The holiday break has come and gone. We hope you had happy holiday, merry Christmas (or whatever suits your fancy), and a safe and happy New Year. If you didn’t, watch this little nugget from the Belfast Giants. Yes, it’s old and we’ve posted it before, but it never gets old. It never fails to make us laugh, even in the middle of July when the ice has long melted.
Now that the holiday well wishing is out of the way, let’s get on to more important business. As the ball dropped in New York City, the Cyclones found themselves sitting atop the North Division. The Toledo Walleye trailed the ‘Clones by 2 points and the Fort Wayne Komets trailed by 6. The Cyclones have 2 games in hand on Toledo and 1 on Fort Wayne. The Cyclones have amassed a 19-10-2 record and, according to this weeks press release, if they manage to win Their next game before February 3rd, it will be the fastest They’ve reached the 20 win mark since the 09-10 season and 3rd fastest in club history (we’ll give you one guess which year’s team did it the fastest).
The ‘Clones have to look no further than Their improved performance on the road. Last year’s Squad faltered to a 9-21-6 (24pts) on the road while this year’s Team already sits on 18pts and looks to notch Their 9th win this Friday in Fort Wayne. In fact, the 2012-2013 Cyclones have practically the same winning percentage on the road as they do at home. The overall improvement in Team defense has to play a large role in the consistency we’re seeing from the Cyclones this season.
The Cyclones are in an interesting situation, carrying 3 goalies on the roster; 1 journeyman and 2 prospects. All 3 are affiliated making it an interesting dilemma for Coach Skalde to balance the playing time. The journeyman Brian Foster (13-4-2, 2.39gaa, .914sv%) has proven to a more than capable workhorse and is clearly the go to guy for Coach Skalde. The kids have to play as they say and both Zoltan Hetenyi (3-4-0, 2.83gaa, .887sz%) and Michael Houser (2-1-0, 3.33gaa .907sv%) will need to get more than 1 game a month to stay in game shape. Luckily, the Cyclones schedule is back loaded and with the games stacking up it shouldn’t be too difficult to get to get all of them some games. If the Boys play as They’re capable we’re comfortable with any of the 3 in the pipes. At the end of the day though, it’s about winning games and Foster has the favor of Coach Skalde, so look for him to continue to carry the load.
The last time the Cyclones skated on the ice US Bank arena They faced the Elmira Jackals. It was a game that, by the box score, looked rather close. The ‘Clones lead 1-0 to end the 1st period but the 2nd saw the Jackals take control of the middle of the ice, they scored 3 times, seizing momentum, and the Cyclones lost control of the game. It seemed like a script, the Cyclones lead early but the game slips away in the 2nd period, sometimes they manage to come back, some times the make it close but fall short. It made us want to take a look at 2nd periods to this point in the season to see if there’s something to it or if it’s all in our heads.
The key stat we took into account was 2nd period goal differential. We also looked at 2nd period shot differential. Shot totals can sometimes indicate the amount of puck possession a team has, but shot total accuracy varies from building to building around the league so take it for what it’s worth. What we found was an interesting trend. Over 31 games the ‘Clones are +2 during the 2nd period and are -12 on shots. However, in the losses the Cyclones are -13 in goal differential and -24 in shots. So it does seem to be some substance to the thought that the 2nd period is where the game can slip away from the ‘Clones.
The Cyclones have played in an abundance of close games this season so it’s natural we keep looking at the special teams play. The ‘Clones power play has crept up to 15.3 percent and while that’s not great it’s quite the improvement from where it was a few weeks prior. The power play has been steady as of late in the low 80′s. It’s currently at 82.9%, which ranks 10th in the League. It’s hard to find much to criticize about a team on top of Their division and winning 64.5% of Their games, but with the number of close games they’ve been involved in, it’s hard to think of where they’d be if the special teams (especially the power play) were even a few points more efficient.
Coach Skalde has made a couple of player transactions of late. The 1st of which was cashing in the “future considerations” owed the Cyclones by Wheeling in return for Andrew Hotham. It was a 3 team deal that saw the ‘Clones acquire Andrew Conboy from Trenton. Yes, the same Andrew Conboy that earned a game misconduct for jumping Mathieu Aubin a frew months back. He’s always been a physical player, one could argue he borders on being a goon. He’s a big kid and needs to be physical to be effective. He certainly adds a physical element to the the Cyclones that is lacking with Mattias Lindstrom on reserve, and let’s face it, with the defensive roster looking a little thin right now the Boys can’t afford to lose David MacDonald for a 5 minute stretch and while we love seeing Garret Wilson throw his weight around we’d rather have him on the ice as well. Conboy is more than just a fighter and while he may not be a game changer offensively, he certainly isn’t a liability either. He’s a big body the ‘Clones can throw in front of the net; a game plan that already yielded a game wining goal for the Team in his debut. The question is can he keep is cool and avoid the “bad” penalties he’s been known for over the years.
The Cyclones will have a new face on the blueline tonight when they take the ice in Fort Wayne after sending Maury Edwards to Florida in return for Taylor Ellington. On paper it looks like the Cyclones got the better end of the deal swapping the undrafted Edwards for Ellington, Vancouver’s 2nd round pick in the 2007 draft. However, the 33rd over all pick in the 2007 draft has spent the bulk of his career in the ECHL, logging games for Victoria, Kalamazoo, Chicago and Florida; that’s not something you typically see from a player drafted in the 2nd round. He’s got good size for a defenseman at any level as well, so what’s the catch? His write up on hockeysfuture.com might help shed some light on it:
“A reliable defender, Ellington has tremendous reach and begun to develop a mean streak in the defensive end of the rink. Ellington cites his strengths as: his first pass on breakouts and his decision-making in the defending zone. His puck skills have improved but still need some work, as does his skating.“
Overall, we think Ellington will be an upgrade for the ‘Clones blueline. While Edwards had shown improvement over last season he was still mistake prone; and his mistakes weren’t typically small ones, they usually lead to the red light turning on behind a Cyclones goalie.
Finally, it’s do or die time for the NHL. We’re not going to post link after link to what’s going between the League and Players Association. If you’re a reader of this blog you probably have an idea of where things stand and know next week is the deadline for getting a deal done and starting an abbreviated season on January 19th according to Commissioner Gary Bettman. If an 11th hour deal gets done expect some changes in the Cyclones roster. On the flipside, the Cyclones could see some new faces should the NHL season get cancelled. We aren’t going to speculate on who, but listen to the Coach’s Show from 12/17/12 and you’ll hear Coach Skalde mention that he’s had contact with a few NHL players about playing in Cincinnati during the lockout. However, with so many affiliated players and so few roster spots available for free agents, signing any would have been a risky move should the lockout end. However, with the cancellation of the NHL season a very real possibility, could Skalde pull the trigger and bring in some NHL talent?