There would be no early Christmas gifts for the Augusta Lynx, just more coal in their stockings.
That's 'coal,' not to be confused with 'goal,' which was a gift not even departed goalie Gregg Naumenko's million-dollar NHL contract could have bought the Lynx on Sunday.
Two days after turning in one of their most complete efforts of the season in a 4-1 win at Columbus, the Lynx could get nothing going Sunday in a 2-0 loss to the Macon Whoopee at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.
The loss, their first shutout defeat of the year, was their second straight defeat and 11th non-win in 13 games. Since Nov. 25, the Lynx are 2-8-3. They have gained a mere seven out of a possible 26 points in the standings during that stretch.
"I don't know what to say, other than it wasn't very good," Lynx coach Jim Burton said. "The puck bounced every which way, but it doesn't seem to bouncing for us right now."
Their passes went awry. Their shots clanked off skates and sticks, and when pucks did make it through to the net, they effortlessly were turned aside by Macon's rookie all-star goaltender Chris Madden, who stopped 25 shots to record his first career shutout. And everything the Whoopee touched seemingly turned to gold, particularly on their two goals.
Paul Giblin gave the Whoopee (16-12-6) a 1-0 lead at 5:35 of the first period, and Mike Green iced the victory on a 3-on-2 rush with 1:56 left in the contest when his shot deflected off a defenseman's stick and past Lynx goalie Cris Classen.
Classen turned in another solid outing to keep the Lynx in it until the very end, but came away with a hard-luck defeat after a 24-save performance.
"I love Classy, and he gave us a chance to win the hockey game," Burton said. "But we couldn't get the job done for him, and he certainly deserved to win."
That was the irony of Sunday's disappointing result. Earlier in the day, Burton finally resolved his goaltending crisis, arranging to have the indifferent Naumenko reassigned by the NHL's Anaheim Mighty Ducks to another ECHL team, most likely the Dayton Bombers.
But the Lynx's new-found stability in net, with Classen and Zac Bierk now entrenched as the 1-2 punch, was offset by their inability to solve their problems putting the puck in the other team's net.
"Everybody's frustrated right now," said winger Wes Mason. " I have no confidence right now, and I'm not sure any of us are confident about putting the puck in the net. Hopefully, we'll get some time off here and come back with a new attitude. We have a good team. It's just a matter of getting bounces."
Now, the Lynx enter the three-day holiday break looking to regroup once again. At 13-13-6, they are an underachieving .500 hockey club - a record that no one could have predicted when Burton assembled a club that is as talented and experienced as any in the team's four-year history.
"I never would have thought we'd be a .500 team at Christmas," Burton said. "But we are what we are, and we're going to continue to work and get better. Whether that means bringing in new personnel, or whatever the case may be, we are going to get better."
NOTES: The condition of the civic center ice reached an all-time low Sunday, as players spent the afternoon slogging through puddles of water at center ice. The arena hosted a high school basketball tournament over the weekend, but the real problem with the ice was the result of civic center management ordering the ice thickened by several inches to accommodate a motorcycle racing event to be held on Wednesday. Ice generally is maintained at a thickness of around 1-1 1/2 inches. The surface on Sunday was approximately 4-5 inches thick, which led to a virtual meltdown. One veteran Lynx player called it "the worst ice I've played on in all my years of hockey."
Whoopee 2, Lynx 0
Star of the game: Macon rookie goalie Chris Madden, named to the ECHL All-Star Game last week, recorded his first professional shutout.
Key play: Crisp passing helped the Whoopee take a 1-0 lead at 5:35 of the first period, as Paul Giblin took a feed from behind the net and buried it from the right post for his seventh goal of the year,
Plus: Lynx goalie Cris Classen gave the Lynx a chance until the end, recording 24 saves in a tough-luck loss.
Minus: Augusta's inconsistent offense again went South, as the Lynx were shutout for the first time this season.
Up next: The Lynx are off until Friday, when they travel to face the Columbia Inferno.
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