NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Stingrays are looking to get back in the win column after a disappointing road trip against the Idaho Steelheads. They will be facing the Central division-leading Toledo Walleye Friday night, then square off against the Jacksonville Icemen on Saturday and Sunday.
The Stingrays struggled offensively against the Steelheads and that will have to change against Toledo and Jacksonville if the Stingrays want to get out of the South division’s cellar. The Stingrays have games in hand on the rest of the division and a win percentage that is fourth-best in the division so they can quickly climb in the standings with a few wins. This young Stingrays team has to take advantage of the opportunities that they have. Every game is an opportunity for growth in the eyes of head coach Ryan Blair.
“Our goal out of every game is to try and find ways to be better, whether it is a win or a loss. I thought we cleaned up some areas (in Idaho),” reflected Blair. “Obviously we need to find ways to get to the back of the net a little bit more. I think that is two-fold too, we have to do a better job of defending. Especially in that Saturday game, we gave up two goals in the first two minutes and it’s hard to claw back there when we are not necessarily scoring in bunches. I think our team learned a lot from that trip. It was a good test, a good measuring stick for us and we will be better because of it.”
Toledo and Jacksonville will bring different challenges for the Stingrays. Toledo has a +24 goal differential and Jacksonville is currently surging in the standings going 8-2 in their last 10 outings.
“Toledo is a really good team. They are well coached and they always have good players and a good team. It’ll be a good challenge for us. We’ve learned from our trip to Idaho and we’ve come out better because of it. We’ll see if that is true as we take on one of the better teams in the league Friday night. After every game there are areas of improvement, we can try to exploit the other team regardless of how we played the night before. I think it’s a good challenge for us as a staff and for our players. It’s just a matter of getting guys on the same page and finding a way to compete,” said Blair.
The Stingrays have developed a reputation for being a defensive-minded team over the past several years. This year, the team is 20th in the league in allowing nearly 34 shots on goal every game. Due to outstanding goaltending, they are only 12th in the league with a 3.05 goals against average. Also helping the situation is that while the Stingrays are allowing pucks to get to the net, they are not allowing many quality chances.
“The Grade-A scoring chances don’t always correlate with the number of shots on net. But typically there is some kind of relationship there. We definitely need to do a better job in our own net, a better job committing to blocking shots when we are in our D zone. Part of it is we a younger group, not as many returners as years past,” said Blair. “But at the end of the day we have to find ways to defend in groups of five much better and at a consistent pace.”
However, the biggest problem for the Stingrays lies on the other side of the ice. They are dead last in the league in averaging only 2.55 goals per game.
“I thought we had some chances in Idaho, they out-chanced us in all three of those games but I thought we had some chances in and around the net.” Blair continued, “Similar to our D zone at times, if one guy is off or not on the same page as the other guys, it can really throw things off. We need to find ways to hang on to some more pucks and we need to get more shots and more traffic to the net and good things come when that happens.”
The Stingrays current roster should remain stable through the weekend as all of the called-up and loaned players in the AHL are expected to remain there through the Christmas break. The Stingrays are bringing in some SPHL depth on defense for the weekend series and look to have Justin Florek back, who had missed the last two games of the Idaho series. Macoy Erkamps may be ready by the end of the weekend but will not be ready for the Toledo contest. Yannick Turcotte just had another surgery and it will likely be March before he is available at the earliest.
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