INDIANAPOLIS – Saturday night featured another important Central Division matchup between two of the top teams in the ECHL. In front of a packed Indiana Farmers Coliseum, the Indy Fuel looked to rebound from a rough loss to Toledo on Friday against first-place Cincinnati and attempt to climb back to the top of the standings. Unfortunately, their recent struggles would continue in a 7-1 loss.
The first period couldn’t have gone much worse for the Fuel. After a breakaway goal was waved off, Cincinnati would rattle off three straight goals to silence the near-capacity crowd. The Cyclones began the scoring just under four minutes in when Justin Vaive tipped a Jalen Smereck slap shot from the blue line past Indy’s Zach Driscoll’s pads for the early lead. Minutes later, Zack Andrusiak would double the lead, taking a pass from Vaive and one-timing a blast into the back of the net. Vaive scored his second of the night knocking home another power play goal on a rebound in the crease from Patrick Polino’s shot to increase the lead to three.
In the second, things didn’t get much better for the home team as Vaive would get his third of the night for the hat trick, beating Driscoll top shelf and ultimately chasing him out of the net on his birthday, building a 4-0 lead. Frustration penalties continued to add up for the Fuel and ate away at the clock for most of the remaining time in the period. Indy was able to get some chances late, but Cincinnati’s Mark Sinclair held the four-goal lead into the third period.
Early in the third, Indy was awarded a power play, but it was quickly negated when Josh Passolt stole a pass from Indy’s new goaltender Cameron Gray and finished into an open net to make it 5-0. Later, Vaive scored his fourth of the evening, connecting on a pass from Matt Berry behind the net for the sixth tally of the night. Indy finally got on the board when a Keoni Texeira shot from the blue line found its way past Sinclair to give the Fuel a sliver of hope, but Cincinnati would get that goal back when Vaive forced a turnover that led to Andrusiak finishing off a two-on-one to lead and ultimately win the game 7-1.
Vaive’s Huge Night
Cincinnati’s captain had a game to remember. Vaive scored four goals on the night and added two assists for a rare six-point effort. He took control early with his physical presence in front of the net. Defensively, he pinned Fuel defensemen against the boards all night, with one of those sequences resulting in an odd-man rush and score for the Cyclones. Overall, the captain stole the show on Saturday night, and Indy had no answer for him.
Struggles on offense have seemed to be the culprit for Indy’s recent setbacks. Like last night, the Fuel failed to score first and started the game from behind with a large deficit. When they had their chances, shots either went straight to the goaltender or missed wide and failed to generate a rebound. This happened most of the evening, and the game was out of reach by the time the Fuel broke through.
The goaltending matchup Saturday night ended up being a mismatch. Driscoll was pulled during the second period following his fourth goal given up. Gray, his replacement, didn’t do much better, stopping just 10-of-13. Sinclair, on the other hand, stopped 29 of 30 shots, and by the time he surrendered a goal, the game was already out of reach. Indy’s defense didn’t do their goaltenders any favors, but credit to Cincinnati for finding their weaknesses and taking advantage.
Indy ends the weekend with zero points after losing two pivotal home contests to two Central Division contenders. With the result, the Fuel fall behind Cincinnati by six points for the top spot and four points behind second-place Toledo. After leading the division for the majority of the season, the Fuel now find themselves in uncharted territory. Indy will have their chances to climb back into the divisional race, hosting Kalamazoo on Tuesday morning and finishing the week with games hosting Wheeling and at Cincinnati. How will the Fuel respond to adversity? We will find out over the next few weeks.
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