Dec. 6, 2017
For the first time the Gulls and Chicago Wolves (5-11-4-1, 15 pts.) will meet tonight at Allstate Arena (5 p.m., ESPN 1700-AM) as the Gulls (9-10-1-0, 19 pts., .475 win %) play the penultimate game of a season-long five-game road trip. Chicago is the primary AHL affiliate of the NHL’s newest club, the Vegas Golden Knights, which began play in the top-tier of hockey this season and are in the first year of the affiliation with the Wolves.
Tonight marks the second of three consecutive games in the Midwest, with the road trip concluding in Iowa on Saturday, Dec. 9. San Diego has won seven consecutive games against Central Division opponents, and all-time have a 11-5-1-0 vs. Central Division opponents (2-2 vs. Charlotte, 1-1 vs. Grand Rapids, 2-0 vs. Iowa, 2-1-1 vs. Manitoba, 2-1 vs. Milwaukee, 2-0 vs. Rockford), including a 5-3-1 record on the road (6-2-0 at home).
The Gulls are coming off of their second consecutive win, a 5-2 victory in Milwaukee last night, and conclude the seventh back-to-back of the season tonight, where the club is 6-6-1 overall and 4-2-0 in the second game. Center Kalle Kossila led the Gulls in last night’s win with a career high three points (1G/2A) and matched a career high wit a +3 rating.
The second-year Finnish forward has earned 10 points (3G/7A) in 10 games with the Gulls this season where he has split time between San Diego and Anaheim. Prior to last night’s game, Kossila was reassigned by the Ducks Monday and joined the team in Milwaukee.
“Kalle is the poster boy on how you have to handle call-ups and how you have to handle demotions,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins following last night’s game. “He comes down, obviously not happy to be demoted, but fully he understands that he needs to be a difference maker on this team. Rather than dragging his lip and having a black cloud over his head, he comes in and gives us energy and plays an excellent game and it gets him in a great frame of mind. People were here watching. Our scouts are here evaluating our team tonight and he showed very well.”
A key for the Gulls to continue their success is scoring first and getting out to an early lead. The team is 6-0-1-0 when scoring first this season and has a 34-2-3-1 mark when scoring the game’s first goal since the beginning of last season.
“The first goal is always big, especially this year,” said Kossila after his career night against the Admirals. “You just get energy from it and just feed off of it.”
Added Eakins: “The first period was by far our best of the season. Throughout the game we made very few mistakes. To a man, from our goalie to our six D, and all four lines they were contributing in different ways.”
The Gulls have earned points in 16 of their last 17 road games (14-1-2-0) outside the state of California dating back to Dec. 29, 2016. The Gulls lone regulation loss in the past 17 road games away from their home state came in their most recent trip on Nov. 22 at Tucson, a span of 389 days between losses outside of California.
Chicago is one of two Central Division teams San Diego has yet to face, with the Cleveland Monsters the only other Western Conference club San Diego has yet to match up against. The Gulls and Wolves will wrap up their two-game season set on Wednesday, Jan. 10 at Valley View Casino Center.
The Wolves enter tonight at the basement of the AHL standings with a .357 win percentage after winning only one of their last 10 games in regulation (1-5-3-1). Although in their last seven contests Chicago has earned at least a point in four of those games (1-3-3-0).
Twenty-five year-old left wing Teemu Pulkkinen leads Chicago in scoring with 21 points (8G/13A) 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 178 points (91G/87A) in 187 career AHL games.
In the net Kasimir Kaskisuo (3-7-1) has started 10 games for the Wolves this season after beginning the season with the Toronto Marlies. The Finnish native looked to be the goaltender to start the majority of Chicago’s games this season until veteran Michael Leighton was loaned to Chicago by the Arizona Coyotes organization on Nov. 21. Leighton (3-4-4) has made four appearances for the Wolves after making nine appearances with Syracuse before the Lightning traded him to Arizona.
In a long history of 17 seasons in professional hockey, the 36-year old has 110 games of NHL experience, including a Stanley Cup run with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 that saw them fall to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6. But it was Leighton that propelled the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final after collecting three shutouts in the Eastern Conference Final and becoming one of eight goaltenders in NHL history to record consecutive playoff shutouts.
To add to his resume, Leighton set the all-time AHL record for career shutouts two seasons ago with his 46th career regular-season shutout on Mar. 5, 2016 while with the Rockford IceHogs. In 331 career AHL games, Leighton has posted a 160-124-19 record with a 2.45 GAA and .917 SV%.