Pilots drop series opener to Mudbugs 3-0

The Topeka Pilots did not have an answer to the Shreveport Mudbugs Friday night.

Starting slow and never looking settled and comfortable, Topeka (17-17-6) lost an opportunity to gain valuable ground in the NAHL South Division standings, falling 3-0 at George’s Pond Hirsch Coliseum.

The two teams directly ahead of the Pilots, the Corpus Christi IceRays and Lone Star Brahmas, also lost on Friday, meaning Topeka remains one point back for the fourth and final playoff spot.

The Pilots were outplayed much of the contest and got off to a slow start on Friday night, as the Mudbugs had the better chances early.

“We got better as the game went on, but we can’t keep giving teams two-goal leads and playing catch up,” Pilots coach Simon Watson said. “We know how important these points are in the standings, so we will need a better effort tomorrow.”

With some close calls preceding, on a broken play in the slot, Shreveport (19-15-6) opened the scoring at 8:20 of the first period. Forward Warren Natyshak netted his fifth goal of the year on the play, grabbing a loose puck after a shot block and firing it past goaltender Emil Gransoe.

Just a minute and six seconds later, the Mudbugs struck again. Forward Dakota Concannon made a great individual effort on the play, taking advantage of a Pilots turnover, skating in and deking past an outstretched Gransoe for a 2-0 lead.

The lead stood into first intermission, with the Mudbugs outshooting the Pilots 15-5 in the first.

The Pilots came out with a little more firepower in the second period, but they could not solve goaltender Maiszon Balboa.

Shreveport had three second period penalties, but the Pilots were 0-for-3 on the frame on the man-advantage, an area they have been strong at on the season, coming into the game with a 24.2 percent success rate.

After a giveaway by the Pilots in their own defensive end, the Mudbugs added to the lead at 9:50 of the period. Forward Anton Rubtsov tallied his seventh of the season on the play, deking and flipping a backhanded shot past Gransoe.

Forward Matthew Francois had a good chance in the third period to cut into the Shreveport lead on a 2-on-1, but he was denied by Balboa, who had 24 saves on the evening.

With an opportunity to split the series, Topeka will be back in action at 7:11 p.m. Saturday in Shreveport.