The South Carolina Stingrays are off to one of the best starts in franchise history this season.
Who: Evansville IceMen 5-1-0 (10 points) at South Carolina Stingrays 8-0-1 (17 points)
When: Friday, 7:05 p .m.
Where: North Charleston Coliseum
Catch the Rays
The Stingrays, who face Evansville in back-to-back games at the North Charleston Coliseum beginning Friday night, are 8-0-1 and tied for first place in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference a month into the season, after Thursday night’s 4-2 victory at Greenville.
Not since the 2008-09 season, when South Carolina started 9-2-1, have the Stingrays been this hot, this early.
What’s been the key for the Stingrays’ quick start? South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery has a few ideas:
Special teams were a point of emphasis for the Stingrays during training camp, and the extra work is paying huge dividends.
Heading into Thursday’s game, the Stingrays were ranked in the top 10 in both the power play (2nd, 25.8 percent) and the penalty kill (9th, 88.9 percent). The Stingrays have recorded eight power play goals in eight games and given up just three goals on the penalty kill.
“Our power play has been clicking from the opening game,” Carbery said. “We are averaging a power play goal every game, and a lot of times that’s the difference between winning and losing. The penalty kill started off a little slowly up in Reading, but since then they’ve been very good.”
The special teams have been especially effective at home. The Stingrays have yet to give up a goal on the penalty kill at home in 13 chances and are converting at a 38.5 percent clip on the power play.
“We definitely feel like we’ve got a home-ice advantage,” said Stingrays captain Kevin Quick. “We’ve scored some big power play goals at home and then killed off a couple of five-on-threes.”
Depth at forward
South Carolina’s depth and balance up front has been evident of late as the Stingrays have averaged four goals over the last five games.
Each of the Stingrays’ top nine forwards has scored at least one goal this season. Six different players have two or more goals.
While one could argue that the line of Igor Gongalsky, Scott Campbell and Jordan Owens is the most potent, each line has contributed in big moments.
“I don’t think feel like we’ve got a number one line right now,” Carbery said. “We’re not relying on one line to produce all of our scoring and that’s a huge luxury to have. I can roll three lines because I have confidence that all three lines can generate scoring chances for us.”
The fact that all three lines have been together since the beginning of training camp as certainly helped the chemistry.
“We’ve been together for a month now, so we’ve had a chance to get to know one another,” said Stingray forward Chad Painchaud. “There’s been a lot of consistency with our lines, so that chemistry has been able to grow from the start of the season.”
A hot goalie
After missing the beginning of last year with a knee injury, Stingrays starting goalie Jeff Jakaitis has appeared to have returned to the form that made him the ECHL Goalie of the Year during the 2011-12 season with Gwinnett.
Jakaitis, 30, is 6-0-1 on the season with a 1.70 goals against average and a .938 save percentage this season. Jakaitis is first in the league in wins (6), second in minutes played (424) and third in saves (177).
“Jeff has come up huge for us,” Quick said. “He’s made some huge saves in big moments. Sometimes it’s not the saves you make, but when you make them and Jeff has been unbelievable for us.”
For three weeks at least, the Stingrays have been injury free. Sure, there have been a few bumps and bruises, but nothing that has kept anyone out of the lineup for an extended period of time.
With as many as five players sitting in the stands at the North Charleston Coliseum each night, the Stingrays have had plenty of fresh bodies in the lineup for each game.
Only one player — center Justin Maylan — has been called up to the American Hockey League.
“We’re going to have injuries and guys are going to get called up,” Carbery said. “It’s just the nature of this league. When you’ve got a full lineup, you’ve got to take advantage of it and get as many wins as possible.”
So far, so good.
Stingray's Jordan Owens brings the puck down the ice as Patrick Gaul follows during the season opener against Greenville Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 at the North Charleston Coliseum. Paul Zoeller/Staff×
Stingray's Marc Hagel brings the puck down against Greenville during the season opener Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 at the North Charleston Coliseum. Paul Zoeller/Staff×