We’ve been a little quiet over here at CycWords lately, but let’s be honest; we really haven’t much to talk about. The Cyclones, who are notoriously slow starters, have taken it to a new level this year, winning just 2 games in Their 1st 10 and requiring 11 games to tally Their 1st win in regulation. We knew that with wholesale changes to the coaching staff we would be seeing some serious changes to the over all play of the Squad. However, with so many returning players from last years Championship team returning, the sluggish start is disappointing to say the least.
The tide could be changing as the Boys managed to take 3 out or 4 possible points on Their recent road trip, losing in OT to Trenton and fighting off Wheeling for Their 1st regulation win. The positive trend continued when the ‘Clones returned home to defeat the Toledo Walleye for Their 1st home win of the season.
While current streak of earning points is nice and we’re optimistic, we still have concerns; starting at the final line of defense, goaltending. The Cyclones goalie tandem currently consists of Marc Cheverie and Chet Pickard. Pickard, who was demoted by the Nasheville Predators from the AHL Milwaukee Admirals to the Cyclones, has been off his game for some time. He is struggling in most facets of his game. Outside of a few acrobatic saves, his play is that he may have had a hard time making an ECHL level team on a free agent try-out; potential can only get a player so far. Marc Cheverie, on the other hand, is playing very strong as he has for most of the season, but he’s a rookie netminder and we can’t expect him to continue at this level without suitable rest. If Pickard can’t get his game back with some consistency, it could be a long season.
The defense seems to be improving as well, at least based on the goals against the past few games. The concern here is that the Boys are still giving up a lot of shots. In the last 3 games the ‘Clones have been out shot 123 to 56 (55 to 21 vs Trenton, 38 to 16 vs Wheeling and 30 to 19 vs Toledo). Granted, those numbers came from ECHL score sheets so their accuracy is questionable, but it’s a disturbing trend regardless. Even if all those shots are coming from low risk areas, a team can’t expect to win a lot of games getting out shot 2 to 1, requiring the netminder to play shutout or 1 goal hockey on a nightly basis. While the shot differential is concerning, the transition defense has improved greatly limiting the odd man rushes that were common place very early on. There are still some issues with controlling the puck out of the zone, but that’s a blog post for another day…
While the defense is showing signs of improving, the offense is still in neutral. They have only netted more than 3 goals in a game twice this season; in the OT win over Elmira and in the OT loss to Trenton. The Team has given up more then 3 goals per game in 7 of Their tilts thus far, so it would be nice if the Boys would find Their scoring touches sooner rather than later. However, we recall that last season we waited for the offense to start clicking as well, but it never really did. Instead, last years team shored up the defensive zone play and simply out worked Their opponents on a nightly basis. It wasn’t always the prettiest hockey to watch, but we know where it got them.
The offense and PK (which has gotten the job down as of late) will hopefully get a jump from the return of Dustin Sproat. Sproat, who left over the summer to play in England has returned to the Queen City. CycWords hopes to bring you more on Dustin, his time in England and his return in the weeks ahead.
The Cyclones have played all of Their Division foes at this point and with the exception of the home opener at USBA, all the games have been tightly contested. This weekend will be another test for the Squad when Eastern Conference leading Gwinnett comes to town. The Gladiators rank 3rd in the League in goals for with 41 and are fairly stingy having allowed just 30 goals in 11 games, the Cyclones by comparison have scored just 31 and allowed 42. Gwinnett also ranks well in both the power play and penalty kill. The match up should be a good indicator of the progress the Cyclones are making.