Jan. 17, 2018

The Gulls (19-15-1-0, 39 pts., .557 win %) conclude a stretch of three straight games this morning against the Tucson Roadrunners (20-11-2-1, 41 pts., .632 win %) at Tucson Convention Center Arena (9 a.m. PT, ESPN 1700-AM). Despite dropping their last two contests to the Roadrunners, the Gulls enter today’s contest with wins in four of their last six contests (4-1-0-0) and 10 of their last 14 (10-4-0-0), in addition to wins in four of their last six road games (4-2-0-0).

This morning’s game also marks the eighth of a 12-game season series and the earliest start to a game in club history. San Diego is currently 1-2-0-0 in day games this season, including a 5-3 loss on Nov. 26 at San Jose, a 4-3 win on Dec. 23 at Ontario and a 3-1 loss on Dec. 31 at San Antonio. Following today, the Gulls have four additional day games on the schedule: Saturday, Feb. 10 at San Jose (1:15 p.m.), Sunday, Feb. 11 at San Jose (12 p.m.), Sunday, Feb. 18 at Ontario (3 p.m.), and Sunday, Mar. 25 at Cleveland (11 a.m. PT). Today also marks San Diego’s final game outside the state of California until Mar. 24 at Cleveland, a stretch of 21 games.

As the team enters the second half of the season schedule, it bears reminding how strong the club have been during the back end of the season.In games 35-68 each of the past two seasons the club leads the AHL with the highest win percentage (.728%) and have recorded the most wins (47) among Western Conference teams in the second half since the 2015-16 season. San Diego also has seven more wins than any other Pacific Division team in the second half since the division’s creation in 2015-16.

Facing any team at this stage of the season bears reminding that points are at a premium, especially when battling for playoff positioning as every point matters.

“I don’t think we focus too much on who we are playing. We prefer to focus on our style of game,” said Gulls center Sam Carrick who is expected to draw back in the lineup this morning after missing Monday’s game with an upper-body injury. “We think if we play our style, it doesn’t matter who we are playing, we’ll have a chance to win.”

“I think it’s important to set goals for your team, and we want to win every night, no matter what,” he continued. “If we take the approach of not looking at who we’re playing next weekend, or in three weeks, we want to win tonight. If we focus on getting the two points every night, good things will happen.”

The Gulls have won three of the seven previous matchups this season (3-4-0-0), but all-time have earned a 13-5-0-1 record for points in 14 of the 19 matchups between the teams. The Gulls own a 7-2-0-0 record all-time at Tucson Convention Center Arena despite a 1-2 record this season. The Roadrunners have won the last four contests, including Monday night’s 5-3 decision. Despite scoring the game’s first goal, Tucson would go on to record the next four tallies and then hold off a late San Diego comeback attempt.

Corey Tropp paces all active Gulls skaters in goals and points vs. Tucson in 14 career games (9-9=18) while Kalle Kossila leads the club with 10 assists (4-10=14) in 16 games. Kevin Boyle has earned wins in five of his seven career appearances vs. Tucson (5-2-0) with a 3.12 GAA and .912 SV%.

On the other side of the ledger, center Dylan 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 (17G/23A) in just 25 games. The dynamic forward from Mississauga, Ontario has tormented San Diego this season with 12 points (6G/6A) in five games. To slow down the dynamic forward, San Diego will have to do a better job of limiting his space and closing gaps.

“You have to understand that he has a certain skill set and you have to let him know that any time he touches the puck we’re going to have pressure,” said Eakins following Monday’s loss that saw Strome collect three points for the second straight game against the Gulls. “We seem to, for whatever reason, when he gets the puck we want to back away from him and try to defend instead of being highly aggressive and cutting off his arms and his hands with our body and dislodging him from the puck. We’ll talk about him again. The kid’s having a great first season, he’s a very good player but good players, the more time you give them the more points they’re going to put up.”

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 (11-3-0) has posted a 3.12 GAA and .895 SV%. Miska’s 11 wins place him second in wins among rookie goaltenders in the AHL behind only Texas’s Landon Bow (13). Miska recorded the win on Monday night, stopping 20-of-23 San Diego shots.

In order to score on the Tucson netminders and prevent goals at their end, Eakins believes the Gulls need to a better job of owning the area in front of both nets.

“It’s something we talk about all the time,” added Eakins. “There’s an area in front of the net that we call it the red zone and you have to own it at both ends. You have to be inside and own it in your own end, and the way you’re going to score goals in this league, and the NHL, is to get inside and own the red zone in their zone. They got inside and we got pushed around a little bit in that area.”

Finally, when asked about the challenges of such an early start to the game, the Gulls will simply have to forge ahead at full speed.

“It’ll be a fast turnaround,” he said after Monday night’s game. “Get the things that we think are necessary done and then it’s right back to business.”