PREVIEW: Gulls Hit Road To Battle BakersfieldJan 18, 2023
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls continue their tour of California opponents tonight, battling the Bakersfield Condors at Mechanics Bank Arena (6:30 p.m. PT; TV: AHL TV; RADIO: Gulls Audio Network).
San Diego (11-26-0-0) enters the game trailing the Condors (12-19-2-1) by just five points in the Pacific Division standings. As the group looks to begin a second-half surge, matchups against teams directly ahead of them grow in importance.
"I mean, we're trying to catch these guys," Gulls assistant coach Jason Clarke said. "So, I would expect that they're going to be ready to go. These games that we're playing within our own division are like four-point games for us right now. I think we need to really to be able to make sure that we’re ready to go and, and that we understand the importance of these two points on Wednesday."
This is the third of eight regular-season meetings between the Pacific Division rivals and the first of three head-to-head matchups over the next nine days. The Condors took the previous two games between the teams, winning 3-2 in Bakersfield on Nov. 2 and 2-0 in San Diego on Nov. 11. Defenseman Michael Kesselring leads both teams in goals (2), and his 2-0=2 points is tied with right wing Raphael Lavoie for the scoring lead. Both of Kesselring’s goals are game-winning tallies. As of Jan. 17, he ranked first among American Hockey League defensemen in shots (107) and tied for first in goals (10).
In addition, goaltender Calvin Pickard – recently reassigned to Bakersfield by the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers – won both games against San Diego, posting a 1.01 goals-against average (GAA) and .959 save percentage (SV%).
The two teams both underwent significant changes – with different results – since those November meetings. The Gulls added several new faces to the fold and enter tonight with a 5-5-0-0 record in their last 10 games. Before dropping a back-to-back weekend set against Ontario on Jan. 13-14, San Diego posted a winning record, grabbing victories in four of their five games from Dec. 28 – Jan. 11.
Key to the Gulls recent success is one of those new faces - veteran defenseman Michael Del Zotto. He enters tonight’s game riding a career-best six-game point streak, collecting 2-4=6 points during this stretch. It’s the second-longest active point streak among AHL defensemen, trailing Texas’ Will Butcher (seven games).
Del Zotto isn’t the only blueliner helping drive the team’s offense. Nikolas Brouillard enters tonight’s game third among AHL defensemen with 6-23=29 points. As of Jan. 17, the 27-year-old is also tied for second among league defensemen with four power-play goals and ranks third in assists. Additionally, Drew Helleson carries a career-best three-game point streak into tonight’s game and has 1-6=7 points in his last nine games.
Overall, San Diego’s defense accounted for 38.6% of the Gulls’ offense (17-of-44 points) over the team’s last six games. Despite the group’s success, Brouillard sees room for improvement.
"I think we just have to be a little better in the o(ffensive) zone," he said. "We have to have more sustained pressure. Sometimes, I feel like sometimes we're little disconnected. We just need to be tighter in the o(ffensive) zone."
The Gulls will look to expose a Condors team lacking some of their key early-season contributors. Forwards Mattias Janmark and Klim Kostin and defensemen Philip Broberg and Vincent Desharnais are key contributors with the Oilers. Their absence led to Bakersfield’s surprising fall down the division standings. Following their win over the Gulls on Nov. 11, they sat second in the division and collected six wins in their first 10 games. Since then, the Condors are 6-16-1-1 and enter tonight riding a four-game losing streak (0-2-1-1).