Cyclones Report: Grinding Towards Playoff Season

(Photo Credit: Tony Bailey)
Josh Shalla has been doing Josh Shalla things like producing at a high rate in the ECHL. Will he ever be able to bottle that success and carry it into the AHL one of these days? (Photo Credit: Tony Bailey)

The last update we did on our ECHL pals the Cincinnati Cyclones was back at the start of December. Especially to some of you new readers to the Roundtable, you might think that this Cyclones team and ECHL business are something of an Island of Misfit Toys considering how often you would only see news updates of players coming and going from Cincinnati. That of course isn’t the case at all. So, let’s take a glimpse into how our ECHL affiliate has been trucking along through the 2014-15 season.

~Short & Sweet~

The Cyclones currently hold a record of 26-23-1-5 (58 points) this season. That record slots them in fourth place of the North Division and in tenth place of the Eastern Conference.

When looking at the various team figures you can see some of the struggles for Cincinnati this season. They have a goal differential of -9 (151 goals forced, 160 goals allowed). They have the twenty-fifth ranked power-play in the ECHL with a 14.6% conversion rate (29/199) while allowing three shorthanded goals against. Their penalty kill ranks twentieth in the league with an 81.9% kill rate (141/172) while scoring seven shorthanded goals on the season.

~The Moving Pieces~

We’ve already witnessed a few players come and go through Cincinnati this season. By that I literally mean go. They’re gone. Both Patrick Cehlin and Mikko Vainonen were with the Cyclones earlier this season but both have since been loaned out to European clubs in their native countries. Cehlin joined Leksands IF in Sweden while Vainonen was sent to SaiPa of the SM-Liiga in Finland.

The story of Cehlin is fairly well documented on our end this season. He had off-season surgery to repair three loose bone fragments in his hip. As he traveled back home for the summer a blood clot developed in his leg following the flight to Sweden. He subsequently missed the start of the 2014-15 season, began in Cincinnati, played four games with the Admirals, was sent back to the ECHL, and then was loaned back home in late-January. With his contract up at season’s end it effectively means the end of his time within the organization.

Vainonen was a far more curious case than Cehlin’s. This was to be the Finn’s first full-season of pro hockey in North America after finishing up his junior playing career with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. He joined the Admirals at the end of last season, made it into two games, and started this season with the Cyclones. He played in 31 games in the ECHL picking up 5 assists with a plus/minus rating of -8 and 16 penalty minutes before finding himself packing up for Finland with SaiPa in mid-January. Since returning home, he has played in 14 games, has an assist, is a +1 player, and also has 12 penalty minutes.

~Familiar Names~

There have been quite a few names that we’ve seen up with the Admirals for, honestly, the better majority of this season who have spent some time with the Cyclones. That list includes the likes of Jonathan Diaby, Joe Pendenza, Zach Budish, Frédérick Gaudreau, and Garrett Noonan (who is currently with the Cyclones right now).

With all the names mentioned above, I feel as if their ECHL playing time comes not from poor AHL performance but purely based on the overall depth and numbers game working against them this season. If you really think about it, the Admirals have been pretty fortunate as far as injuries are concerned this season and we’ve seen far more additions (Rich Clune, Viktor Stålberg, Ian White, and Kevin Fiala) than could have been anticipated at the start of the season. As a result it has meant some rather talented young players getting ECHL playing time as opposed to sitting on the outside looking in for playing time at the AHL level here in Milwaukee.

When looking at those who have split time between Cincinnati and Milwaukee this season I think that there is no denying the upside to being able to play, work, contribute, and get the wheels going upon the next AHL stint takes place. Diaby’s small spell with Cincinnati really speaks volumes to this because the before and after of the player he was prior to his time with the Cyclones was a night and day difference. It really helped him get back on track from a slow start with the Admirals and has since looked every bit the part of an AHL caliber defenseman in his first pro-playing season.

Budish was another player that has really benefited from his work rate in Cincinnati this season. He looked good at the start of the season with the Admirals but was given the plane ticket down. His response from his time with the Cyclones has been massive: 23 points (8 goals, 15 assists), plus/minus rating of +11, 1 PPG, 1 SHG, and that call comes with 30 games of work.

Players like Pendenza and Gaudreau have also benefited from the exact same experience. Rather than be healthy scratched in Milwaukee both have been able to log minutes and contribute to Cincinnati in their time down this season. Pendenza has 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 13 games. Gaudreau has 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists) in 14 games.

~The Other Guys~

There are then some of the ECHL regulars that we’ve not seen too much of this season in Milwaukee. That list includes Jaynen RisslingJosh Shalla, and Rob Madore. We did get a brief look at both Rissling and Madore this season. Rissling managed to play 5 games for the Admirals during the injury bug time of February for defensemen in Nashville and Milwaukee. I felt he looked quite good all things considered. As for Madore, his brief time in Milwaukee has been all spent serving as a back up. Shame too. I may have the best tendy gear in the entire organization this season.

The name that does stand out here is Shalla. I hate to say it but I feel like it is just the same ol’ same ol’ from him. By that I mean, he is producing at a really fantastic rate. He has a team best 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) in 55 games. The next closest to him on the Cyclones in the scoring department is David Pacan with 28 points (9 goals, 19 assists). The age old problem here is that this is ECHL scoring that we’re talking about and not AHL production for Shalla. In his career his points per game at the ECHL level is a highly respectable 0.82 Pt/G. With Milwaukee? It falls off a cliff and drops down to 0.28 Pt/G. I’m sure he would like to be given the opportunity to prove otherwise but the talent pool above him mounted swiftly. That window to do so may have already come and gone.

Madore’s season in net has been largely split with Sam Brittain for the Cyclones. While the first half of the season may not have been what Madore would’ve hoped for, as follow up to his Kelly Cup MVP performance last season, he has started to get on a nice roll. This season he has a record of 11-12-1-4 from 29 appearances with a 2.69 goals against average, 0.903 save percentage, and 3 shutouts. In his last 4 starts he has been brilliant. His save percentage in that span is 0.959 (142/148) including a shutout. Think that’s a crazy amount of shots for such a small span? Well, in his last game he stopped an insane 53/55 shots on goal on the wrong side of a 3-2 shootout loss on the road against the Orlando Solar Bears.

~The Road To The Finish~

Including their game later tonight, Cincinnati has 17 games before the ECHL regular season comes to an end. They have 8 more home games to close out the season and they will be desperate to start digging back points in an effort to sneak back into the playoff picture. Last season, the Cyclones finished second in the North Division with a final points total of 90 to get the fifth seed out of the Eastern Conference. Between the current sixth seed and twelfth seed there are only 10 points of separation. The Cyclones are in that mix and so much can change in a matter of games and good form. If Cincinnati gets on a run at the late stages of the season who is to say that they can’t repeat the same playoff performances that they achieved last season? It’s all a matter of consistency and that will be the key to the Cyclones finish this year.

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One thought on “Cyclones Report: Grinding Towards Playoff Season”

  1. shalla time has gone by can’t bring what he does in echl to milwaukee for some reason

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