Walleye Fantastic in February

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it proved to be the most successful for Toledo thus far in the 2017-18 campaign! Multiple records were broken, as Walleye fans have already snapped the previous season-high mark of 20 sellouts with nine home games remaining in the season. To go along with an increasing sellout mark, Pat Nagle has also earned a place in the record books by winning nine straight starts, a mark that may extend via the games this coming weekend.

The Walleye played twelves games during February, amassing a record of 10-2-0 and a perfect record of 6-0-0 at home. Without counting games from January, the longest win streak of the month was five games from the 3rd to the 11th. Taking those games into account, however, the Walleye had an eight-game win streak going until falling to Brampton on the 13th. As we begin the month of March, Toledo sits a top of the ECHL with 80 points and 38 wins which puts them ahead of the Florida Everblades with the same amount of points but one less win. Central Division rival Fort Wayne rounds out the top three with 79 points and 38 wins.

Despite numerous call-ups and injuries to the Walleye, their offense was lethal last month. None of the twelve games ended without a Walleye goal, and all but three of them resulted in three or more tallies. During the month 43 goals were scored which gives you a goals scored average (GSA) of 3.58. Five different players scored ten or more points: Mike Embach with a team-leading 11 points, Dylan Sadowy with the most goals (7) and 10 points, Shane Berschbach with 10 points and tied for most assists (7), along with Kyle Bonis and Erik Bradford who both had five goals and assists for 10 points apiece. The scoring wasn’t limited to those five, however, as eight other players had five or more points to support Toledo’s efforts. The acquisition of Mike Embach has been an extremely successful move by Coach Watson, as the wily veteran has made an immediate positive impact. Along with the return of A.J. Jenks from injury, you have a Walleye squad that is dangerous even when shorthanded due to call-ups. Recently Coach Watson addressed this issue by acquiring forward Colin Jacobs from Atlanta in exchange for Davis Vandane. Jacobs has averaged 0.45 points per game during his ECHL career but has 22 points in 39 games so far this year with the Gladiators so he may become a more prolific scorer for Toledo. He’ll need to be, as Connor Crisp will likely miss many more games due to his ankle injury sustained in the Toledo-Kansas City brawl on the 10th. The return of both Christian Hilbrich and Zach Nastasiak from the AHL will also greatly boost Toledo’s already impressive offense for the final push before the playoffs.

Toledo’s defensive core continues to hold down the fort despite continual pair rotation. Out of the twelve games played the defense limited Toledo’s opponents to two or fewer goals eight times, with two of those contests ending in shutouts. In total, 23 goals were allowed by the Walleye which translates to a 1.92 goals allowed average (GAA) during February. Until being traded, Davis Vandane held the team lead in +/- rating with a plus 21. The top spot now belongs to second-year defenseman Ryan Obuchowski, who is plus 19 on the season so far. Two other defensemen make up the top three: Simon Denis and Kevin Gibson both rank in at plus 16. As of now, our defensive core consists of Kevin Tansey, Beau Schmitz, Ryan Obuchowski, Simon Denis, Kevin Gibson, Parker Reno, Patrick McCarron and Mike Embach (when Embach and McCarron aren’t playing as forwards). Schmitz made his return from injury on the 24th after recovering from a broken hand suffered in December. The Vandane trade confused me initially, as mentioned earlier he led the team in +/- and had 21 points (5 goals, 16 assists) in 48 games. At the end of the day, it was a trade made out of necessity as our forward core has been stretched thin with injuries and call-ups for the last few weeks. Don’t be surprised if Embach stays as a forward as the season progresses, which would leave us with six or seven defensemen depending on whether McCarron is called up or not. Should we get our forward core solidified, Embach could return to the blue line to create a formidable defense for the end of the season. What is perhaps more likely, especially with Hilbrich and Nastasiuk returning, is the acquisition of another defenseman via trade.

After last month Toledo was looking for an improvement to their power play (PP) percentage while maintaining their penalty kill efficiency. Throughout the month the Walleye had 42 chances on the man advantage, with the most power plays in a single game occurring against the Nailers on the 6th with six opportunities. Out of the 42 attempts, Toledo scored on 12 of them to give a PP percentage of 28.6%. Compared to January’s PP efficiency, Toledo more than doubled it as the unit is starting to show how talented it truly is. Dylan Sadowy lead the unit with three goals, followed by Erik Bradford and Kyle Bonis with two goals each on the man advantage. Overall in the league, Toledo’s power play has worked it’s way up to 5th place with a total percentage of 19.1% to reflect the recent improvements that it has shown. The penalty kill (PK) continued to play solid hockey as well. During those twelve days of hockey, the Walleye found themselves shorthanded 36 times. The PK unit was able to kill all but five of those penalties off for an 86.1% kill percentage.  Although still trailing South Carolina for the top spot in the league when comes to the PK, Toledo ranks second with an impressive 87.5% kill efficiency.

Finally on to the netminders. Pat Nagle and Matěj Machovský once again proved their worth to this Walleye squad last month. As many of you have probably already seen, Nagle earned ECHL Goaltender of the Month honors as he went 8-0-0 with one shutout and a 1.75 goals allowed average (GAA) during February. Prior to his call-up to Grand Rapids, Matěj Machovský was 2-2-0 on the month with one shutout and a GAA of 2.00. The duo was looking as fierce as ever as the month drew closer to the end, and that’s when Petr Mrazek was traded to the Flyers and ultimately caused Machovský to get the call to GR. Toledo brought on Angus Redmond to be the new backup for Nagle, the first year rookie is 2-8-2 on the year after 18 appearances for the Utah Grizzlies and a 4.07 GAA. Don’t take those numbers to heart though, Utah is ranked 20th in the ECHL at 23-23-6-4, so Redmond wasn’t getting the best support to start off his pro career. Nagle is expected to shoulder the workload as a true starter, prior him and Machovský had been splitting starts evenly. Like many other fans, I am excited to see Redmond when given a chance in the crease. After talking with him at the post-game skate, Angus is excited and thankful to be in Toledo for a new opportunity to show what he’s got. For now, he’ll take a backseat to Nagle, who continues to be a rock for his team.

Toledo’s March matchups being tonight as the fifth-ranked Stingrays come into town for a back-to-back before Toledo travels to Brampton on Sunday. South Carolina will be a good test for this Walleye squad, as both teams are most likely playoff bound (although in different conferences). After adding Hilbrich and Nastasiuk to the lineup the Walleye roster is as close as it can get to being complete in terms of skaters since the start of the season, despite missing Machovský and Hirschfeld. Sunday will prove challenging as well due to short rest in between games and the travel across the border. With Fort Wayne only one point behind Toledo for the top spot in the division, it’s time for the Walleye to keep their fin on the gas and earn that number one seed!

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