Del Zotto And Helleson Extend Point Streaks, Gulls Fall 5-2 Against ReignJan 14, 2023
By Brett Pickler/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls drop the second game of the home-and-home series with the Ontario Reign, falling 5-2 at Toyota Arena.
The Gulls started the game strong. They used their speed to generate offense on rushes, looking to catch the Reign defense flatfooted. One of their best chances in the period came from defenseman Axel Andersson. In his first game back since Nov. 26, the defenseman used his skating ability to create space and walk in one-on-one with the goalie. He wristed a shot at the bottom of the hashmarks, but goaltender Cal Petersen got enough of the puck to keep the game scoreless.
"Their goalie played well," Gulls assistant coach Kris Sparre said. "We had some chances to get ahead in that game and he made some timely saves. I thought (Gulls goaltender Olle Eriksson) Ek played well for us tonight as well. We have to generate a little more traffic at the net. I've said it before - there's really good goaltenders in this division and if they see the puck, they stop it most nights. We have to get in front of their eyes and get ready to bang in those second and third chances."
However, just as quickly as the Gulls started the game, the Reign were able to counter. Ontario utilized their forecheck to establish themselves in the San Diego zone. At the 4:14 mark, the Reign capitalized on a strong cycle play. They funneled the puck behind the net and center Nikita Pavlychev attempted to slip the puck in at the far post. He mishandled the puck, but a bad bounce saw the puck slide into the back of the net giving Ontario a 1-0 lead. The Reign did not slow down, immediately adding a second goal 1:14 later after center Lias Andersson beat a defender wide and slotted the puck low blocker.
San Diego got a chance when Ontario conceded a penalty late in the period. The Gulls controlled the action in the offensive zone, creating passing lanes and finding the open man. They managed to get a few shots on net but could not cut the Reign’s lead in half.
"We know they're a fast team and at home, they like to jump out on you early so we were ready for them tonight," Gulls defenseman Drew Helleson said. "They did pot those two goals, but they were pretty soft. It wasn't Olle’s (Gulls goaltender Olle Eriksson Ek) fault - a couple of ricocheted off guys skates and stuff, sticks, whatever - but we played well. Our first tonight was much better than last night and just it's kind of it's tough to be down two there after the first after playing pretty well, but not much you can do on those goals."
The second period followed a similar theme to the first. The Gulls started on the front foot generating chances early, but the Reign absorbed the pressure and then countered with a strong offensive attack. Ontario controlled most of the period, resulting in them outshooting San Diego 15-5.
The Reign added two more goals in the second period. Their first of the period came with five minutes left in the period. Left wing Aidan Dudas got the puck on an odd man rush and fired a shot on goal looking for a rebound. The puck took an unfortunate bounce off the backchecking defender and found itself in the Gulls’ net. Ontario made it 4-0 with 33 seconds remaining when right wing Martin Chromiak hammered a one-time bid on a 2-on-1 rush.
Down by four going into the final 20 minutes, San Diego needed a large push to get back into the game. However, a turnover at the offensive zone blue line did not help. This led to left wing Samuel Fagemo skating in all alone from the red line on a breakaway. He sniped the puck top shelf giving the Reign a five-goal lead at the 8:48 mark of the period.
San Diego did not back down as they were able to score twice to end Petersen’s shutout bid. Helleson opened the scoring for the Gulls after the puck deflected off of center Bryce Kindopp’s skate. Helleson picked up the puck and fired it on net. This goal extends his point streak to three games (1-2=3).
"The puck came out to me there and there's a good screen in front," Helleson explained. "That’s been a focal point too is trying to get pucks to the net with traffic and the guys did a good job getting there and the puck had eyes, it found the back of the net and I was pretty lucky there."
Then, 42 seconds later, center Benoit-Olivier Groulx deflected a shot from the point, popping the puck over the head of the goalie and into the net. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto picked up the secondary assist moving his point streak to six games (2-4=6).
As the game entered its final minutes, tempers started to flare. Andersson ran over goaltender Olle Eriksson Ek after his shot was blocked. This led to every Gulls player on the ice coming to the aid of their goaltender. Groulx took extra exception to the hit, pushing right wing Hunter Drew out of the way so he could take on Andersson himself. Groulx landed multiple punches before the two went down to the ice.
"It's a sign of a team that plays for each other," Sparre said about the incident. "You see someone go down and you have five guys, almost like a pack of wolves mentality, getting right in there. It was really good to see Bo, Drewsie and all the other guys on the ice as well. That's a good sign."
After order was restored, the Gulls made one last push to even the score. They ended up outshooting Ontario 17-7 in the period but could not draw any closer. The game ended with Ontario winning 5-2. Eriksson Ek made 25 save on 30 shots and recorded the loss.
"I mean, it's hard," Helleson said. "They get the momentum in the first period there. We played well, like I said, and it's tough, but that's adversity and we’ve got to bounce back from that and hopefully here on Wednesday, we can get back in the win column."