TOLEDO, Ohio – After the Toledo Walleye started the year clicking on all eight cylinders, the Walleye have hit a road bump of late. The team has played sluggishly for most of December and lost three games in a four-game stretch last week.
The biggest take away from the Walleye’s struggles is how off the defense looks. In five games this month, the Walleye have allowed 18 goals. Second-year guys like Samuel Thibault who signed over the summer from the Wichita Thunder and Brenden Kotak who signed from the Greenville Swamp Rabbits both showed they can play high level but still need time for improvement and to learn Toledo system.
Despite the struggles on defense, there are several bright spots on the back end for the Walleye. Defensemen like Ryan Obuchowski or Kevin Tansey continue to play at a high level, while defensive rookie Marcus Crawford has put together a quiet, but solid rookie campaign with seven points in 17 games. But without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest positive to the Walleye defense was adding veteran Matt Register, who adds a point-per-game effort on the backend, something Toledo really has never had. This is a defense that can be strong but for now, it needs to find it’s footing.
Another issue so far for December is Toledo scoring, which has slowed down from its torrid pace in October and November. Top forwards Shane Berschbach and T.J. Hensick have combined for four points (all assists) in the team’s five games this month. Missing from the lineup is forward A.J. Jenks, who has been sidelined last week with a knee injury and having flu-like symptoms. Perhaps the biggest disappointment offensively has been Daniel Leavens, who signed with Toledo during the offseason after his rights were traded from Wichita. After putting up 42 points in 47 games with the Rapid City Rush, Leavens has struggled mightily at times, only posting nine points (2G, 7A) in 16 games. One of the few positives for the offense this month has been Dan DeSalvo, who had four assists in his four games in a Walleye uniform after coming over from the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters.
What has stayed constant through the downturn is goaltending. After a stellar first year last year in Toledo, Pat Nagle continues to be a solid veteran goaltender and backbone of the team. Nagle has lost two of his three starts this month, but still, has a 9-3-1-0 record, 2.75 goals against average and a .904 save percentage.
After a winning a title in the Ontario Hockey League with the Hamilton Bulldogs, rookie goaltender Kaden Fulcher has been proving himself at the pro level. Fulcher has been seeing the puck well and standing tall in net. The 20-year-old rookie has gotten off to a 6-2-1-0 start, with a 2.84 goals against average, and a .906 save percentage. When the Walleye issues up front correct themselves, the duo of Nagle and Fulcher could prove to be a dynamic duo in the second half of the season.
The Walleye looks to right the ship this weekend, playing the Norfolk Admirals on Friday and playing the Fort Wayne Komets on the road Saturday night.