Tight Mid-Week Game at the Bug Pond
In virtually all of their tilts against Shreveport this season, the IceRays have done one of two things. They’ve either played extremely good hockey, putting the first-place Mudbugs down with excellent playmaking and finishing, or they’ve fallen flat and silent, seemingly failing to generate consistent pressure or production. Though they competed from start-to-finish against the Bugs on Wednesday night, their scoring chances were so few they did not manage to tuck a shot past James Durham.
Durham was a big reason for the IceRays’ offensive struggles, as he backstopped Shreveport to his fifth shutout of the season and second against Corpus Christi. However, it is fair to say that the things not in the Rays’ control—such as the bounces and the officiating—did not go their way in the slightest. The Mudbugs’ insurance goal in the third period was scored because of a very fluky and fortuitous bounce, while the penalty for delay-of-game called against Matt Acciaioli late in the third period was both costly and unjustified. Sure, the game could have gone differently, but the Rays will need to begin converting on their scoring opportunities as they prepare to take on the red-hot Odessa Jackalopes.
Odessa remains the only team in the division the IceRays have yet to defeat this season. In their five-game road stretch heading into the Christmas break, the Rays have been faced with the top three teams in the South, two of which are on a massive point streak.
The Jackalopes haven’t lost a game in regulation in nearly a month, when they were blown out 5-0 by Shreveport at the Pond on November 18th. Since then, they swept the IceRays in Odessa, took 3 of 4 points from the Brahmas at NYTEX, and swept the RoadRunners in Topeka in a three-game series, all of which were decided in regulation.
To cool them off, the IceRays will have to begin capitalizing the way they did during their seven-game point streak. They haven’t scored three non-empty net goals in a game since their streak, which is something they were doing on the regular during November. The Rays are deep and very strong defensively, and they will be an extremely difficult team to defeat should their attack return to elite form, as we know it’s capable of doing.
Penalty Kill Thriving
Corpus Christi’s penalty kill has risen up the NAHL ranks. It’s now in the top half of the league leaderboards, clicking at 80.2% (10). They’ve not allowed a power play goal in four games, having now killed off 17 man-advantages in a row. However, the IceRays’ PK will be put to the test this weekend. Odessa’s power play has been firing on all cylinders, clicking at 38.5% over its seven-game point streak (10-for-26).
The IceRays’ youngest player, who so effectively filled the void left by Aleksi Peltonen, will not be available this weekend. Without Thomson, Peltonen, and now Koreshkov, the Rays’ top center spot is vacant again. The choice will be made by committee, as several options still remain for potential candidates to center Rylee St. Onge and Larry Jungwirth.
CJ Regula has been a strong defensive center and faceoff specialist, and has more experience in the NAHL than any of his counterparts. Noah Roofe, who did not start the season at center, has assumed the role brilliantly after picking up a great deal of slack following Peltonen’s departure. Matus Havrila and Andrew Logar each have enough skill and playmaking ability to play alongside the IceRays’ top sharpshooters. An interesting decision lies ahead for Brad Flynn. All four of these options are viable, but for all four of them, there will likely be a fairly significant adjustment involved.