January was a busy month for your Toledo Walleye as they played 12 games over the course of 24 days. During that timeframe there was a stretch of seven games over ten days, adding to the difficulty of the task at hand. Despite this, the Walleye were able to get points in nine of those twelve contests to keep them in first place in the Central Division and top three in the league. How about a monthly performance review of each aspect of the team, as well as looking at who stood out the most.
By the time the calendar turned over from January to February the Walleye had amassed a record of 8-3-0-1. The longest streak of the month came from January 6th to the 19th as Toledo won five straight against Manchester, Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, and Kansas City (twice). Out of seven home games, the Walleye went 6-1-0-0 while winning two out of five road games. One of those road losses came in the shootout, however, as Toledo improbably tied the game with less than a minute left in Reading when down 3-1. After the month Toledo is now 28-12-2-2 and sits in third place in the ECHL behind Colorado and Florida respectively.
Over the course of January, the offense scored at least one goal in every game except for the 3-0 shutout loss to the Cyclones on the 5th. From the 5th to the 28th Toledo scored 34 times, which comes out to an average 2.83 goals scored per game. Austen Brassard earned the most point for Toledo last month by scoring three goals to go with six assists for a total of nine points. Dylan Sadowy, Erik Bradford, and Kyle Bonis were all tied for second with eight points apiece. We had a tie for most goals scored, as Shane Berschbach and Connor Crisp both lit the lamp four times for the Walleye. If you were looking for an assistant on the ice, you could have turned to either Sadowy, Bradford, or Simon Denis. All three players assisted on seven goals during January. All-in-all the offense has put up strong numbers despite injuries to key players like Alden Hirschfeld and A.J. Jenks. Speaking of which, word is that A.J. should make his return sometime in February, so expect an offensive jolt when he returns.
Now for the defense. After the final horn of the month sounded on the 28th Toledo’s defense had allowed 22 goals. Worded differently, the Walleye allowed on average 1.83 goals a game. Remember that five-game win streak I mentioned earlier? During that stretch of games our the defense did not allow more than one goal in any of those games. A solid achievement from a defensive core that is still trying to find continuity due to injury and pairing shuffling. Ryan Obuchowski and Davis Vandane have stepped up in a big way, with three-game winning goals between them. Simon Denis is beginning to show flashes of last year’s self after contributing those seven assists in January. With the signing of Mike Embach, and the eventual return of Beau Schmitz from injury, Toledo may finally see their defense reach its full potential should everyone get and stay healthy.
If you’re into polar opposites then you’ll love Toledo’s special teams. Our penalty kill (PK) continues to be dominant as they are ranked second overall in the league. Last month opposing teams had 35 power play opportunities, but only scored on 5 of those chances. For those of you that prefer percentages, our PK killed off 85.7% of the penalties they faced. Two of those power play goals were given up in the last game of the month, as prior they were 3/32, which shows you how impressive the unit has been. On the opposite side of the coin, our power play (PP) continues to struggle. Toledo’s PP had 41 chances throughout the month of January. Of all of those opportunities, we only scored five times. A 12.2% efficiency. Quite frankly, that’s unacceptable for the talent we have on our team and for what we did on the power play last season. Toledo may not have the Spinks, Rankin, Jenks, or Hirschfeld, but that can’t be an excuse anymore. One problem is that the unit has a tendency to pass too much and shoot too little, or hesitate on the shot which gives the opposing goaltender time to get into position. I completely understand that you have to pass the puck to set up the play, draw the opposing players out of position to create shooting/passing lanes, but sometimes you just have to put the puck on net. Toledo needs to turn this unit around quickly as the playoffs loom in the distance.
Pat Nagle and Matěj Machovský continue to anchor the team in a most impressive fashion. They split starts evenly last month, as both got the starting job six times. Nagle ended January with a record of 3-2-0-1, while Machovský had himself a month by going 5-1-0-0. Both netminders were quite busy as well, with Machovský facing 166 shots as Nagle saw 173. The young Czech was unable to stop seven of those shots for a goals allowed average (GAA) of 1.16 and a save percentage (SV%) of .958. Twelve shots got past the former Ferris State Bulldog that led to a GAA of 2.00 and a SV% of 0.931. Two shutouts were registered by Toledo in January, with both going to Machovský. Our netminders may very well be our strongest component and have stolen games Toledo has had no business hanging around in. Nagle continues to lead the league in wins with 19, while his counterpart Machovský is sitting pretty with the lowest overall GAA in the ECHL of 2.01. If Toledo is to make a deep push in the Kelly Cup playoffs, these two will need to continue their stellar play through the end of the season and into April and May.
Heading into the first matchup of February Toledo is riding high with a three-game win streak and a solid month of work to build off. Only one unit is of major concern, the aforementioned power play, but aside from that the team is coming together. Adjustments are needed here and there to be sure, as every team makes throughout the season. Our coaching staff will get everything squared away, and the return of Schmitz and Jenks will help make the Walleye a deeper and more dangerous team on both ends of the ice. Another twelve games are awaiting us in the next 28 days, so let’s get right to it and continue the march for the Kelly Cup!