CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Cyclones (30-21-2-0) go head-to-head against the Indy Fuel (27-25-2-1) at home tonight at 7:35 p.m.
Tonight’s contest brings with it major playoff implications. With just over a month left in the regular season, the final two spots in Central Division could go to four teams. Of the four competing for the third and fourth positions, only six points separate the current top team in the mix from the last. Cincinnati has held the third spot since defeating the Kalamazoo Wings on Feb. 18, but a three-point lead on the K-Wings in the standings is not enough to be comfortable. Every game is a must-win in order to create a larger cushion en route to securing a spot in the postseason.
To make it to mid-April when the ECHL Playoffs begin, the Cyclones will need to shutdown the Fuel, a team which has had their number all season. Despite boasting the higher overall win percentage, Cincinnati has yet to win a game against Indy (0-4-1-0).
For the Cyclones to come out victorious, statistically speaking, the number one thing they need to do is stay out of the penalty box. Indy boasts the highest power play percentage in the ECHL at 23.2%, while Cincy has the worst penalty kill in the league at 76.0%. Of the 20 goals the Fuel has put on the Cyclones this season, six came from power play opportunities, and the Cyclones have held the Fuel scoreless on the man advantage only once. That pales in comparison to the single power-play goal Cincy has put past them.
The Fuel bring with them two players on a hot streak. Robin Press holds the longest current point streak in the ECHL, scoring four goals and nine assists (13 pts) in nine games. In the midst of an impressive point streak of his own, Alex Wideman comes into the game with three goals and ten assists (13 pts) during eight games.
While Indy brings with it an arsenal of talent and statistics, Cincinnati has been making waves of its own. With Justin Danforth and Daniel Muzito-Bagenda up in the AHL with the AHL affiliate Rochester Americans, the Cyclones have not skipped a beat. Everyone on the ice has stepped up their game both offensively and defensively, proving how talented this team is all around.
Per usual, Jesse Schultz has torn it up, leading the active roster in points (58) and assists (42). Justin Vaive continues to be a valuable force, bringing with him a physically strong game, as well as a skillful one. The same can be said for Brandon McNally, who, after a quick two-game stint with the Chicago Wolves, scored the overtime winner on Wednesday night against the South Carolina Stingrays. Not to go unmentioned, the unsung heroes of the team – Rob De Fulviis, Dominic Zombo, and newcomer Eric Diodati, to name a few – have kept the Cyclones competitive in all aspects of the game.
Goaltending has been a bright spot for Cincinnati as of late as well. Jonas Johansson earned himself ECHL Week’s Flashin’ Leather award for Wednesday after holding the Stingrays to only one goal in 27 shots.
After tonight’s contest, the Cyclones will play one more game at home and then hit the road for two weeks for a three-game trip.