The Walleye scored a power-play goal Sunday evening.
It took them 59 minutes and 40 seconds, but they got it. Actually it took them more then three weeks and 10 games.
But when Kyle Rogers snuck the puck past Cincinnati goalie Michael Houser with 20 seconds left in regulation, it was like a black cloud lifted.
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The elation of 6,522 fans, about 20 players, and two coaches didn’t last long — it took the visiting Cyclones just 90 seconds of overtime to score a 2-1 victory — but it did snag the Walleye a point in the standings, and they broke even in that regard on a three-game weekend homestand at the Huntington Center.
Cincinnati’s coaches and players will tell you that the Walleye skid is intact and that Rogers kicked the puck into the net and that the goal should have been disallowed. Toledo coach Nick Vitucci thought Rogers used his skate to stop the rebound of a shot by Wes O’Neill, and then poked it with his stick. The referee must have agreed.
The Walleye will take it either way because, frankly, the power-less play was weighing on them.
“Yeah, sure it was,” Rogers said. “Hockey is a power play, penalty-kill game, the special teams, so that’s important. Fortunately, we have a lot of skill in this locker room so we don’t have to rely on [the power play]. But we know if we can get it going we can be really tough to beat.
“So, hopefully, that goal was a big step. We’ve been struggling, no question. Maybe this will get us started.”
The Walleye were trailing 1-0 and skating with a 6-on-4 advantage after a late Cincy penalty and with goalie Jordan Pearce on the bench for an extra skater. Hey, whatever it takes.
Maybe the best thing about the goal wasn’t the end, but the beginning. It started with a blistering shot by O’Neill and if any power play is going to be successful it must start with a defenseman who can get the puck from either side of the point to the net with some authority.
“You need a guy with a quick shot,” Vitucci said. “The name of the game is getting pucks to the net and going after rebounds. We had it for awhile with [Ben] Youds, who was mobile and was pretty good teeing it up. We lost him and we kind of lost that quarterback.”
Youds was with the Walleye for the season’s first 33 games before the NHL lockout ended and he moved up the ladder. Toledo’s power play problems since may not be a coincidence.
The Fish had gone without since a game on Feb. 1 and were 0-for-26 while a man up until Rogers turned on the light.
Vitucci said the Walleye will continue to “tinker” with their power play strategy and player combinations. He used five forwards on one power play shift against the Cyclones.
There used to be secrets in hockey, especially in the minor leagues. Not now. Everything is on video at the touch of a fingertip to a laptop. You want to watch Saturday night’s game between Las Vegas and Alaska? It’s there.
Every team knows how its opponent enters the zone on the power play, how it sets up, and each player’s tendencies with and without the puck.
So it might just come down to which team works harder, gets off more shots, and is aggressive at the net. It helps if said team doesn’t feel jinxed. It could be that simple.
So the Walleye had to breathe a sigh of relief, even if the excitement didn’t last long.
“It’s looking good,” Vitucci said of his team’s power play. “Well, better. At least we tasted a little success with it tonight and we can look to build on it.”
And “it” may dictate how far his team gets come playoff time. The refs tend to let teams go at it a little more then and there are fewer penalties called. But, suggested Vitucci, “you had best take advantage of the opportunities.”
The Walleye, despite dropping their last two via turnovers and/or soft goals, aren’t bad. They’re 10 games over .500 and closing in on some franchise win records.
What they do on the power play from here out may well define just how good they become.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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