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CINCINNATI — The Walleye’s big weapons have been missing in action during Toledo’s opening-round playoff series.
Leading scorer Willie Coetzee has not registered a point in the Walleye’s three straight losses to Cincinnati. Toledo finds itself in a deep hole, trailing 3-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Cyclones have an opportunity to sweep the Walleye at home in Game 4 at 7:30 p.m. today at U.S. Bank Arena.
Captain Kyle Rogers, the team’s second-leading scorer, also does not have a point. But the veteran forward said Toledo’s offense has created quality scoring chances. He credited the play of Cincinnati rookie goalie Michael Houser.
“We just need to stick with our game plan and go forward,” Rogers said. “We just have to start burying them. We just have to keep going.”
Coetzee led the team in goals (28), assists (40), and points (68) during the regular season. Coetzee, who also led the Walleye with 260 shots, has just four shots.
Cincinnati coach Jarrod Skalde said his team focused on limiting Toledo’s top offensive threats.
“That’s a good hockey team,” Skalde said. “Up front I don’t know if any team has a better group of forwards than Toledo has. We just want to keep doing things right. We have to limit their scoring opportunities.”
Joey Martin, who ranked third on the team in the regular season with 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists), has one goal and one assist in three postseason games.
Byron Froese leads Toledo with two goals in the playoffs. Froese notched 33 points during the season. Trevor Parkes has a goal and an assist.
The Walleye also got a jolt when Andrej Nestrasil was reassigned to the team from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League on Tuesday. Nestrasil had an assist in Toledo’s 5-2 loss to the Cyclones on Wednesday.
“Martin, Parkes, Coetzee, and now Nestrasil are very good,” Skalde said.
The addition of Max Nicastro, who was sent to Toledo from Grand Rapids on Wednesday, paid immediate dividends. Nicastro tied the game at 1 on Wednesday.
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci has juggled his line combinations.
Vitucci paired Rogers with Novak and Aaron Bogosian, who had a team-high eight shots on goal Wednesday. Nestrasil was matched up with Coetzee and Froese. Adam Hobson was put on a line with both Martin and Parkes.
“[Today] is another game, and you put everything behind you and you look forward,” Vitucci said.
In the regular season, Rogers led Toledo with six points in eight games against the Cyclones.
The team also is missing its top defenseman. Ben Youds, who ranked sixth on the team with 34 points, was called up to Rockford of the AHL on Tuesday. Youds had one assist in two playoff games.
But the biggest factor has been Houser. The young goalie is 3-0 with a 1.47 goals-against average.
“He was the Canadian goalie of the year in all of junior hockey and he’s showing why,” said Vitucci, an ECHL hall of fame goaltender. “He’s a great goaltender.”
Skalde said Houser really “stole some games” the Cyclones had no business winning.
“It’s the same in this series. He’s been terrific,” Skalde said.
Cincinnati forward Mike Embach is tied for the third most points in the ECHL playoffs with six.
Rogers said mental breakdowns have hung their rookie goalie, Kent Simpson, out to dry.
“A couple of hiccups out there and it ends up in our net,” Rogers said.
Vitucci was not critical of Simpson (0-3), who has a 3.42 goals-against average in the playoffs.
“As a coach, you want your goalie to give you a chance to win and ours has. And theirs has as well,” he said.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.