Dec. 27, 2017
The Gulls return from the AHL’s holiday break with a five-game win streak on the line as they host the Tucson Roadrunners tonight at Valley View Casino Center (7 p.m., ESPN 1700-AM). San Diego (14-11-1-0, 29 pts.) enters tonight on a roll, having won a season-high five consecutive games and seven of their last eight contests (7-1-0-0). San Diego’s five-game win streak is the longest since a six-game streak last season from Jan. 25-Feb. 7, 2017 and ties the third-longest win streak in club history (also five games from Jan. 7-20, 2017). The Gulls are also 7-1-0-0 in the month of December and continue a 41-day stretch that sees the Gulls play the final home game during a span of 13 games with nine on the road.
The Gulls enter tonight leading the AHL in win percentage the last calendar year with a 46-20-3-2 record (.683 win%) dating back to Dec. 26, 2016. San Diego’s 20 losses are the joint-fewest in the AHL (also Chicago) and the 46 wins lead the Western Conference. Since the creation of the Pacific Division in the 2015-16 season, San Diego leads the division in all-time wins and win percentage with a 96-54-8-4 record. San Diego’s .630 win percentage is also the highest among Western Conference teams since the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
“I think it’s a team effort,” Gulls center Kalle Kossila said of the recent hot streak. “Players are sticking up for one another, protecting each other and doing the little things right. Staying in games and never giving up. We’re never out of games.”
To keep the streak alive, San Diego will lean upon veterans and rookies alike who have compiled point streaks in conjunction with helping the club to their recent win streak. Kossila comes into tonight’s action with a season-high five-game point streak (3-5=8), as does veteran right wing Corey Tropp who has points in a season-high five straight games (3-4=7). Left wing Nic Kerdiles has a four-game point streak (2-3=5) since returning from injury and rookie defenseman Marcus Pettersson has assists in three consecutive contests (0-3=3).
This season the Gulls are 3-1 against Tucson. San Diego took the first three meetings, including a wild 7-6 affair at Tucson Arena on opening night on Oct. 7. The Gulls continued their winning ways against the Roadrunners on Nov. 17 at Valley View Casino Center where they unleashed an eight goal attack to down Tucson 8-3. They followed up a night later with a 3-2 shootout decision. However, the Roadrunners would get a measure of revenge a few nights later on Nov. 22 when Tucson blanked San Diego 5-0 behind Adin Hill’s 29 save shutout. It would be San Diego’s first defeat at Tucson Arena in eight games.
All-time, the Gulls lead the series between the two Pacific Division opponents by a wide margin. San Diego is 13-2-0-1 against Tucson in the two years of competition with points taken in 14 of 16 contests. At Valley View Casino Center, the Gulls are 6-1-0-1 in eight games. Corey Tropp (7-8=15) leads all active Gulls skaters in goals and points vs. Tucson while Kossila leads the club with nine assists (4-9=13) in 15 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%.
Another reason for San Diego’s recent success is the recent goaltending success of Boyle and veteran netminder Reto Berra. Boyle (8-6-1) ranks second among all AHL rookie goaltenders in wins (8) and is second in minutes with just shy of 870 in the crease in his 15 appearances. Boyle is four games shy of matching his total of 19 played last season. Boyle has won all five of his recent home appearances with a 2.08 GAA and .934 SV%. Berra has won his last four decisions to date, coincidentally all on the road.
In contrast to the Gulls recent winning streak, the Roadrunners come in to town mired in a bit of a slump having lost seven of their last 10 games. They are led in scoring by dynamic center Dylan Strome, who was selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the first round selection (third overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft. He has piled up 27 points (9G/18A) in just 17 games while he was just reassigned to Tucson by the parent club Coyotes. Not far behind him is fellow Coyotes first round selection Nick Merkley, the 30th overall selection of the same 2015 draft. Merkley has 24 points (12G/12A) in 21 games to date this season.
Adin Hill and Hunter Miska have split duties in goals for the Roadrunners this season, earning the yeomen’s work while Marek Langhamer was recently loaned to Czech club HC Kometa Brno for the remainder of the season. Hill (5-6-1) has posted a 2.42 GAA and .911 SV% to date, while Miska (7-3-0) has posted a 3.02 GAA and .895 SV%. Miska’s seven wins rank third among AHL rookies and one win behind Boyle’s eight.
Of focus tonight will be San Diego’s league-leading power play. The Gulls 24.6% mark on the man advantage ranks first in the AHL, with the 32 power play tallies the highest average per game (1.23). San Diego is also 18-of-69 (26.1%) at home, which is second among Western Conference clubs and ranks third in the AHL. The unit may be key in tonight’s pivotal divisional matchup that has seen the Gulls pot seven goals on the man advantage (7-for-19, 36.8%).