Grimaldi Leads The Way As Gulls Ground CondorsJan 25, 2023
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls continued their recent stretch of strong play at Pechanga Arena San Diego, grounding the rival Bakersfield Condors 5-3 tonight on home ice. The win snaps a five-game losing skid for the Gulls, who pulled within seven points of Bakersfield in the ever-tightening Pacific Division race.
Rocco Grimaldi led the charge, tying a season high with 2-2=4 points. Michael Del Zotto recorded 1-2=3 points while Benoit-Olivier Groulx (1-1=2), Glenn Gawdin (1-1=2) and David Cotton (0-2=2) also finished with multi-point performances. Lukas Dostal earned the win, stopping 30 of 33 shots.
A determined San Diego squad came out of the gates looking for offense, with Del Zotto netting the game’s first goal just 1:32 into the opening frame.
Grimaldi started the rush, taking a pass from David Cotton and carrying the puck into the Bakersfield end. Del Zotto split the defense and received a short pass from Grimaldi, firing a shot over the glove of Condors netminder Calvin Pickard from the slot for his sixth goal of the season.
Since joining the Gulls on Dec. 19, Del Zotto’s 4-8=12 points leads all team defensemen and outpaces his production in 25 games with the Charlotte Checkers (2-8=10) earlier this season.
San Diego’s penalty kill – a strength all season – extended their lead to two later in the opening frame. Gawdin collected a loose puck in the offensive zone, battling three different Bakersfield skaters for possession. The center curled off the wall and found an open Grimaldi, who found open ice in the slot. He took Gawdin’s pass and quickly spun around, firing a shot past Pickard for his 15th goal of the season.
Grimaldi, who earlier this season matched the team record for most shorthanded goals in a game and a single period, collected his third man-down tally of the season. His three shorthanded goals are tied for the league lead, and his tally marked the Gulls' sixth shorthanded goals over the last 11 games (Dec. 30, 2022 – Jan. 25, 2023).
Bakersfield responded late in the period as Noah Philp finished off a 3-on-2 rush to cut the Gulls’ advantage to one. It marked the lone blemish in a stellar start for San Diego, who fired a season-high 16 shots on net in the opening frame. The team only allowed four, matching a season low.
"Well, it's been kind of the opposite," Gulls head coach Roy Sommer said. "Every time we played these guys, they’ve jumped right on us and then we were chasing the game in the second and third period. Finally, they were chasing the game, but a lot of good things you know, especially the first half of the game. I thought we kind of sat back a little bit in the third. We missed (Pavol) Regenda out there and kind of messed our lines up a little bit. We took that 14-minuter (penalty) at the end, which kind of hurt us a little bit, but we hung in there. We got saves when we needed it, and we got timely goals.
The second period matched the first, with San Diego driving play and generating chances in the offensive end.
The effort paid off during 4-on-4 play, with Groulx restoring his team’s two-goal advantage at 4:35 of the middle frame. Grimaldi worked the puck up the ice, stopping just inside the offensive blue line. He drew the attention of two Condors before hitting Del Zotto with a pass, sending the defenseman down the wing with speed. His cross-ice pass found the stick of a wide-open Groulx, who fired his shot past a sliding Pickard for his 10th goal of the season.
Gawdin joined the scoring later in the period, grabbing a power-play goal with 5:25 remaining in the second. Brayden Tracey came down from the point, faking a shot before finding Groulx at the side of the net. The center put the puck toward the crease, where Gawdin battled around the defenseman to bang the puck in for his 11th goal of the season.
"It was a was a lucky goal, to be honest," Groulx said. "I went on the goal line (and) I just saw that I had a little bit of space. The defenseman was up high on (Gulls left wing Brayden) Tracy, so we talked about it before the period that that they were going to do that, and Trace made a nice pass to me and Gawds (Gulls center Glenn Gawdin) was at the right spot. I just made a backhand pass right on his stick, but I don't even think he saw it, to be honest. I had the perfect view. He just slowly went in. So, it was a nice goal. Our power play has been struggling for the last couple of games, so it was nice to get one today."
Tensions boiled over following the middle frame, with Phil Esposito and Pavol Regenda tussling along the boards after the final horn. The pair would each earn 10-minute misconduct penalties, but an extra roughing minor assessed to Regenda put Bakersfield on the power play to start the final period.
The man-advantage gave the Condors life, with Ty Tullio bringing Bakersfield within two on a power-play goal at 1:12 of the final frame. The goal kickstarted a furious comeback attempt, with Devin Shore pulling his team within a goal late in regulation.
Grimaldi would end any hopes of a thrilling finish, picking a puck out of the air at his defensive blue line and racing down the ice for the empty-net goal with 30 seconds left in regulation.
San Diego continues its four-game homestand on Friday, hosting the Condors at 7 p.m. PT.
"Well, we're kind of in desperation mode right now," Sommer said. "That was 32 games left and now 31 on Friday, so we kind of start clean and see what we can do the last 32 and so far, so good."