Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Second period mistakes cost Express

 Players look on as Devin DiDiomete (28) and Phil Rauch (20) fight at the end of the second period (photo by Chicago Express)

Coming into Wednesday night's game, the Toledo Walleye (DET/CHI) and the Chicago Express (CBJ) had already met six times this season, splitting wins evenly between them at three a piece. Chicago took the first three decisions, and the Walleye took the last three. After Wednesday's final decision, the Walleye have now won four, claiming a 4-3 victory over the Express.

The game didn't start out so bad for the Express. Mike Embach scored a beauty in the first period, taking advantage of a turnover at the opposite blue line to fly through the neutral zone, deke around three defenders, and put the puck top shelf. The goal sent the Express into the locker room with a 1-0 lead at the first intermission. But when the team stepped onto the ice in the second, things turned disastrous.

Walleye forward Christopher DiDomenico scored twice less than four minutes into the second period, first on a power play, then at even strength, making it 2-1 in favor of Toledo. After the Express began trailing for the first time in the game, everything went wrong. Pucks were continuously turned over, the defense was sloppy, and Express had significant trouble putting passes on their teammates' tape.

The Walleye took advantage, and struck again. Allen York misplayed the puck 10 feet in front of his own net, and suddenly Kyle Rogers had his sixth goal of the year. Just seconds later, Joey Martin got another puck past York, and it was 4-1 Walleye.

Instead of getting inspired, the Express got angry. A lot of chirping began. During a faceoff, Bobby Robins clearly asked Nick Oslund if he wanted to fight. Oslund shook his head no. Net mouth scrums got more and more frequent as the Express tried to get some kind of spark going. After putting only five shots on goal in the second period, the Express' frustration finally spilled into a full-fledged fight just after the horn indicating the end of the period.

Devin DiDiomete, fresh off injured reserve, went up against Phil Rauch. Though smaller, DiDiomete looked to get the better of Rauch, knocking Rauch's helmet off and eventually taking him down to the ice. The only punches Rauch landed were right on DiDiomete's helmet, resulting in a bloody hand for Rauch. DiDiomete was assessed a two-minute roughing minor, a five-minute fighting major, and a ten-minute misconduct, and as a result, missed most of the third period. Rauch received just a five-minute major.

But the fight appeared to serve its purpose. The Express came out in the third period ready to battle for goals. Five minutes in, several Express players crashed the net and ended up scoring, with Kyle Ostrow getting credit for the marker. Ten minutes later, Chaz Johnson scored a rocket of a one-timer from the dot on a power play.

It was 4-3 Walleye with five minutes to go, and the Express were not going to give up. With one minute remaining, Allen York sprinted to the bench to get an extra man on to try for an equalizer. Walleye goaltender Thomas McCollum faced a flurry of shots, but nothing got through, and the Express fell short in their comeback.

Though there were at least two goals that Allen York would no doubt like to have back, he made 29 saves on 33 shots as the Walleye outshot the Express 33-20.

Just after the final horn, there was an altercation between Chaz Johnson and Matt Krug of the Walleye. Something Krug said or did very obviously set Johnson off, sending him into hysterics as a referee struggled to hold him back. Johnson smashed his stick on the ice before finally heading down the tunnel, leaving the Walleye to celebrate their victory.

Given the nature of the scene, I wouldn't be surprised if Johnson faces any supplemental discipline from the league for unsportsmanlike conduct. It's fitting, as that capped off a game in which Johnson surpassed his 1,000th pro career penalty minute (he had four penalty minutes in total on the night).

Friday night, the Express face the Elmira Jackals (OTT/ANA). Tyler Donati, named the second star of the game with two assists, said the game plan against the Jackals is pretty obvious: "Play like we played in the third."

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