It honestly feels like the season just started and here we are in the final two weeks of the 2014-15 campaign. With six games left on the slate and three points out of a playoff spot, the Cincinnati Cyclones (28-29-9) will have to put on one hell of a show considering four of their final six will be against the top two teams in the North Division. As the title would elude to, it starts on Tuesday night at home against the division-leading Toledo Walleye (45-14-6).
If you weren’t with us inside WesBanco Arena in Wheeling, West Virginia on Sunday afternoon, life became a lot harder for Cyclones fans. It got started just two minutes into the 1st period as the Cyclones attempt to clear the defensive zone failed, it bounced right to Sahir Gill, who cut to the slot and beat Rob Madore over the glove to make it 1-0 Wheeling. It would only take about half a period for the Cyclones to respond. On the penalty kill, Stephan Vigier picked the pocket of a Wheeling forward, raced in shorthanded and beat Eric Hartzell top shelf to draw the Cyclones even at one.
In the 2nd period, the Cyclones would take their first lead of the night about eight-and-a-half minutes in as a scramble effort in front of the net, the puck pinballed in the crease right to the stick of the former Nailer, Christiaan Minella who slam-dunked it home for a 2-1 Cincinnati lead. This is the part where it began to snowball downhill, and downhill fast. Nonstop action in the Cyclones end and Sahir Gill finally victimized them for it. They got it out of the zone momentarily, turned it right over to Gill who beat Madore almost identically to how he beat him in the first for his second of the night to draw the game even at 2.
In the 3rd period, on a Wheeling power play, the Nailers would once again victimize the Cyclones on a failed clearing attempt. Tic-tac-toe style, Sahir Gill to David Gilbert to Chaz Johnson who tapped it in for a 3-2 Wheeling game. Gill would complete the hat trick just mere minutes later. Gill was parked in the slot, Derek Army won the puck battle along the boards, found Gill in the slot, and he one-times it off the crossbar and in to put this one out of reach at 4-2 Nailers. The Cyclones would make it interesting as in the dying minutes of the third, Jack Combs roofed David MacDonald’s rebound to draw Cincinnati within 1 at 4-3. Comeback efforts would fall short as Wheeling would escape with a 4-3 victory.
This is the second straight year Wheeling and Cincinnati have split their season series. In 2013-2014: The two clubs split a 12 game season series with 6-5-1 records against each other. In 2014-2015: The two clubs split a 4 game season series with 2-2-0 records against each other.
Now onto the more important stuff of what’s on tap Tuesday night. A red hot Toledo comes to town. Despite the two team’s records, one obviously emasculating the other, these Toledo/Cincinnati games have actually been some of the competitive games we’ve seen all season. Five games of a seven game season series have been played and the Clones currently rock a 2-2-1 record against the Walleye. This very well could be a 1st Round preview if the Cyclones somehow, someway manage to sneak their way into the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
If you pay any attention to the NHL, you’ll see that in regards to goaltenders, taller guys are favored between the pipes. There are goaltenders in the minor leagues such as the ECHL proving that height is overrated when deciding if a goaltender is good or not. Toledo is bringing one of those men in goaltender, Jeff Lerg. Stacked at 5’6″, Lerg has been absolutely incredible this season. He’s posted a 29-8-2 record between the pipes with a goals against average of 2.32 and a save percentage of .921. The reigning ECHL Goalie of the Week has also been a thorn in Cincinnati’s side. The Cyclones haven’t gotten a W against Lerg since way back on opening night on October 18th. In shorter term’s: He’s Toledo’s version of Rob Madore.
With this Toledo team, there’s no fooling around. They have the league’s second best offensive core, the league’s best goal differential, and the best special teams as both their Power Play and Penalty Kill are the best in the league. If you’re going to beat them, you’ve got to shut them down early and give them absolutely nothing to work with. They’re a very fast transition team and one minor mistake can turn into a goals against if you’re not careful.
They’re almost lights out at home. It is nearly impossible to beat them inside Toledo’s Huntington Center. But, if you take them away from home ice, the road is where their flaws show up a little bit, and believe it or not, the Cyclones play their better hockey at home even though over the past few years, home ice advantage has been nonexistent in Cincinnati. That’s exactly what we have; a Toledo team that has its flaws on the road, in our building. In fact, the only game between these two that’s been played in Cincinnati so far this season, the Cyclones won.
Players to watch Tuesday night:
Cincinnati: F Jack Combs – He’s the Cyclones point leader, although most of his damage being done in Allen. In three games with Cincinnati, Combs has tallied for four goals and an assist for five points and is a +2.
Toledo: F Tyler Barnes – The rookie forwards leads the Walleye in points. He leads Toledo in assists against Cincinnati with three. If the Cyclones want to come out of this victorious, they absolutely have to keep the puck away from the dangerous rookie.
We drop the puck from Downtown Cincinnati inside U.S. Bank Arena at 7:35pm EST. If you can’t be with us in person, follow along on Twitter (@SinBinCyclones) for updates all game long.