only allowed three goals once in his sixteen starts. If there is anyone who can slow down a surging IceRays attack and stymie their growing confidence, he will be the one to do it. The Brahmas are infamous for their ability to prevent shots on goal, so the IceRays will have no choice but to capitalize on their scoring chances if they wish to extend their winning streak.

Top Line Firing on All Cylinders
Rylee St. Onge, Aleksi Peltonen, and Larry Jungwirth were grouped up on the same line together as an experiment at the start of the Topeka stretch two weeks ago. Since then, they’ve heavily impacted each game in a positive way. Of the 19 goals the Rays had against Topeka over four games, this line scored ten of them. They have a combined 20 points throughout the four-game stretch and have had instant chemistry since the beginning. It seems to be a perfect blend of different skillsets: a sniper, a playmaker, and a dangler, and the result has been one of the most potent experiments Brad Flynn has concocted this season. They will be heavily relied upon to generate offense against a team which does not allow much in the realm of flow or creativity. It will be interesting to watch how effectively Gibson and the Brahmas can shut down one of the hottest lines in the NAHL this weekend.

Gaps Closing in the South
It’s been four years since a South Division playoff berth wasn’t contested by a small number of points. It is known to be the most punishing and arguably the most competitive division in the NAHL. Typically the longer the season goes on, the more teams begin to distance themselves. This season seems to be having the opposite effect. The IceRays are now just a sweep away from jumping from fifth to third in the South, and while the top and bottom of the South now have some separation, the middle has been an utter toss-up so far.