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Preview: IceRays @ Odessa Jackalopes (Game 41)

Rays Shut Out Mudbugs on Home Ice

The IceRays had played the first 2/3 of the season without managing to secure a shutout. In a league and division growing in parity and skill every year, shutting a team out becomes increasingly difficult. To do so against the third-highest scoring squad in the NAHL this season on the other end of a 6-2 defeat is all the more impressive.

Yes, Jake Acton played an outstanding game, his best of the season. Yet goaltenders will often be the first to admit that shutouts are a team affair and do not merely reflect the efforts of a single individual. Acton had to make a handful of terrific saves, as is the case in any shutout. But more than anything, the IceRays did a better job of limiting Shreveport’s scoring chances than they had all season. They grinded the Mudbugs down throughout the night, finishing every check possible and competing with an edge as though every shift were their last. Playing at such an intense level is not, realistically, a sustainable policy for each of the 20 games remaining this regular season. However, the Rays again proved to themselves that having the hate-to-lose mindset they had on Saturday is an effective one that can carry them to victory against the top teams in the NAHL.

The Matchup

Odessa has been the IceRays’ most frustrating opponent to play against this season. The Rays have only won one of their six matchups against them, yet the head-to-head goal differential is a narrow 21-19 favoring the Jackalopes. This anomaly indicates that Corpus Christi has struggled to win the close games against this squad, which has certainly been the case. Three times this season the IceRays have fallen to Odessa in extra time, and the other two were decided by a single non-empty net goal.

This weekend will be the Rays’ final visit to the Jack Shack this season. Their last game there, the offense exploded to yield its highest goal total in a single game since March 4th, 2017. The 7-3 victory sent the Rays on their holiday break on a euphoric note, and they are still riding high after having just shut out the first-place team in the South. They will be countered by a Jackalopes group that’s had a middling month of January but is finally returning home after an eight-game road stretch.

Miller Suspended

Brendan Miller has been suspended for a game due to his collision with Shreveport’s goaltender Gustavs Grigals last Friday night. The incident resulted in a roughing minor called against Miller and no lasting injury to Grigals, but the IceRays captain was suspended all the same.

It’s the third time this season Miller has received disciplinary action from the NAHL, and in all three scenarios he seemed to have been a victim of circumstance more than anything. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time has, unfortunately, been an issue for Miller in his final season of junior hockey, and at Karlis Zirnis/Alex Spencer’s behest, Miller threw his gloves down and fought the 6’4, 215 pound defenseman just 32 seconds into Saturday night’s tilt. Clearly winning the fight generated a resounding morale boost on the IceRays bench, as his team proceeded to hit everything in sight and wear down the Mudbugs throughout the rest of the night. As usual, the Rays will need to find ways to chip in a tad more than they normally do in Miller’s absence this evening. They have been able to do so fairly well this season, as they are 2-1-0 in games without their captain.

Lights, Camera, Acton

The spotlight will remain on Jake Acton this weekend, as he will shoulder every minute of the weekend workload unless he is injured. Chad Veltri is making swift progress but is still recovering, so the emergency goaltender Tyler Myers has travelled to Odessa with the team. Acton is coming off a remarkable bounce-back game last Saturday night, but he is still seeking his first victory against the Jackalopes. In two matchups versus Odessa this season, Acton has posted an overtime loss, a shootout loss, a .918 save percentage and a 3.69 goals against average.