February 26, 2016
SAN DIEGO – Chris Mueller netted a goal with two assists and Shea Theodore added a goal and helper, as the San Diego Gulls put together one of their most complete performances of the season in a 5-1 victory over the San Antonio Rampage on Friday night at Valley View Casino Center.
A crowd of 9,585 saw the Gulls (26-20-1-2) improve to 5-0-0 against the Rampage this season, and 7-2-0-1 in the month of February. San Diego remains in a tie with the San Jose Barracuda at a .561 points percentage for third place in the AHL Pacific Division.
Fortified by the recent injury returns of Nic Kerdiles, Brian McGrattan and Kyle MacKinnon, along with the acquisition of center Chris Wagner via waivers from the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, the Gulls posted one of their healthiest and strongest lineups of the season when they welcomed the Rampage on the ice.
The results were quickly seen in San Diego’s favor, as a steal by Kerdiles in the Gulls zone fed Mueller in the middle, whose one-timer deflected to Ondrej Kase skating the low slot. Kase found a yawning net mouth in front of him and potted his third goal of the season, putting San Diego on top 4:35 into the contest.
Both teams traded power play opportunities late in the first period, but when the Rampage (23-25-8-0) were sent for consecutive minor penalties in the final minute of the frame, San Diego’s struggling power play unit was given a 5-on-3 advantage. The Gulls converted, as Mike Sgarbossa’s cross-ice pass found a wide open Mueller, who roofed his eleventh goal of the season over the right shoulder of Reto Berra (33 saves) and into the net for a 2-0 lead at 19:39.
San Antonio’s Joey Hishon connected on a turnaround goal at 3:47 of the second to put the Rampage on the board, but the Gulls answered on a neat give-and-go play between Sgarbossa and Shea Theodore, with the 2013 Ducks first-round draft pick finishing his sixth goal of the year high over Berra at 6:15 to recapture the two goal edge.
The Gulls’ fourth line, or “energy line”, has been humming as of late, and contributed their third goal of the week to finish off the second period scoring. Andrew O’Brien’s low right wing shot deflected to defenseman Stu Bickel, who shot back across the goalmouth to Kyle MacKinnon, who slotted the rebound for his third goal of the year and second in as many games. Bickel, who was assigned Rampage star winger Mikko Rantanen all night and limited the AHL Rookie Point leader to a lone assist, earned third star of the night for his all-around good work.
Nic Kerdiles concluded the scoring with his team-high seventh power play goal of the season, tipping a third period Mueller bid between Berra’s pads to set the final score line at 7:16.
Anton Khudobin improved his record to 10-6-2 in net with the victory, stopping 36-of-37 shots faced. The Gulls will host the Barracuda on Saturday night at Valley View Casino Center to settle the AHL Pacific Division third place tie for the time being.
NOTES: The first goal won yet again in a Gulls game; the team scoring the night’s first goal has gone on to win the game in nineteen straight Gulls games, 24 of the last 25 and 35 of the last 37…San Diego snapped a streak of fifteen straight failed power play conversions with their first period goal, going 2-for-3 on the night…conversely, the Gulls’ penalty kill unit has stopped sixteen straight man advantages against, scoring twice short-handed along the way…Brandon Montour’s power play assist was his 25th power play point of the year and 20th power play assist; both stats lead the AHL.
1st Star: SD Chris Mueller (1-2=3); 2nd Star: SD Anton Khudobin (36 saves on 37 shots faced); 3rdStar: SD Stu Bickel (0-1=1)