From the moment their skates hit the ice for warmups, the Indy Fuel felt the upper hand over the Allen Americans.
It took less than two minutes to turn that jump into a lead, when Johnny McInnis ripped a shot from the right circle.
And even after the visiting Allen Americans knotted it up, the Fuel just as quickly regained control and pulled away to a 6-3 victory.
“I felt really confident in our group coming in,” forward Cam Reid said. “Even in warmups, it seemed like we had it. That's huge, to put a team on their heels. All three lines were going, the D were going, (Étienne) Marcoux was going. He made some huge saves to keep us in it early. Top to bottom, again, we had control of the game the whole game.”
Playing his fifth game since returning to the Fuel from Europe, Josh Shalla scored a hat trick. He tallied two power play goals in a 1:59 stretch to turn a tie game into a 4-2 Fuel lead. Reid added three assists for his second three-point game of the year. Darian Dziurzynski and Reed Seckel also scored. Marcoux stopped 25 shots in the victory.
The Fuel have now won seven of their last 10 games, and picked up where they left off before the ECHL-mandated All-Star break this week.
“The guys had four days off,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “We had a good practice yesterday - high tempo. That was the same with the pregame skate. They're feeling the wins and the way they're playing. Even in the losses, they've been playing well. It was nice to get an early lead. A lot of their offense, we kept them to the perimeter. And I liked that, when we were up 2-0 and then we gave up two goals, we didn't panic. We stayed calm and then we got three goals.”
Shalla now has seven goals in five games since returning to the Fuel after starting the season in Britain. It was his second hat trick with the Fuel - the first since a four-goal game Dec. 27, 2016. He has three multi-goal games since returning to North America.
“It's a big confidence thing right now,” Shalla said. “I was struggling a little bit. It's starting to come back. I'm starting to get hot now. I'm building confidence and playing with some great guys and they're making it easy out there.”
Two of Shalla's goals came on the power play, which was 3-for-8 Friday night. His presence adds elite-level goal-scoring to a balanced Fuel lineup. He had 32 goals in the ECHL in 2016-17 and has picked up where he left off.
“He's got seven in five games, that's pretty incredible in any league,” Reid said. “To have that consistency out of a guy is something that's going to win you games. We've had the goaltending. We have the work ethic. To have someone to put up that kind of goal-scoring is huge.”
Shalla scored his first goal 7:57 into the first period by potting a weak-side rebound, giving Indy a 2-0 lead. Allen had two extended 5-on-3 power plays in the second period. The Fuel killed the first, but Spencer Asuchak scored on the second - that coming three minutes after Olivier Archambault put Allen on the board.
That was a critical juncture - as Allen, with momentum, had nearly a minute of power play time remaining. Indy killed it off without another threat, drew a penalty on Alex Guptill moments later, and then cashed in.
Reid took a drop pass and went on a 120-foot rush, dangling through the entire Allen penalty killing unit to get a partial breakaway. Allen goaltender Jeremy Brodeur stopped him, but Michael Neal dug out the rebound and fed Shalla for a go-ahead goal.
“It started off one move, and instincts took over,” Reid said. “I didn't really have a move on the breakaway, but Neal made a strong play on the rebound to get it to Shalls, and it was an easy goal for him.”
Shalla - again on the power play - and Reed Seckel scored in the following minutes, turning a tie game into a 5-2 lead in a 2:47 span. Shalla's third goal came off a one-on-one move after a rebound.
“It was funny, because we didn't score on the good plays we made, but we scored on the broken ones,” Reid said. “That's hockey. It's funny how those bounces go in sometimes. When a guy is hot, he's hot. The puck just seemed to find his stick in the right area tonight, he was always in the right spot. That's the sign of a goal-scorer - he's always there. It's awesome to see and awesome to have.”
Shalla's acquisition is the most recent of several moves made by the Fuel throughout the year. McInnis' first goal Friday was his seventh in 20 games with the Fuel. Another mid-season acquisition, Dziruzynski, has seven goals and 11 points in 10 games with the Fuel. He scored a third-period power play goal with 4:55 left in the third to snuff out a potential Allen comeback.
“Some of the moves we've made - getting Dziruzyinski, bringing in (Riley) Sweeney and (Stephen) Collins who has contributed, and McInnis - these guys are changing the dynamic of the way we play,” John said. “Sometimes, that helps because they bring a different attitude. It helps because it becomes infectious, and that's what we're doing now. It's a belief these guys have. I like it, but we've still got some work to do.”
1. Josh Shalla (Fuel) 3G, 6 shots
2. Cam Reid (Fuel) 3A, 7 shots
3. Darian Dziurzynski (Fuel) G/A, 3 shots
1. The addition of Shalla to the Fuel lineup has provided some additional offense and a pure goal-scorer to a team with a lot of playmakers and energy in the forward units. In his five games, he's tallied multiple goals in three of them. He came to Indy after tallying eight points in 26 games with Nottingham in England. But having familiarity with the Fuel, the coaching staff and many of the players has made his transition back to North American hockey a smooth one. “It makes the transition a lot easier,” Shalla said of the familiar environs. “I like Bernie a lot. I love playing here, I love the city, I love the guys.”
2. Lost in Shalla's hat trick was Cam Reid's three-assist game. It was his second three-point game of the season.
3. The turning point of the game was a Fuel penalty kill, but that's been par for the course. Although Allen was 2-for-7 with the man advantage Friday, one came on a 5-on-3 and the other with Indy up 5-2 in the third. The Fuel entered the day with the league's fourth-best penalty killing percentage. “We feel like if we have to take a penalty, we're going to kill it off,” Reid said. “It's always given us momentum, especially if our power play is going like it was tonight, we're going to be tough to beat.”
4. While several players piled up multi-point games - Shalla, Reid, Dziurzynski and Nolan Descoteaux - Friday's win was a complete team win. John has been stressing holding teams to fewer than 30 shots in a game, and Indy held Allen to 28, and the Fuel were in control throughout. Many of those shots came from the perimeter - even on the power play.
5. The Fuel had seen a handful of players called up to Rockford - most recently Alex Wideman and, this week, Tommy Olczyk. They gained one coming the other direction Friday. Defenseman Brandon Anselmini was assigned by Rockford Friday, drove to Indy and played a lot with Robin Press - another player who started the year in the AHL. It was Anselmini's first ECHL game since Dec. 9, and he was strong - as was the entire Fuel defensive corps. “You look at (Jack) Burton and (Zach) Miskovic have been playing for a while. Anselmini looked better than he did before. He had that AHL confidence. Press was really good tonight - he had a great stick. He's not going to wow you with physicality, but the kids watch him, watch the way he plays with his stick. The other guys - (Nolan) Descoteaux had some nice plays and (Riley) Sweeney was good. I thought our back end was really good, but I thought we were making good breakouts and first passes to get out of the zone and get up the ice.”
6. Speaking of defensemen, Garrett Clarke played his third game at forward - and even took a faceoff. He skated his third consecutive game on left wing with the Ruperts. Whether playing forward or defense, he brings sandpaper to the Fuel lineup - and the occasional fisticuffs. He quickly made his presence felt by fighting Colby McAuley 2:43 into the game, continuing the momentum that began with McInnis' goal 60 seconds earlier.
7. Friday's meeting was the only one this season between the two Western Conference opponents.
Darian Dziurzynski-Michael Neal-Josh Shalla
Garrett Clarke-Ryan Rupert-Matt Rupert
Stephen Collins-Michael Neal-Johnny McInnis
Brandon Anselmini-Robin Press
Jack Burton-Zach Miskovic
Nolan Descoteaux-Riley Sweeney
BU: Greg Dodds
Scratches: Anthony Cortese, Andrew Schmit, Nathan Noel (IR)
Next up: The Fuel host Cincinnati at 7:35 p.m. Saturday.