AHL’s two hottest teams face off tonight in first-ever meeting at Valley View Casino Center
Jan. 9, 2018
The Gulls (18-13-1-0, 37 pts, .578 win %) will host the Chicago Wolves for the first time in club history tonight at Valley View Casino Center (7 p.m., ESPN 1700-AM) in a matchup between two of the league’s top teams the past month.
San Diego enters tonight with three straight wins coming out of a weekend sweep of San Jose and have now won nine of their past 11 games (9-2-0-0) since a defeat at the hands of the Wolves on Dec. 6, and 11 of the past 14 (11-3-0-0) to climb into third place in the Pacific Division. The Wolves (18-12-5-2, 43 pts., .581 win %), the primary affiliate of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, enter tonight as the AHL’s hottest team with a club record 14-game standings point streak, having earned a 12-0-1-1 record to vault into second place in their division and from 29th to 12th in the league standings the past month.
In addition to the past month, these two teams lead the AHL in win percentage since Dec. 26, 2016, with the Gulls leading the AHL in that category (50-22-3-2, 105 pts, .682 win %) and the Wolves (48-20-10-5, 111 pts, .669 win %) not far behind. San Diego’s 50 wins in that span lead the Western Conference.
On Friday night, Gulls goaltender Reto Berra turned aside all 46 shots faced en route to a 5-0 shutout to set a new club record for saves in a single-game. Kevin Boyle would match him just one night later with a 46-save performance of his own, and also set a club record for shots faced (48). Sam Carrick broke a third period tie as the Gulls prevailed again, 3-2. The win Saturday evening marked the 100th win in Gulls history. The Gulls are the first Pacific Division team to reach 100 wins since the inception of the division and lead the Pacific Division in all-time wins, win percentage (.631%) and points (212) with a record of 100-56-8-4 since the division’s inception in 2015.
Center Kalle Kossila added yet another assist in Saturday’s contest, his 20th on the season to bring his point total to a team-leading 29 (9G/20A). Kossila was named the CCM/AHL Player of the week to cap a three-game stretch in which he recorded seven points (1G/6A), the first player in club history to be honored with the league award.
“I just try to be a good team player,” said Kossila. “I try to get as many points for the team as possible.”
Another aspect of the Gulls hot streak has been the improved defensive play. San Diego has held their opponents to three goals or fewer in 13 of their last 14 games. According to rookie defenseman Jacob Larsson, a first round selection (27th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015, the return of Jaycob Megna to the lineup following two different stints with the Ducks is a big reason for the success.
“I like to play with him,” said Larsson in regards to the 6-6, 225-pound Megna. “He plays hard and he is strong on the puck. I try to work as hard as him all the time.”
Both goaltenders are a major reason for San Diego’s recent success the past 14 games. Boyle has won five straight appearances with a 2.11 goals-against average (GAA) and .939 save percentage (SV%) dating back to Dec. 13. In his last six home appearances, Boyle (10-6-1)is a perfect 6-0-0 with a 2.06 GAA and .940 SV% dating back to Nov. 17. Berra (7-4-0) is 2-1-0 in his last three appearances with a 1.GAA and .951 SV%.
Two familiar faces are expected in the lineup tonight as the Anaheim Ducks assigned forwards Ondrej Kase and Kevin Roy to San Diego yesterday. For the first time since Nov. 8, Roy could enter the Gulls lineup after his first stint in the NHL. In 25 games with the parent club, Roy collected seven points (6G/1A) including his first NHL goal on Nov. 15 vs. Boston. He had 11 points (4G/7A) in 10 games with the Gulls this season prior to his recall.
Kase has spent the entire season in Anaheim, earning 15 points (9G/6A) in 27 games. He last appeared for the Gulls in the First Round of the 2016-17 Calder Cup Playoffs. The Kadan, Czech Republic native has already set an NHL career high this season in goals (9) and matched his point total from last season (15) compared to last year’s 53 games played.
Both players bring added depth to the Gulls roster who all of a sudden have 18 players on the current roster that have appeared in an NHL contest in their career. Those 18 players combined have a total of 2,534 games of NHL experience.
These two clubs met back on Dec. 6 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. when Chicago came away with a 3-1 win. Southern California native Beau Bennett scored what would be the winning goal in the second period of the contest, San Diego’s lone loss against a Central Division team in their last nine contests (8-1-0-0). Right wing Scott Sabourin recorded the loan tally for the Gulls.
Chicago is led in scoring by center Brandon Pirri who has collected 30 points (15G/15A) in 28 games. Pirri has appeared in 226 NHL games with the New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks, registering 98 points (57G/41A). Left wing Teemu Pulkkinen is second in scoring with 28 points (10G/18A) in his first year with the club after the Finnish native was selected in the expansion draft by Vegas from the Arizona Coyotes this past summer having crafted his trade with the Coyotes, Minnesota Wild and Iowa Wild last season. Selected in the fourth round (111th overall) by the Detroit Red Wings of the 2010 NHL Draft, Pulkkinen has scored 185 points (93G/92A) in 203 career AHL games.
In the net Finnish goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo (7-8-1) has started 16 games for the Wolves this season after beginning the season with the Toronto Marlies. He is joined in the goalie tandem by Max Lagace. At the NHL level, Lagace became the fourth goaltender to appear in a game for Vegas on Oct. 30. He posted a 6-6-1 record in 14 games in his first stint of NHL action, but has posted a 10-2-2 record with a 2.43 GAA and .914 SV% in 14 appearances for Chicago.
“These are good teams to play against,” added Kossila when asked about Chicago. “We just have to be ready to go.”