Gulls Return To San Diego For Clash With First-Place EaglesNov 30, 2022
By Brett Pickler/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls return home for a Pacific Division game against the Colorado Eagles at Pechanga Arena San Diego (7 p.m. PT; TV: AHL TV, RADIO: Gulls Audio Network).
The Gulls are set to take on the Eagles in the second matchup of a four-game regular-season series. In their first meeting, San Diego won 4-3 led by the offensive efforts of right wing Rocco Grimaldi (1-2=3) and center Danny O’Regan (0-2=2). Since then, Colorado moved into first place in the division and are riding a six-game win streak, pushing their record to 9-1-0-0 in the Eagles last 10 games.
Tonight, San Diego looks to build on the recent success of their power play. In their last game – a 5-2 loss to the Henderson Silver Knights on Sunday, Nov. 27- the Gulls scored twice on the power play, marking back-to-back games with man-advantage goals. This rejuvenated power play is helped by the play of Grimaldi and O’Regan. As of Nov. 29, Grimaldi sits alone in second place in the American Hockey League with six power-play goals (PPG). Meanwhile, O’Regan is in the top-10 of AHL skaters with eight power-play assists.. The Gulls’ power play looks to take advantage of a struggling Eagles penalty kill that is tied for seventh worst in the league at 75.3%.
"I think, you know, with the power play, the goals, they kind of come and go," Gulls assistant coach Kris Sparre said. "For us, we focus a lot on where our chances are coming from. Are they quality and do we have enough traffic net front? We do have those chances. So, yeah, it went in last game for us and we just got to kind of stick with it. We talk a lot about how quick the puck moves and how its really hard to defend when the pucks moving quick. So, we’ll continue to look to do that."
However, the team understands the importance of converting while at even strength. Gulls center Justin Kirkland spoke as to how the team can make the most of its chances skating 5-on-5.
"We watched some video today," he explained following yesterday’s practice. "We’re focusing on areas where we can extend our zone time. Right now, it’s a little too much of one and done. We’re not getting in on pucks down there. We’re a little bit too spread out. So, today, we went over some things, looked at ways that we could support each other better. Little bit more of a tight triangle in the O-zone (offensive zone) and be right, close to each other. So, we’re looking to put that into play tomorrow and hopefully have some success because 5-on-5 play is, you know, that’s a huge difference in this league."
Converting at even strength may be a challenge with the recent play of the Eagles’ goalies, Jonas Johansson and Justus Annunen. Each goalie has six wins in nine games played. Johansson is ranked fifth in the AHL with a 2.01 goals-against average (GAA) and sits third in the league with a .932 save percentage (SV%). Meanwhile, Annunen is playing just as well, with a 2.55 GAA and a .918 SV%.
San Diego’s strength is also in net, where Lukas Dostal continues his strong start. The netminder enters tonight with an impressive 2.06 GAA and a .932 SV% through his last nine games. The Brno, Czech Republic native also has history against the Eagles. As a rookie last season, Dostal became the first goaltender in the history of the Anaheim Ducks organization (NHL or AHL level) and 16th goaltender in AHL history to score a goal in a game (17th including playoffs). The netminder also made a career-high 51 saves on 52 shots in the win.
Despite the team’s recent struggles, the Gulls feel the combination of Dostal’s strong play and the team’s narrow losses will turn the tide.
"Yeah, I think it’s important that you’re taking the positives right now," Sparre said. "It’s easy to get negative and start looking at all of the things that we’re doing wrong when you’re not winning games; but I think it’s important that we are looking at the things that we have done well in the past few games and now we got to continue to build off that."