With four of their top players sitting in section 224 of the North Charleston Coliseum, the margin of error for the South Carolina Stingrays has become razor thin this season.
With Mike Hamilton (concussion), Shawn Weller (hand), Ryan Lowery (concussion) and Ryan Turek (knee) out with injuries, the Stingrays’ lineup has looked more like a team from the Southern Professional Hockey League than the ECHL recently.
While the return of Hunter Bishop (Lake Erie) and Justin Courtnall (Providence) from the American Hockey League has helped, the Stingrays are still struggling to find any consistency, especially Friday night against Greenville.
The Road Warriors scored the first three goals of the game and goalie Nathan Lieuwan stopped 30 shots as Greenville beat South Carolina, 4-1.
The Road Warriors, who are 5-1-0 against the Stingrays this season, improved 25-14-3 (53 points) and remained in second place in the ECHL’s South Division. The Stingrays fell to 19-20-4 (42 points) and are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
The top eight teams from the division advance to the Kelly Cup playoffs.
“We didn’t get what we needed tonight,” Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery said. “It’s a tough way to start the weekend. It wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t awful, just not what we needed. We were not detailed enough to beat a team like Greenville. We had a couple of breakdowns and they ended up in the back of our net. The margin of error is so small right now.”
The Stingrays played well in spurts, especially in the third period, but were not nearly consistent enough against the Road Warriors.
“We can’t have a mental lapse like we did tonight,” Carbery said. “We lose our focus for 10, 15, 30 seconds, have a couple of bad shifts and the puck ends up in the back of our net. We have to pay attention to details. We can’t let our guard down for a second.”
Lieuwan made several big saves for the Road Warriors, one coming on Courtnall in the second period and another in the third period on Chris Langkow.
“Lieuwan was good, but we didn’t do enough to challenge him,” Carbery said. “We had some good scoring chances, but give (Lieuwan) credit, he made the saves when he had to, but I would liked to have seen us pressure him a little more.”
Levi Nelson gave Greenville a 1-0 lead just 83 seconds into the game.
The Road Warriors added goals in the second period from Jordie Johnson and Mike Marcou to grab a 3-0 lead going into the final period.
Patrick Gaul scored his first ECHL goal midway through the third period to cut the gap to 3-1.
“Patrick has been our best player for the last three or four games,” Carbery said. “He’s been a warrior out there. He’s only 5-8, but he’s throwing his body around, finishing his checks against guys much bigger than him. He’s been fearless.”
Bretton Cameron got the empty-net to finish off the scoring.
Greenville 1 2 1—4
South Carolina 0 0 1—1
First Period: 1. G, Nelson 12 (Gouchie, Cameron), 1:23. Penalties: Connolly, G (hooking), 11:44; Langkow, SC (high-sticking - double), 11:53; Hayes, SC (bench - too many men), 18:14.
Second Period: 2. G, Johnston 9 (Delisle, Vallerand), 4:16. 3. G, Marcou 5 (Hobbs, Cohen), 8:48. Penalties: No Penalties
Third Period: 4. SC, Gaul 1 (Bishop, Langkow), 12:19. 5. G, Cameron 10 (Connolly, Delisle), 19:39 (PP EN). Penalties:Reynolds Grn (slashing ), 3:46; Berkstresser Grn (charging), 15:36; Bishop Sc (boarding), 19:03.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 11-9-11-31; Greenville: 8-13-6-27. Penalties: Stingrays 4-8; Greenville 3-6. Power Play: Stingrays 0 for 3; Greenville 1 for 4. Goalies: Stingrays – Ryan Zapolski (13-8-0) 27 shots, 24 saves. Greenville – Nathan Lieuwan (13-8-2) 31 shots, 30 saves. Att: 3,163.