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Meanwhile On The Farm: Gulls Gaining Ground

All the pieces are in place now for the stretch run

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at New York Rangers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year Gulls fans! Last we heard of our avian heroes they were riding a 4 game win streak thanks to back to back wins over both the rival Heat and Reign.

Since then the boys in orange, black and blue have had a somewhat inconsistent showing but have finished strong to setup would could very well be an impressive stretch run to the playoffs.

San Diego Gulls 1 - Tuscon Road Runners 4

On a high from their 4 game win streak the Gulls came home to face the division leading Road Runners. The visitors were all business to start and opened the scoring just 2:35 in on the Power play with James Melindy in the box for roughing. They further padded their lead midway through the first before Corey Tropp got one back in the 2nd. But that was as much as the Gulls could muster in front of their raucaus home crowd, surrendering a further two goals in the 3rd. It should be noted that highly touted Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome was deliberately scratched for this game as punishment for arriving late after the Christmas break. The Road Runners as a team appeared to rally around this coaching move and outplayed the Gulls for the win.

San Diego Gulls 6 - Texas Stars 3

San Diego departed for their second Texas swing of the season with resolve to get back on the winning track and win they did with fresh troops providing support. Joseph Blandisi returned to the line-up (I guess it wasn't a concussion?) as did Jacob Larsson, seemingly for good this time. They also had recently waived Dennis Rasmussen and back-from-injury Jared Boll. Kalle Kossila opened the scoring midway through the first on the Power play before the Stars tied it up in the 2nd, Eric Fehr got his 8th goal less than a minute later to regain the lead. The third opened up as Kerdiles stayed hot potting his 4th while Fehr got another on the power play. Sideroff also got his 4th from some hard work by the rookie line (more on that later) and Rasmussen finished off the Stars with the empty netter. Boyle had 33 saves on 36 shots, the power play went 2 for 3 and Kalle Kossila had a 3 point night.

San Diego Gulls 1 - San Antonio Rampage 2

The one that got away. There isn’t much to say about this one. It was played at a tight checking, offense choking pace. Punctuated by Corey Tropp getting the first goal of the night with 3 minutes left in the first and then the Rampage snatching the game by potting two within the last two minutes of the 3rd. A harsh loss to take but a lesson in playing the full 60 minutes. Reto Berra took the loss, making 29 saves on 31 shots. Pettersson, Fehr, Megna and Ramussen appeared to be on the ice for both Rampage goals.

San Diego Gulls 4 - Texas Stars 3

Putting the last second heart-breaker in San Antonio behind them San Diego returned to Cedar Park determined to salvage the road-trip. The teams traded chances in the first with the Stars coming out 2-1 after 20, then Corey Tropp took things over in the second scoring the first natural hat trick in Gulls history with all 3 goals coming with the extra man. The San Diego powerplay went an astounding 3 for 4. Texas fought back for one more goal in the 3rd but the Gulls held on to pick up 4 out of 6 points in Texas. Kalle Kossila had assists on all four Gulls goals.

San Diego Gulls 5 - San Jose Barracuda 0

Back at home for a back to back with the baby sharks the Gulls put the rest of the division on watch with a beatdown on the Barracudda. The newly formed “NHL” line of Boll, Rassmussen and Fehr opened the scoring when Boll swatted one in from net front before Kossila one-upped the Rampages last minute score with one of his own, scored at 19:5990 of the first. Joseph Blandisi got another powerplay marker from the 2nd unit before Eric Fehr and Carrick got the 4th and 5th goals in the 3rd. All but Bolls opening goal were scored with the extra man, as the Gulls unstoppable man-advantage went 4 for 5. After this game they sat atop in the league with 27.6%, the second best team, the Manitoba Moose are 23.5% for perspective.

San Diego Gulls 3 - San Jose Barracuda 2

Another game in which the man-advantage was deadly the visiting Barracuda managed to hold off the Gulls until 5 minutes into the second when Eric Fehr banged in a rebound with the man-advantage. The Barracuda tied it up 10 minutes later when Larsson rim-around pass was intercepted by San Jose forward Helewka and put past the surprised Kevin Boyle. Joseph Blandisi got his second powerplay goal in as many games just 2 minutes into the 2nd when he tipped a nice point shot from Marcus Pettersson. San Jose again tied it almost 2 minutes later when Keaton Thompson missed his assignment net front and allowed villain-on-the-night Emerson Clark to bang a few shots on Boyle before finally getting it past. But it was Sam Carrick taking a nice feed from Blandisi in the neutral zone to enter with speed and drive around the Barracuda defense for a pretty go-ahead goal that would end up the winner.

Thoughts and Observations:

Too Much Depth

Now that everyone is back for both the Ducks and the Gulls everything seems to be falling into a place and a perfect storm of a potentially unstoppable run could be on the cards. Reto Berra had been under the weather of late, having to leave a game due to illness and in the games since he has made some rash and strange decisions at times but in his shutout of the Barracuda on Friday I think he proved he is back to normal now. Kevin Boyle has been playing well as well in his stead, the young netminder seems to thrive under competition for the starting position. With Rasmussen now joining the Gulls they boast a roster with over 4 NHL veterans, something very handy to have come playoff time but also comes at the expense of development minutes for some of the youngsters. Speaking of which...

Odd Men Out

Being blessed with depth now means the Gulls are forced to healthy scratch players on a regular basis, they have also been carrying 3 goalies since Berra came down (Berra, Boyle and Irving). As mentioned previously Ortega has not played since November and it was announced Saturday that he and Melindy have been assigned to the Utah Grizzlies. Keep an eye on the Escondido native, he is likely to tear things up in the ECHL. Scott Sabourin has also not been seen since the Texas game on the 3rd - he appears to be switching in and out with Boll. The all-rookie fourth line seems to be rotating out Fiore, Nattinen, Dostie and Hults with Dostie and Hults missing the most games at the moment, while Sideroff remains the constant as of now. Barring injury all other lines appear to be solidified and they are...

The Top 9

Line 1: Kerdiles, Kossila and Tropp (as noted last week) are an unstoppable force. If they aren't scoring on the number one power play unit, they are getting it done with ease on the 5 on 5. Kossila has 7 points in his last 3 games, Tropp has 3 and Kerdiles has 4. They are a perfect blend of skill (Kossila), speed (Kerdiles) and braun (Tropp) that are giving opposing teams constant headaches.
Line 2: Newly formed Blandisi, Carrick and White are a similar makeup. Blandisi has the speed but also the play-making ability needed to setup the veteran sniper Carrick while White creates room and causes havoc in front of the net. Carrick has 2 points in his last 3 games (both goals), Blandisi also has 3 and White is scoreless. It is a tad disappointing now that the Ducks have sent their Vets down that White is getting ice time over some of the Ducks prospects that need the development but I will touch on that more later.
Line 3: The “Vet” or “NHL” line. Featuring Rasmussen, Fehr and Jared Boll. Rasmussen has slid into the defensive minded veteran forward role that Ryan Garbutt occupied for most of his Gulls tenure (3 points in his last 3 games), Fehr has been a pleasant revelation (4 points in his last 3 games and already the Gulls leading goal-scorer with 11 in 19 games) and Boll, well he hasn't taken too many stupid penalties I guess? The Gulls already have plenty of guys who can fight but if they need a true heavyweight they know they can rely on Rittenhouse.

Powerplay Still Hot, Penalty Kill starting to look better

As mentioned, the Gulls are leading the league on the Powerplay and its not even close. They have scored 9 goals on their last 16 attempts, that's a 56% clip. Depth seems to be the secret to their current potency, as the plethora of players now available means they are rolling four forwards on both units. The top unit has Fehr, Tropp and Kerdiles up front with Welinski and Kossila quaterbacking, Fehr and Tropp in particular are getting the majority of their power-play goals from chaos in front. The second unit is holding their own lately also. With Rasmussen, Fiore and Blandisi up front while Pettersson and Carrick hold the blue line. On both units Welinski and Pettersson appear to play the top in a loose 1 - 3 - 1 configuration; it varies though.
Meanwhile the Penalty Kill is out of the cellar! San Diego is now ranked 25th in the league with a 79.1% kill rate and are only getting better of late. They have allowed 1 powerplay goal on the last 22 attempts.

Congrats Andy & Kalle

Andy Welinski was selected to the AHL All Star Classic to represent the Pacific Division. Last year Brandon Montour was the representative so that's a good indicator for how Welinski has been this season and what potential future he might have. Kalle Kossila has been named AHL player of the week due to the above mentioned insane points streak he has been on. If the AHL wasnt so deep with forwards he would probably be in the All Star Classic also.

Farewell JST

Jordan Samuels-Thomas was released from his contract and has left to play in the Czech Republic. He was great for the Gulls over his tenure but once everybody started coming back there was simply no room for the defensive forward. Good luck JST, hope to maybe see you back some day.

Roy Coming Back Soon? Now

I wrote this piece before the news broke yesterday that both Roy and Kase had been assigned to San Diego. Originally I had speculated he would be coming back and yesterdays update made that true. Randy Carlyle said early and often that he did not want to see the speedy winger play in minutes not suited to his role so that should mean he would likely stay until another major injury in the top 6 but speculation is also rife that this is just a cap-savings move. I believe he should stay - whilst Kase gets the conditioning needed and goes back up for the Ducks next game.

Looking To The Future

I know its a bit early but I think the theme of this update has been “too many players, something has got to give” and with the influx of Sam Steel, Max Jones, Josh Mahura and Jack Kopacka next year (not to mention potentially Tyler Soy and Troy Terry) both the Ducks and Gulls are going to have to make some room. As it stands from the Gulls perspective Kossila, Welinski, Boll, Rasmussen, Sabourin, Kerdiles and Tropp are on the last year of their deals. Of that list I can see the Ducks definitely wanting to keep Kossila and Welinski, possibly Kerdlies but that could be an interesting one. Tropp has been playing like he wants a new deal but he might end up a victim of the numbers game, if the Gulls don’t bring him back though he will definitely get paid elsewhere. That frees up 4 extra forward spots - not withstanding Fehr and White might not be back either - so 6.... Ok maybe they should definitely bring back Tropp.

Fun Fact: The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently paying Eric Fehr $2,000,000 to play for the Gulls and mentor the Ducks prospects. Thanks Toronto!

From the Ducks perspective, they have Cogliano, Vermette, Roy, Ritchie, Kase, Grant, Shaw, Liambas, Wagner, Bieska (Praise Jesus!), Beauchemin and Montour at the end of their deals. Roy, Ritchie, Kase, Shaw and Montour are RFA with Roy, Shaw and Montour eligible for arbitration. Liambas is definitely gone, a lot of Ducks fans have probably forgotten he was even a thing. Bieska will hopefully accept his new role as some sort of broadcast or entertainment facilitator. Beauchemin will retire. The tough questions will be on Cogliano, Wagner, Shaw and possibly Vermette. I don’t particularly dislike any of those guys but the Ducks do need to start making room for the future...

Next Up:

It’s a rematch with the Chicago Wolves, the Vegas affiliate has been hot of late and the Gulls need to avenge their lack-lustre performance in Chicago last month. After that it’s 3 straight against the Tuscon Road Runners - who have also been hot thanks to Dylan Strome being returned to them from the Coyotes.