Jan. 15, 2018
The Gulls (19-14-1-0, 39 pts, .574 win %) look to start a new winning streak tonight against the Pacific Division leading Tucson Roadrunners (19-11-2-1, 41 pts, .621 win %) at Tucson Arena (6:05 p.m. PT, ESPN 1700-AM). Tonight’s game will be the second of three straight matchups between the two clubs following Saturday’s contest at Valley View Casino Center. The teams will also meet again Wednesday here in Tucson (9:05 a.m.). The Gulls enter tonight looking for payback after falling 4-2 to these Roadrunners Saturday, the third straight loss in the 12-game season series. Overall, the Gulls have still won four of their last five (4-1-0-0) and 10 of their last 13 contests (10-3-0-0).
“They are in first place for a reason,” said Gulls defenseman Jaycob Megna following Saturday night’s contest. “It’s a good measuring stick for us. We are not quite where we want to be yet. We have got them twice more coming up here. It will be another good test and hopefully we will get them back on Monday.”
This season the Gulls are 3-3 against the Roadrunners, with San Diego taking the first three meetings. All-time, San Diego is 13-4-0-1 against Tucson since the start of last season with the Gulls earning points in 14 of the 18 contests. At Tucson Arena, the Gulls are 7-1-0-0 with their lone loss coming in their last visit on Nov. 22. Right wing Corey Tropp (9-8=17) leads all active Gulls skaters in goals and points vs. Tucson while center Kalle Kossila leads the club with nine assists (4-10=14) in 17 games. Goaltender Kevin Boyle has earned wins in five of six career stars vs. Tucson (5-1-0) with a 2.96 GAA and .919 SV%.
Tucson sit atop the Pacific Division following Saturday’s win that would have seen either team sit atop the other seven division foes with a regulation win. San Diego led 2-0 after the first period thanks to goals from Corey Tropp and Joe Blandisi, but four unanswered goals by the Roadrunners put a dent in San Diego’s perfect start to 2018. Dylan Strome again led the way with a three-point game (2G/1A), including the game-winning goal with 9:45 remaining in the third period. He has scored 10 points in five games against the Gulls this season.
Strome, who was selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the first round selection (third overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, leads the Roadrunners in scoring this season with 37 points (16G/21A) in just 24 games. Strome is ranks fourth among AHL leaders in scoring despite playing 12 fewer games than the top three league scorers, while his 1.54 points per game ishighest median among players who have played 20 or more games. Fellow Coyotes first round selection Nick Merkley, the 30th overall selection of the same 2015 draft, has recorded 35 points (18G/17A) in 28 games to date this season, but missed Saturday’s game for an undisclosed reason.
Adin Hill and Hunter Miska have split duties in goals for the Roadrunners this season. Hill (8-8-1) has posted a 2.50 GAA and .911 SV% to date, while Miska (10-3-0) has posted a 3.01 GAA and .899 SV%. Miska’s 10 wins place him in tied for second among rookie goalies victories with the aforementioned Boyle. Hill has now won his last three decisions against the Gulls, stopping 86-of-89 in those contests.
A key for tonight’s contest will be getting shots through to the net and past the first line of Tucson forwards who blocked more than a dozen shots Saturday.
“They really committed to it,” said Megna. “I thought we did a good job trying to fake shots and go around them but they have layers. You just have to keep going to the net and keep trying to put pucks to the net and hopefully some will get through.”
For San Diego, these next two games will be another measuring stick as the Gulls look to solidify their presence among the top four teams in the division and vie for playoff positioning a third year running.
“Going into the game they were first in our division and we were right behind them,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins. “The next two games are extremely important to solidify our spot.”