CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays are in New England to take on some North Division foes on the road for the first time this year. The Stingrays had previously hosted and swept the Reading Royals in a two game set in early November. They will be taking on the Worcester Railers for the first time tonight before moving on to Manchester, NH to take on the North Division leading Monarchs in a rematch of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals Saturday and Sunday.
The South has struggled this year against the North going 14-22-2-1 and the Stingrays are hoping to reverse that trend. The Stingrays are 13-6-1-1 on the road this year but all of those games have been in confines of the familiar barns of South Division opponents.
The Stingrays have been banged up as of late and will be looking to get more bodies back in the line up. The Stingrays were only able to get 15 healthy skaters suited up for their last game against Jacksonville last Saturday night. The forwards have taken the brunt of the injuries with Trevor Gillies, Patrick Megannety, Kelly Zajac, Nick Roberto and Robbie Baillargeon all scratched last game. Dylan Margonari has only suited up four times in 2018. Frankie Simonelli and Kris Bindulis were also out on defense.
Since the first of the year there have been a few storylines that bear watching on this road trip and through the rest of the season.
Captain Joe Devin is settling into a groove. He has had five multipoint games in 2018 compared to three for all of October, November and December. His steady leadership and point production will be crucial to the long term success of this year’s team.
All-Star selection and rookie forward Taylor Cammarata has cooled off with his point production since the first of the year. While the on-ice effort is still very apparent, he has only found the back of the net once since 2018 began. He will have to settle down and trust the instincts that made him a nearly a point-a-game forward in the early part of the season. If he can re-harness the incredible scoring touch he displayed at the All-Star Classic last month, it will bode well for the Stingrays and their hopes for a long run in the post season.
Rookie forward Hampus Gustafsson has broken out of his shell in many ways during his second stint on assignment to the Stingrays via the Washington Capitals through the Hershey Bears. He has started to display a physical side to his play and been rewarded on the score sheet, posting eight points in his last 11 games, including five goals. He was assigned to South Carolina to help find his scoring touch and as his confidence has increased, so has his point production. As Hershey continues to try to find its way, he should be a prime recall option as the season progresses.
The goaltending situation appears to have settled down as much as it can with two number one goalies in net. Both Parker Milner and Jeff Jakaitis prefer shouldering the load and playing. Keeping both netminders mentally sharp and focused will be key. Both have been stellar this year and have been key to the Stingrays success.
Enough cannot be said about the defense and penalty kill this year. They are currently leading the league in shots allowed, goals allowed and the penalty kill. What has become a pleasant surprise for fans is that the offense is starting to click. The Rays have scored three or more goals in 11 of 15 games in 2018. Additionally, the power play (at least at home) has started to produce on a level not seen in several years.
If the power play can bring its success to the road this may become one of the most well-rounded teams ever seen in Charleston.