The playoff hopes of the South Carolina Stingrays will be determined in 13 games over the next 21 days.
At least that’s the opinion of Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery.
The Stingrays have made the ECHL postseason a league record 21 times in the last 22 seasons, but are on the brink of not qualifying for the Kelly Cup playoffs for the first time since 2007.
The Stingrays, who are 19-18-1 headed into Sunday’s game with Evansville at the North Charleston Coliseum, will need to play their best hockey over the final two months of the season to make it to the postseason. The Stingrays are currently sixth in the ECHL’s East Division and must finish in the top four in the division to make the playoffs. South Carolina, which defeated the Greenville 7-1 on Saturday, now trails the fourth-place Road Warriors by eight points with 28 games left in the regular season.
“Moving forward we have almost no margin for error,” Carbery said. “We need to start getting results. At this point in the season, I don’t care how well we play or how good we play, we need to win. We need to find ways to win hockey games. The urgency level of this season has never been higher than it is right now. We have 13 games over the next 21 days and I honestly think our playoff fate will be determined over the next 13 games. We’re not looking ahead, we’re just looking to this weekend and the next game.”
The problem for Carbery and the Stingrays is that the team hasn’t been playing that badly of late despite their 2-6-2 mark over the last 10 games.
The Stingrays are among the top defensive teams in the ECHL. Jeff Jakaitis and Adam Morrison are among the top goalies in the league, while the Stingrays defense is ranked first in shots against (26.0 a game) and fifth in goals against (2.68 a game). The Stingrays penalty kill is third in the league at 86.2 percent.
“Defensively, we’ve been pretty consistent for the last couple of months,” Carbery said. “We’re not giving up a lot of chances. Our structure has been pretty solid. We’re playing pretty well in our defensive zone.”
The issue has been on the other end of the ice where the Stingrays can’t seem to score. South Carolina is 25th in scoring (2.63 goals a game) and 26th on the power play (13.0 percent). Another startling statistic is the Stingrays are among the league leaders in shots generated at 32.1 per game, which is fifth in the league.
“It seems like every game we generate a ton of scoring chances,” Carbery said. “We out-chance our opponents on most nights, we just can’t seem to finish around the net. It’s like we’re doing everything right, except put the puck in the back of the net.”
The Stingrays have also struggled in shootouts. The Stingray shootout percentage, which is 23rd in the league, is at 21.8 percent. The Stingrays also have been in a league-high nine shootouts this season.
“Our power play numbers and shootout numbers have not been good and that goes back to us not being able to finish,” Carbery said. “It’s something that has plagued us all season.”
The loss of four forwards hasn’t helped either. Joe Diamond, Nathan Walker and John Mitchell are out for the rest of the season with injuries. Cody Sylvester has left to play in Europe. All four are considered high-end skill players.
“We’ve lost some firepower, but every team loses players throughout the season,” Carbery said.
Carbery said the Stingrays will need to simplify their game to get back on track.
“There’s a fine line between a sense of urgency and gripping your stick too tightly,” Carbery said. “We need to go out with the mentality of having a productive shift every time we step on the ice. I think that’s where it starts. We don’t need to make the pretty play. We need to simplify our game, work a little harder, get to the front of the net and maybe get a greasy goal, so we can feel good about ourselves.”