The Express played four games last week, with all of them against rivals in the tightly contested North Division. A trip to Toledo was sandwiched in between three tilts vs. the Cincinnati Cyclones at home in Hoffman Estates.
Cincinnati Cyclones 3, Chicago Express 2 (OT)
The Express got off to a fast start in Wednesday night’s contest, their first game back at the Sears Centre since January 7th. Chad “Hot Bread” Painchaud scored his 12th goal of the year just 3:32 into the game, on a one-time feed from Tyler Donati. Pierre-Luc Faubert gave the Express a 2-0 lead with just 34 seconds left in the first period. It was a power play goal no less – GASP. The middle frame was scoreless, as the Cyclones came out firing 13 shots on Chicago netminder Peter Mannino. After two periods, the ‘Clones were outshooting the Express, 21-17.
Cincinnati closed the gap to 2-1 in the third period, with Mathieu Aubin scoring his 16th goal of the season just 30 seconds into the frame. The period featured many chances for both squads, but Mannino and Cyclones goaltender Brian Foster shut the door. The inevitable let down (sigh) came with just 1:31 left in regulation – Robert Slaney found an open net as Mannino misplayed the puck behind the goal and the Express D apparently was already in line for the bathrooms. The overtime featured end-to-end action, with both goaltenders standing on their heads – Mannino pulled one save out of his behind that caused a gasp from me I’m sure all 200 odd folks in the arena must have heard. Alas, the Chicago collapse was complete when the Cyclones’ Michael Pelech scored on a two-on-one with 1:09 left in OT. The Express D must have been in line for cookies this time. In a tight divisional race, blowing a two-goal lead going into the last frame is a big no-no. DO NOT WANT.
Toldeo Walleye 3, Chicago Express 2
Friday night saw the Express roll into Toledo to face the baby Blackhawks (and Red Wings – BOOOOO). The Express faced their former goaltender, Rob Nolan, for the first time since he was traded to the Walleye for the ever-so-popular “future considerations.” ALL OF MY CREYS. The Walleye got the ball (puck?) rolling just 4 minutes in, as Nick Oslund put a one-timer past Peter Mannino for the only goal of the first period. Harrison Reed gave Toledo a 2-0 lead on the power play at 8:51 of the second. Having just come out of the sin bin after the Walleye goal, Chaz Johnson did what the Express seemingly does best: he earned a double minor for roughing, a 10 minute misconduct for a “continuing altercation” and a game misconduct for Unsportsmanlike Conduct. Miraculously his teammates bailed him out, killing off the ensuing Toledo power play.
Building on their penalty killing momentum, the Express scored at 16:12 of the second on a goal by Mike Embach to close the Walleye lead to 2-1. Chad Painchaud tied the game at 2 with just 2:01 left in the sandwich period on the power play. Chicago and Toledo were fairly evenly matched in the third, with the Express having an edge in shots, 11-10. The dreaded delay of game penalty ended up doing the Express in, as Aaron Marvin went to the sin bin with less than five minutes left in regulation. Adam Estoclet scored with the man advantage with 4:02 left, and the Walleye hung on to win the game, 3-2. The Walleye and Express finished the game with 29 shots apiece.
Chicago Express 3, Cincinnati Cyclones 0
The Express returned to Hoffman Estates on Saturday night for the first of back-to-back games against their best friends, the Cyclones. The first period started out slowly, with the Cyclones holding an 8-3 advantage in shots. The Express killed off all three Cincinnati penalties in the first. After taking four consecutive penalties, the Express took advantage of their first power play, with Chaz Johnson scoring his 13th, 8:02 into the second period. That would be the only goal heading into the third period, with the Cyclones holding a 15-14 shots advantage.
The final period was somewhat uneventful until Cyclones winger Joe Devin was assessed a boarding major and game misconduct with 7:30 left in regulation. On the ensuing power play, Tyler Donati scored his 10th of the year. In desperation mode, the Cyclones pulled goaltender Chet Pickard for the extra attacker, and Donati scored on the empty net with 1:21 left for his second goal of the game. Peter Mannino stopped all 24 shots he faced for his first shutout in an Express sweater.
Chicago Express 3, Cincinnati Cyclones 2 (SO)
After playing four games in five nights, it was not a surprise the Express came out flat against Cincinnati on Sunday. The Cyclones jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one period, with goals by Michael Pelech and Matthew Sisca. Darcy Campbell got the Express on the board 11:52 into the second, getting a puck past Cyclones goaltender Brian Foster after a scrum in front of the net. The Express took advantage of a Cincinnati hooking penalty to tie the game at two at 12:42 of the third period, with Chaz Johnson scoring his 14th of the season. Despite having a five-minute power play with less than 3 minutes left in regulation courtesy of a Johnson charging major (what is wrong with you dude?), Cincinnati failed to capitalize and the game went to overtime, tied at two.
Cincinnati could not take advantage of the power play carryover into the extra frame, and despite having a 3-1 shot advantage, Mannino stood tall to get the Express to the shootout. Rather than summarize the skills competition, here it is for you, IN GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOR:
The Express finished the week gaining 5 of a possible 8 points. Pretty good, but I hope that blown lead and OT loss doesn’t bite them in the tushy down the line.
If you’re a reader of Puck Daddy (and you should be), I’m sure you saw the brawl and goalie fight between the Ontario Reign and Bakersfield Condors over the weekend. For fun, this is what 278 regulation penalty minutes look like:
One day I shall attend a game as awesome as this. One day.
The Week Ahead: Wednesday (2/1) at Trenton Titans, Thursday (2/2) at Trenton Titans, Saturday (2/4) at Elmira Jackals. The Express return to the Sears Centre Friday, February 17th vs. the Gwinnett Gladiators. DOLLAR BEER NIGHT!
Current Standings: North Division – 1) Kalamazoo Wings, 52 points (42 GP), 2) Chicago Express, 45 points (43 GP), 3) Cincinnati Cyclones, 42 points (38 GP), 4) Toledo Walleye, 37 points (42 GP). The Express are currently sitting in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. The top eight teams in the conference will make the Kelly Cup playoffs
Stats-O-Rama: Tyler Donati currently leads the team in points with 41…Chaz Johnson leads the team in goals with 14…Tyler Donati has 30 assists…Nathan Lutz is a +12…Devin DiDiomete is fourth in the ECHL with 155 penalty minutes…Peter Mannino is the Express goaltending leader with a GAA of 2.57 and a SV% of .909…The Express are sixth in the ECHL and first in the Eastern Conference in PIM with 904, averaging 21 penalty minutes a game…The Express are tied for fourth in the ECHL with 6 shorthanded goals…Chicago is 15/20 in the ECHL in power play percentage (16.0%) and 16/20 on the penalty kill (80.0%)
Recent Transactions: Maxime Gratchev was assigned from Springfield (AHL) to the Express for the first time this season…Tom Schaul was signed as an Emergency Goaltender…Currently Drew Paris, Dan Henningson, Blair Riley, Allen York, Paul Dainton and Bobby Robins are all playing for various teams in the AHL.