Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said his team's dreadful performance lately has reminded him of the movie Groundhog Day, but A Nightmare on Jefferson Avenue might be a more appropriate comparison.
Toledo saw its season-high losing streak extend to five games with a 3-2 loss to South Carolina on Sunday afternoon at the Huntington Center.
Turnovers, poor puck movement in their own end, and a lack of offensive punch have become routine problems for the Walleye who fell to 13-18-1.
Toledo, which has lost four in a row at home, remains in last place in the ECHL North Division and has the second fewest points in the league.
"It feels like Groundhog Day," Vitucci said. "We're like Bill Murray. We're living the same nightmare over and over right now. It's embarrassing."
Toledo held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period before an announced afternoon crowd of 4,144. But South Carolina tied it in the second period and tallied the game winner early in the third period.
Rookies Andrej Nestrasil and Joey Martin scored for Toledo. Goalie Rob Nolan, who started in his third straight game since being acquired in a trade on Jan. 4, finished with 23 saves on 26 shots.
"This falls on me," Nolan said. "As a backstop I have to make big saves when I can. I have to step up and be better. You want to be the goalie that can make the big saves went it counts. You want to be able to bail out the boys. I'm excited to be here. I have to be better."
But two of the Stingrays goals came as a direct result of Walleye turnovers.
"On two of their three goals we had full control of the puck in our own end with a controlled breakout and we turned it over," Vitucci said. "Ten second later and it's in our own net. We shoot ourselves in the [foot] time after time."
The game was tied at 2 after two periods. South Carolina scored the winner when a puck deflected off a Walleye defenseman and into the Toledo net with 16:24 left in the game.
Toledo had two power plays in the third period but could not find the equalizer. The Walleye went 1 of 4 with the man advantage on Sunday and scored on just 2 of 16 power plays in three consecutive losses at home this weekend.
"It was a [kicking] motion. I didn't have an issue with that," Vitucci said.
The Walleye pulled Nolan with 1:24 left but couldn't tie it.
"Obviously we're really frustrated," Martin said. "We're competing hard but the bounces aren't going our way. We have to put it behind us.
"We're getting our chances, so that's a positive."
Just 1:03 after South Carolina tied it at 1 in the first period, Toledo regained the lead when Martin scored his eighth goal of the season. Martin scored on a backhander off his own rebound to make it 2-1 with 8:32 left in the first period.
Nestrasil scored a power play goal just 4:28 into the game. Bryan Rufenach took the initial shot that bounced off of Matte and Nestrasil pounced on the loose puck to make it 1-0.
But South Carolina tied it when the Walleye turned the puck over in their own end. David de Kastrozza had two swipes at the puck and scored on his own rebound with 9:35 left in the first period.
South Carolina tied the game at 2 when Pierre-Luc O'Brien tipped in a shot from Derek Keller with 12:28 left in the second period. Toledo did not get its first shot in the middle period until 9:46 was left.
Four of the team's top 10 scorers remain in the AHL and are among a handful of players that have been called up. Nolan is the fifth goalie to start for Toledo this season.
"We have 10 guys in the American Hockey League," Vitucci said. "Getting three or four of them back sure would change the dynamics of this hockey club. And coaches aren't ringing the phone off the hook looking for players [to trade for] from our hockey club and deservedly so. We're a last place hockey team. It's time to start watching the standings now."
Toledo plays four games in five days beginning Wednesday at Wheeling. The Walleye then host the Nailers on Friday and play at Kalamazoo on Saturday before returning home to play the K-Wings again on Sunday.
"As soon as we get one [win] it will take a little pressure off," Nolan said. "Today we played hard. It is just a bounce here or there. We just have to keep at it and stay together."
FISH TALES: Toledo finished with a 29-26 edge in shots on goal. … The Walleye are now 2-4-0 when tied after two periods, while South Carolina improved to 5-1-0. … This weekend Toledo lost to two teams that also are in last place in their respective divisions. South Carolina is last in the South Division and Trenton is last in the Atlantic. … Toledo has scored just 10 goals in its last seven games and is 2-5-0 in those games. Overall, the Walleye have been outscored 105-90. They are allowing 3.2 goals per game and are scoring 2.8 per contest.
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