PREVIEW: Gulls at CondorsMar 13, 2019
Moving on from a pair of difficult losses this past weekend, San Diego looks forward as they challenge the current leader of the Pacific Division, the Bakersfield Condors. Tonight’s matchup at Rabobank Arena (7 p.m. PT, Radio: Mighty 1090) marks the beginning of a three-game road trip for the Gulls. With a 23-13-4-1 record all-time in March, San Diego continues a season-high 12-game schedule this month, including seven home and five road contests.
“It’s obviously an important time of the year with playoffs right around the corner,” said Gulls forward Chase De Leo. “It’s the first thing everybody thinks about when they wake up in the morning, especially the teams that are fighting for points. Every game is going to be tough from here on out, pretty much the rest of the year and going into playoffs hopefully. We have to stick together and stick to the game plan.”
After eight hard-fought games, San Diego and Bakersfield meet for the ninth time this season and the penultimate contest of a 10-game season series. The Gulls have four of the last six games vs. the Condors (4-2-0-0), including points in six of the eight contests this season (5-2-0-1). The Gulls are 20-14-1-1 all-time against the Condors, including 9-7-1-1 at Rabobank Arena (11-7-0-0 on home ice). After tonight, these teams will conclude their regular season series in San Diego on Mar. 29.
It has been a tale of two seasons for the Condors. On Jan. 11th Bakersfield had just dropped their fifth consecutive game in a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Eagles and were on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Since that loss, the Condors have tuned up their game and have become one of the best teams in the entire league. They won 24 of their following 27 matchups, outscoring their opponents 113-52 over that span.
Bakersfield boasts an impressive scoring trio of Tyler Benson (11-39=50, 56GP), Cooper Marody (14-34=48, 46GP) and Joe Gambardella (27-18=45, 47GP). However, one of their biggest weapons has been the man preventing goals, rather than scoring them. Goaltender Shane Starrett has been one of, if not the best netminder in the AHL this season. Among qualified goalies, Starrett leads the league with a 2.21 goals against average. In addition, he is tied for second in save percentage (.922) and is third in wins despite playing in fewer games than everyone near him in that category. The 24-year-old goaltender has also won 17 of his last 18 games played.
“I think they work extremely hard and they haven’t had a whole lot of movement over there,” said San Diego head coach Dallas Eakins. “They’ve been really able to keep lines together, pairs together and they’re very familiar with each other. When we compare the teams, they’ve just been able to really have some great cohesion. If you compare them to us, it seems like every day we have new lines, new pairs or we’ve got another injury or somebody else is called up. That goes a long way, whenever you’re able to keep rolling with the same lines, same pairs and you start doing things right and it starts to roll and it’s never disruptive.”
Even though America’s finest fans have given the Gulls an edge on home ice this season, the team has had success on the road as well. San Diego has posted a 14-10-2-2 record away from home this season, gaining points in 16 of their last 20 road contests (12-4-2-2). In addition, San Diego earned points in 10 straight road games from Dec. 14-Jan. 21 to mark the longest such streak in the AHL this season, and tied for the longest Gulls road point streak in club history (also 10 games: Dec. 29, 2016-Feb. 7, 2017; 9-0-0-1).
Corey Tropp leads the Gulls in all-time scoring (60-79=139), goals, and ranks second in assists and games played (170). He has been a weapon in five games against the Condors this season, scoring five goals and adding an assist with a +3 rating. Recently picking up his 30th point of the season, Tropp became the only Gulls player to record three consecutive seasons with 30+ points.
Following tonight’s game, the Gulls will continue their three-game road trip against the Manitoba Moose at Bell MTS Place on Sunday, Mar. 17 (12 p.m. PT) and Tuesday, Mar. 19 (5 p.m. PT).