Nov. 26, 2017
San Diego and San Jose face off this afternoon at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. (3 p.m., Mighty 1090-AM) for the first of eight regular season matchups and the first time since these two clubs met in the 2017 Pacific Division Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Gulls (7-9-1-0, 15 pts.) begin a season-long five-game road as they look to snap a two-game skid and return to winning ways.
Despite playing one of their best games of the season on Friday night, Bakersfield netminder Nick Ellis stopped 41 shots and helped the Condors knock off the Gulls 4-1 at Valley View Casino Center. After Friday’s game, Gulls Head Coach Dallas Eakins was encouraged that his team is heading in the right direction after an up-and-down start to the year.
“I think that’s the best game we have played all year. It’s hard not getting the points but I’m encouraged by the way that we played,” said Eakins. “I thought we were the dominant team. I thought our power play was excellent even though we weren’t able to sneak in one. We had a ton of five-on-five chances. Sometimes the score is not indicative of the play. I think if we can play like that every night we are going to come out on top.”
San Jose ended the Gulls’ season in the second round of last spring’s Calder Cup Playoffs, eliminating San Diego in five games (4-1) during the first postseason meeting between the clubs. San Diego’s lone victory came in Game 1 when Kevin Roy scored the overtime winner 38 seconds into the extra session to seal a 3-2 win, the first OT winner in club history.
Last season, San Diego went 5-4-1-0 against San Jose during the 10-game regular-season series, including a perfect 5-0-0-0 at Valley View Casino Center. On the road in 2016-17, the Gulls posted a 0-4-1-0 record at SAP Center.
All-time, the Gulls are 13-6-2-1 vs. the Barracuda, including 8-1-1-1 at home and 5-5-1-0 on the road in the regular season. The Gulls have won seven consecutive home games against San Jose dating back to Feb. 2016.
The Barracuda, the primary affiliate of the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks, are led in scoring by left wingers Marcus Sorensen (5-8=13) and Rudolf Balcers (1-10=11). Sorensen was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round (106th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft, while Balcers was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round (142nd overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft. In goal, the trio of veteran Troy Grosenick, the AHL’s reigning goaltender of the year, Antoine Bibeau and rookie Parker Gahagen man the net sfor San Jose. Bibeau (4-3-0) has had a terrific start to the season for the Barracuda, posting a 1.82 GAA and a .933 SV%. Surprisingly, Grosenick (3-4-1) has struggled to start with a 3.38 GAA and .874 SV%
For the Gulls, continued tweaks to the penalty kill will be the key to success after dominating five-on-five play on Friday night but yielding two power-play goals.
“I think we made two small mistakes,” added Eakins, who believes his penalty kill may have turned a corner. “[Friday] might have been the best our penalty kill has played all year.”
In addition to a strong penalty kill, the team is finding its identity as young first-and-second year players mesh with a veteran core that continues to build a base together.
“This is my first time playing down here (this season) but we have a really good team. They work hard,” said Gulls defenseman Jaycob Megna following his first game with the team on Friday night after beginning the season with Anaheim. “We have a lot of young guys, a little bit of a different makeup than the last couple of years, but there is a lot of potential. Once things start to click and we find our rhythm I think we are going to be a dangerous team.”
Added Eakins: “I’m not a big believer in build, I’m a big believer in every moment is an opportunity.”