Dec. 1, 2017
The Gulls continue their season-long five-game road trip tonight (7 p.m., Mighty 1090-AM) as they take on Southern California rival Ontario Reign for the fourth time this season and the second meeting at Citizens Business Bank Arena. San Diego (7-10-1-0, 15 pts.) will be looking to snap out a three-game losing streak and return to their winning ways, while Ontario has won its last four games.
All records go out the window though when you face a rival, and the Gulls have had success on the road of late, earning standings points in 18 of the last 28 road games (16-10-2-0) and 24 of the final 33 contests away from home (20-10-2-1) dating back to last season. At Ontario, the Gulls have posted a 9-3-0-1 record in addition to the all-time record of 15-10-1-1 vs. the Reign.
“They (Ontario) play their systems well,” said Gulls defenseman Andy Welinski. “They don’t do anything too crazy, I think that is their game plan, to stick to what they know and obviously we know what we are going to get. They are going to be a hard working team, they are going to be physical and we are going to need to play our system as well to beat them.”
The two Pacific Division clubs split a home-and-home, back-to-back matchup on Nov. 3-4, with Ontario prevailing 1-0 at Valley View Casino Center despite a franchise-tying 41 saves from Gulls goaltender Leland Irving.
San Diego won the following matchup a night later with a 4-3 shootout win at Citizens Business Bank Arena behind Reto Berra’s 38-save performance in his Gulls debut. Ontario took the third meeting thanks to a pair of Andrew Crescenzi goals, a decisive 4-1 decision on Nov. 11 in San Diego.
“It’s a marathon. The seasons aren’t short,” said Gulls center Eric Fehr when asked about the peaks and valleys about the season. “You have to be able to move on from tough losses and just try and stay on an even keel.”
After an 0-6-0-0 start to the season, the Reign have gone on an 8-1-0-1 run to climb over .500% for the first time this season (8-7-0-1, 17 pts.). Left wing Michael Mersch, a fourth round selection (110th overall) by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2011 NHL Draft leads the team with 14 points (5-9=14) in 16 games. Rookie goalie Cal Petersen, a fifth round selection (129th overall) by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013 NHL Draft leads the AHL with a 1.37 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage and is tied for first with two shutouts.
Right wing Corey Tropp leads all active skaters with nine points (4-5=9) in 13 games against the Reign, but it remains to be seen if he’ll return from a lower-body injury after missing the last 13 games dating back to his last appearance on Oct. 21. In goal, Kevin Boyle has seen the most action against the Reign, registering a solid 2.23 GAA and a .925% save percentage in three games despite having yet to record a win against Ontario.
While San Diego’s power play to start the season has a stellar 24% success rate, good for first in the AHL, the penalty kill has struggled. That has definitely been a focus of emphasis this week for the Gulls coaching staff as well as the players.
“A lot of it is taking away time and space and keeping pressure on them (the opponent),” added Welinski. “A power play loves when they have time and they are able to make plays so that is a big key for us, to be aggressive on the (penalty) kill.”
Facing Ontario may help cure those penalty killing woes as the Reign power play sits near the bottom of the league, operating at just 12.1%.
For goaltender Reto Berra, focus and intensity will be key if the Gulls are going to be able to come away with two points.
“Every game is a test,” said Berra. “We have to focus on what we do and play our game and battle out there. I’m excited to go back there (to Ontario).”