The Gulls (38-17-3-2, 81 pts.) kick off a back-to-back set with the Tucson Roadrunners (26-28-7-0) tonight at Tucson Arena (6:00 PT, 1700-AM) as the teams conclude their season series this weekend. San Diego returns to the ice after a disappointing home-and-home series with Bakersfield last week that saw the Gulls drop two consecutive regulations games for the first time since Dec. 16 and 17.
“We just need to tighten up some areas in our game,” said defenseman Nate Guenin. “Teams can get a little leaky late in the year and so cleaning up our mistakes is where our focus should be over the last eight games.”
Despite the setback against Bakersfield, the Gulls enter tonight with a 10-3-1-0 mark in the last 14 games, and have wins in 20 of their last 26 contests (20-5-1-0) and 27 of the last 35 overall (27-6-1-1). San Diego has earned standings points in 15 of the last 20 (14-5-1-0), as well as points in 31 of 37 contests since Christmas (27-6-2-2).
“We’ve done a lot to put ourselves in a great spot in the standings,” said Keaton Thompson. “Hopefully we can close out the season on a high-note and that starts with these two games in Tucson.”
Tonight will begin San Diego’s 19th set of back-to-backs, where the Gulls are 19-14-2-1 overall and 11-5-1-1 in the first matchup. The Gulls remaining eight games this season (three home, five road) will come against Pacific Division opponents where the Gulls have posted a 32-16-2-2 record. San Diego ranks fourth in the Western Conference in road win percentage (.638; 17-9-2-1) and has allowed the fewest road goals against in the league (76). The Gulls have earned standings points in 10 of the past 14 road games (10-3-1) and 16 of 19 road contests (14-3-1-1) after setting a club record 10-game road standings point streak (9-0-0-1) from Dec. 29 to Feb. 7.
The Gulls and Roadrunners face off in the 11th of 12 meetings this season and the fifth at Tucson Arena. San Diego has earned points in nine of the 10 previous matchups this season (8-1-0-1), including a 4-0-0-0 mark in Tucson. San Diego swept the most recent meetings between the two teams, defeating the Roadrunners 4-1 at Valley View Casino on Mar. 5 and 5-3 at Tucson Arena on Mar. 3. San Diego dropped their only regulation contest on Feb. 18 5-2 where the Roadrunners scored five unanswered goals. The Gulls previously swept a three-game road series in Tucson from Jan. 25-28, including a club record 8-1 rout on Jan. 25. In the other three meetings in San Diego, the Gulls earned a 5-3 win Oct. 14, a 5-1 win Nov. 30 and fell 5-4 in a shootout loss Dec. 26. Corey Tropp leads active Gulls skaters in goals (7) points (12) in nine games vs. the Roadrunners. In four starts vs. Tucson this season, Jhonas Enroth has posted a 3-1-0 record.
The Roadrunners playoff hopes are flickering as the club trails Bakersfield by seven points for the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division with only seven games remaining. Tucson is 3-6-1 in its last ten games, but two of those wins have come in its past three contests. The Roadrunners are led offensively by former Gull Chris Mueller who has scored 15 goals and added 42 assists this season, good for 57 points. In the season series, Mueller has tallied points in seven of the 10 games (4G/6A). Defenseman Kyle Wood has had a stellar campaign to date, posting 13 goals and 27 assists (40 points) to lead club defensemen and ranks tied for sixth in goals and tied for eighth in points among all AHL blueliners.
“They are a hungry team and very skilled,” said Thompson. “They have one of the best power-plays in the league so they will be a great test for us.”