Simpson, Walleye stay hot, tame Jackals 4-1Written by Vincent D. Scebbi | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Even though he was 89 seconds away from his second shutout in as many nights, goalie Kent Simpson said it was the last thing he was thinking about.
“The shutout is the last thing on my mind,” Simpson said. “It sucks to get scored on, you never want to get scored on but it’s more rattling to get scored on than to give up the shutout. Every game you’re aiming for a shutout, you don’t want to get scored on, but it’s not the end of the world, we won the game 4-1 that’s what really matters.”
Simpson, who finished the night with 29 saves, helped keep the Elmira Jackals (22-18-4) at bay as the Toledo Walleye’s 4-1 victory on Feb. 1 is their fourth straight.
The rookie goalie, who stopped the first 26 pucks thrown at him but a backhander by Louie Caporusso got past him with 1:29 left in the game.
Last night, Simpson stopped all 20 shots he saw as the Walleye (25-17-4) blanked the Cincinnati Cyclones 2-0 on the road.
“It looks like he’s gained his confidence,” said Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci. “Sometimes when a goalie is able to play games in a row, it helps you get in that groove and he certainly is in that now.”
Walleye forward Andrej Nestrasil had three assists on the night and extended his point streak to five straight games. He has eight assists during that span.
“That kid has done one of the biggest 180s of anybody I’ve ever coached from year to year; last year he was a decent player but was risky and this year he’s a man. He’s a man on the ice,” Vitucci said. “Outside of the score sheet, I can’t tell you how impressed I am with that kid’s work ethic and how much he’s turned into a pro hockey player this year.”
Toledo got the offense started with 13 minutes left in the second period after a Wes O’Neill wrist shot bounced off iron and into the net. Nestrasil and defenseman Phil Oreskovic assisted the goal.
The goal is O’Neill’s 11th of the season and Nestrasil’s assist extends his point streak to five-straight games.
“When you get guys like [Nestrasil] passing you pucks, you get a little confidence and it makes it easier to jump in those holes where you might not,” O’Neill said.
The Walleye extended their lead to 2-0 when Byron Froese’s shot beat Maxime Clermont for the power play goal with 3:22 left in the middle period. Joey Martin and Nestrasil assisted the goal.
The goal is Froese’s first since returning from the injured reserve. He was out since Nov. 30 due to a broken wrist.
“[Froese is] a very good player, he was playing great before his injury,” Vitucci said. “It’ll still take a little time for him to get his legs under him and his hands where they want to be and just catching up to the game speed of what he’s got to do, but he’s another guy, an impact player and we’re thrilled to have him.”
Toledo scored again 27 seconds later on Pat Knowlton’s first goal of the year. Knowlton redirected a slap shot by Oreskovic past Clermont. Captain Kyle Rogers assisted on the play.
Martin added the final nail to the coffin when he scored an empty netter with 48 seconds left in regulation. Nestrasil assisted the goal.
With the win, Toledo has now won six of their last seven games.
“It’s a confidence thing, we’re building for a playoff run,” O’Neill said. “When you’re playing consistently you’re going to win games a lot of nights in this league.”
The Walleye sit in fifth place in the Easter Conference standings and second in the North Division.
Toledo’s third game in as many nights concludes tomorrow when they host the Reading Royals, the best team in the conference, to the Huntington Center.
Vitucci said wining tonight and last night in against the division-leading Cyclones help build confidence as the team heads into tomorrow’s game.
“This was a pivotal time, this is a big weekend for us,” he said. “I told them yesterday as an ex-player, I loved these opportunities when you’re playing teams ahead of you. As an athlete you want to play the best-of-the-best and see how you fair against them.
“These are three huge games not only for us to send a message to what kind of team we can be, but to the rest of the league as well.”
The Walleye won the previous meeting in Reading 4-2 on Oct. 28. After that, the Royals won 11 consecutive games.
Opening faceoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.