When you are within driving distance of Columbus - you are also within driving distance of Cincinnati. On your average day, that is a completely meaningless tidbit for a Caps fan. But, unbeknownst to those who don't know it - Cincinnati is home to an ECHL team -- the Cyclones.
Tonight (and last night) the Caps' ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, were in the Nasty 'Nati to play the aforementioned Cyclones. So, for a weekend, the Queen City had a bit of relevance to the Caps organization. And while I did not attend Friday night's game -- I was at US Bank Arena tonight to see the 2nd game of the 2-game series.
On Friday night, the Stingrays dropped a 4-3 decision the Cyclones. So, tonight (Saturday) they were going for the split. Philipp Grubauer (4th round pick, 2010 NHL Draft, ECHL Goalie of the Month November + January) got the nod in net for South Carolina in both games. For what it's worth, I thought he played just fine tonight.
The Cyclones only had 17 shots tonight. Normally, when a goalie gives up 3 goals on 17 shots you could argue that is an inherently mediocre performance. But, I really don't think any of the Cincinnati goals could be pinned on Grubauer.
South Carolina, as a whole, struggled offensively and -- especially on the power play. The Stingrays were 1 for 7 overall on the PP tonight. The Cyclones took four minor penalties in the 1st period alone. Yet, Cincinnati led 2 to 1 at 1st intermission. Yikes!
The Stingrays opened the scoring via a 2-man advantage. While Cincinnati's Michael Pelech was in the box for a blatant hold -- Taylor Aronson (also of the Cyclones) took a sloppy delay of game penalty 14:16 into the 1st period. Just 21 seconds later, South Carolina's Mike Hamilton banged one in from very close range. But that 2-man advantage was the only time the Stingrays looked competent on the PP.
In fact, just 29 seconds after the Stingrays took a 1-0 lead, Cincinnati equalized with a 4 on 5 shorthanded tally. That goal - and all 3 of the Cyclones goals - happened at the far end of the arena from my seats. But, it just looked like shoddy defensive play in the Stingrays' zone that led to an inexcusable scoring chance for Cincinnati. In effect, Grubauer was hung out to dry.
I don't know if scoring a 5 on 3 goal only to give up a 4 on 5 goal is cause for post-game Herbies -- but it was sad to watch. With all the power plays that the Stingrays had in the first, I thought they'd head into the locker room up 2 to 0 or 3 to 0. But, towards the end of the first I thought they should be grateful to be tied at 1.
Of course, they didn't head into first intermission tied at 1. With just 28 seconds left in the first, Cincinnati's Maury Edwards blasted a slapshot from the point past Grubauer. In my opinion, absolutely nothing the goalie could do on the play. In fact, I thought the shot was deflected along the way. But, seemingly the official scorer thought otherwise. Not necessarily a defensive breakdown by South Carolina -- but obviously very bad form to give up a goal that late in the period.
From there I think the teams played an even, moderately exciting hockey game. There certainly weren't an abundance of scoring chances. If you like offense - the rest of the game was pretty disappointing. The one exception to that was the Stingrays' equalizer in the 2nd period.
Precisely 12 minutes into the middle stanza, South Carolina's David de Kastrozza found an opening in the high-slot and just roofed a nasty wrister past Cincinnati goalie Brad Fogal. Holy shit. Alex Semin would have been impressed. It was just a dirty shot. It was an isolated incident in a game with very few fireworks. But, give credit where it is due, that was, in my opinion, the most exciting moment of the game.
And, on the defensive side, South Carolina only allowed 3 shots in the 2nd period. Good for them. Again, though, with the ice tilted so much -- is only scoring 1 goal acceptable? I don't think so.
With the game tied at 2 heading into the 3rd period, it became a game that would be won by the team that wanted it more.
Or so I thought.
In reality, the game was won by the team that didn't screw up. More sloppy play from the Stingrays in their own end led to a fluke Cyclones goal 13+ minutes into the 3rd. Mathieu Aubin was credited with the goal for Cincinnati. It looked like he just deflected a stupid clearing attempt into the net. But, it was hard to see. Regardless of what happened, Philipp Grubauer was understandably caught off guard by this and had no time to react.
It was eerily similar to some of sloppy breakouts South Carolina had in the first period. But, this play resulted in a garbage goal that turned out to be the game winner. As awesome as David DeKastrozza's goal for the Stingrays was, Mathieu Aubin's was a steaming pile of shit. But, this isn't the X-games. You don't get style points for goals. They all get you one on the scoreboard.
So, South Carolina failed at its attempt to earn a weekend split. It might be a bit harsh to say they self-destructed. But, for a team that only allowed 17 shots -- they allowed 2 shitty goals and another goal with shitty timing. Their offense -- save of the DeKastrozza wrister -- was flaccid.
Add it all up, and you have a disappointing loss.
As far as some of the other Stingrays who have been at a Caps Development Camp -- I don't think any of them did anything that truly stood out to the naked eye in real-time.
Nick Tabisz, Dustin Stevenson, and Brett Flemming combined for 0 points and 0 PIM. Out of the three, I saw Dustin Stevenson on the ice the most. Seemingly, he had a fairly solid game. But, both he and Brett Flemming finished the game at -1. Nick Tabisz, who I didn't see do anything spectacular, was on the ice for DeKastrozza's goal and finished with a +1.
South Carolina, having played the most games of any team in the Eastern Conference, sits in 4th place. The Cyclones meanwhile are in 8th place -- trailing the Stingrays by 8 points. Of course -- only in the minors -- the Cyclones have a whopping 7 games in hand on the Stingrays (and have played the fewest games in the Eastern Conference).
And, so my attempt to convince you that I am an ECHL fan ends. It was nice to get a whiff of the Caps' "AA" team. But, I don't know how many Stingrays games I'll catch on internet radio. I am curious to see if any of these guys make the double-jump up to the big show. From what I've heard, Philipp Grubauer has the best shot.
A sample size of 1 can obviously only tell you so much. I could see the AHL time being a lock. Hopefully, with him being only 20, he's got plenty of time to get up to the NHL. Good luck to him!
Well, the Hershey Bears lost tonight as well. So, the farm teams didn't get it done. But, the Caps got a 3-0 win this afternoon and they'll be on NBC tomorrow against the Bruins.
Who would have thought with the way the Caps have been playing they'd be the bright spot in the organization? Funny how things work.
Good luck to the Stingrays the rest of the way. And may we see the Bears and Caps make deep runs this summer.
See you all tomorrow afternoon on the Twittersphere for the Caps/Bruins game........