Sorry it has been a longer-than-week wait! It’s the silly season and also Summer down here so I have been a tad occupied with Summer activities.
San Diego Gulls vs Tuscon Roadrunners
I could not watch this one live and did not have time to watch the replay (also lacked the motivation given I knew they would lose) but in a quick summary. San Diego again out-shot their opponent in the first period, while also taking the opening score and narrowly held the shot advantage in the middle frame, surrendering a goal in familiar fashion but they ran out of steam in the third - surrendering four goals on eleven shots - losing 5-2. Tropp and Thompson had the San Diego goals with Boyle taking the loss. It should be noted that Luke Gazdic was in the line-up for this one presumably because Blandisi was injured before this game (potentially in the previous San Jose tilt).
San Diego Gulls @ Colorado Eagles
In the first game of action for newly signed ECHL journeyman Matt Berry, the Gulls went tit for tat with the Eagles for forty minutes before finally surrendering one midway through the third. San Diego did their best to mount a come back but came up short as the Eagles iced it into the empty net in the final thirty seconds. Coreau took the loss. Again I did not get to catch this one live and did not have the heart to watch after learning the outcome.
San Diego Gulls @ Colorado Eagles
I caught some of this one and from what I saw - the final score does not do the Gulls’ effort any justice. San Diego out shot the home team 36-23 and controlled play for much, if not 80% of the game from the stretches that I saw. Carrick opened the scoring on a shorthanded breakaway before Colorado tied it back up on a seperate power play six minutes later. The second period saw a lot of back and forth but no scoring - both teams compiling ten shots or more on net, with San Diego holding the 16-10 edge.
In the third, with the Eagles’ Travis Barron in the box for charging, Max Jones took it upon himself to use both his size and soft hands to create space and score from tight in front to take the lead. But Colorado answered right back with back to back goals within a minute span less than four minutes later. 2018 first round draft pick Martin Kaut got a fourth Colorado goal which Sam Steel responded to a few minutes later, but it was too little too late, and San Diego came home pointless from the trip riding a four game losing streak.
San Diego Gulls @ Bakersfield Condors
I managed to catch this one live - tentatively daring to hope the return of Andy Welinski and the acquisition of veteran Adam Cracknell might turn things around. Cracknell slotted in on the Lundestrom line with De Leo while Thomson was elevated to join the third line with Steel and Tropp, leaving Carrick to center the fourth line with Fiore and Berry.
San Diego came out determined and controlled play up until the three minute mark when Phil Esposito took the puck from behind the San Diego net and snuck a wrap around in on a play that Coreau probably should have had covered. Note: Due to the presence of Esposito I had “Desposito” stuck in my head for the entire game.
San Diego quelled some Bakersfield momentum after the goal and managed to get their own back off a brilliant shift from Fiore. Carrick essentially creating the goal with sheer force of will, outstripping the Bakersfield defender down low, getting the puck to an open Berry behind the net who in turn fed Fiore in front for the easy put in.
Shortly after, Troy Terry drew a tripping penalty on a play that would have made the highlight reels for years to come as he undressed the Bakersfield defence, but was tripped at the moment of truth. San Diego had some looks on the Power play and appeared to be looking to Welinski to be the final shooter but could not convert. Carrick drew another penalty on the shift immediately after the extra man advantage. San Diego had some good passing and managed to execute not just one but two cross crease backhand passes, but it was disjointed and erratic, symbolic of a team that doesn't seem to be completely familiar with each-other. To add insult to injury, Bakersfield forced a turnover in the neutral zone and sped away to take a 2-1 lead just as the penalty expired.
The period ended 2-1 Condors with the Gulls out-shooting the host thirteen to six.
San Diego got yet another power play near the start of the third on yet another tripping penalty, but again play looked disjointed, and although there was good movement and space, no-one seemed to know how to get into the right place at the right time.
Just before the midway mark, Simon Benoit was assessed a slashing penalty but San Diego made the Colorado power play look embarrassingly bad, not allowing them to setup and generating several chances as well as an offensive face off during its tenure.
The Gulls again controlled play for much of the next five minutes until a Bakersfield rush against the Terry line led to a goal from the Condors on some poor man to man defense. The puck bounced around in the danger area by the hash marks, eventually getting to an open Condor who finished it for a strike past a bewildered Coreau. 3-1 Condors.
The period ended 3-1 Condors with the host out-shooting the Gulls 9-6.
The Gulls finally got some life when Max Jones drew a holding penalty four minutes into the final frame - bodily exhibiting a Getzlaf-like refusal to give up the puck down low and forcing the Condor defender to weakly tackle him. The Gulls finally converted with the man-advantage on the ensuing power play, leaving it until the three seconds to get the puck down low to Corey Tropp, who finished it off with his patented through the legs and to the forehand in the crease move to bring the Gulls within one.
San Diego would get another play a minute later when Steel was tripped coming out of the Gulls’ zone. The power play was a fizzler and painted a perfect picture of the Gulls’ season thus far as Sam Steel and Isac Lundestrom collided at the offensive blue line on an attempted zone entry.
Thankfully as the Gulls did eventually enter the zone, a long range shot from the point led to a big rebound and a scramble in front where Kale Kossila potted it in from point blank range to bring it to a 3-3 tie.
Unable to finish things off in regulation, San Diego began OT with Jones, Carrick and Welinski. San Diego rolled three lines of 2 forward 1 defender combos, and although things got very interesting, chances were more in favour of the Condors. Thankfully, Coreau came up big - not just once but twice- sending things to a shoot out to decide.
Neither team could score with their first two shooters, but the Condors converted with their third and the pressure was on Sam Carrick to bring things even in the final round. He could not, and the Gulls dropped their fifth straight.
San Diego Gulls vs San Jose Barracuda
Fresh off of getting a point in Bakersfield there was a general sense of being on the right track heading into this home tilt with the Pacific Division leading Barracuda. Interestingly Eakins juggled lines and started a line featuring Max Jones, Sam Carrick and Deven Sideroff.
The move didn't immediately pay dividends as Carricks over enthusiasm to get to the net lead to an offensive zone holding penalty. The Barracuda power play looked fairly tame at first with the Gulls enjoying a couple of chances, but a San Jose rush into the San Diego zone lead to a cross ice pass that was finished with expert precision to take the early lead.
Kale Kossila was called out by BJ on the broadcast and it was shown in the replay that he did not work hard enough to tie up his man in front.
With eleven minutes left, Troy Terry put on a show deeking his way into shooting position in the slot and then shifting again to catch the goaltender out but could not get a backhander high enough.
Three minutes later the Gulls got caught on a 3 on 1 and San Jose punished their mistake, Keaton Thompson blew a tire too deep in the offensive zone which lead to the odd man rush. 2-0 ugly fish,
With six minutes remaining in the opening frame a concentrated effort in the offensive zone by Jones, Carrick and Terry resulted in a much deserved Jones score - bearing down to put in a loose rebound from a scramble in front.
Max Jones continued his dominance entering the second, chaperoning the puck around the offensive zone and making a deft toe drag to get into a shooting position by the left hash marks but was stopped. The play was only one of many elite level moves he has made lately, and more and more he is showing the promise for big things.
Just two minutes later, after a concentrated team effort to disallow any shot to get to Boyle, the Gulls forced a turnover via Lundestrom and the puck bounced free to an open Jones who wristed a perfect top corner shot for the tie and his second of the game.
As a nasty element of chippiness emerged, Max Jones briefly left the game when it initially appeared he was spared off the face off - but from the replay it was an extremely dirty hook to the nether regions. Well I guess it WAS ‘nutcracker night’
San Diego came agonizingly close when Giovani Fiore had a wide open net to shoot at but hit the post on a net front scramble. Two minutes later, the Barracuda took the lead on a cycle in the Gulls’ zone, firing a point shot that got past Boyle.
Max Jones again took the game into his hands by running around the San Jose zone like a wrecking ball, eventually drawing a kneeing penalty when one of Barracuda found it the only way they would be able to stop him. Sam Carrick deftly redirected a hard Troy Terry pass from the right side in the slot past Bibeau to knot things up at three with just under ten minutes left.
Max Jones drew yet another penalty as he was hauled down on a semi breakaway but the Gulls were unable to convert with the man advantage. They came very close on what appeared to be a set play off a face off win, Adam Cracknell had a shooting lane but faked the shot and passed to an open Simon Benoit who had snuck into scoring position but the San Jose net-minder made a desperation save. San Diego held momentum and all of the chances for the remainder of the period but could not get one past the stubborn Bibeau.
The overtime saw opportunities for both sides but both net-minders stood tall and for the second straight game the Gulls went to a shootout.
San Jose scored with their first shooter, but Max Jones answered right back with a perfect move. San Jose missed with their second shooter, while Terry could not convert either. It made it to the 5th round before Adam Cracknell played the hero with a series of stop start moves before easily taking it wide and around the sprawled Bibeau.
Gulls win 4-3 to finally snap the skid.
News and Observations:
Miss You Marty
Much like the Ducks’ woeful start of the season - the Gulls’ inability to climb out of the cellar and string together some wins could be blamed on a variety of factors.
- Injuries. This is most noticeably Jack Kopacka, who had shown promise early, Jacob Megna going down for a period of a few weeks, and now Joseph Blandisi.
- Call-ups. The San Diego blue line has rarely had a consistent set of pairings for the entire season thus far, and I have spoken about it ad-nauseam here so I won’t go much further except to say: they haven’t really had much to work with this season.
However, it could be said that the exact same timeline of events occurred last season. I even pointed out in the first MOTF of the year that this is very much déjà vu. No, despite all of the above excuses the Gulls should still be finding ways to win games. They have enough - if not more - talent up front than last year to make a difference. So why are they still losing? As best as I can put it the only constant that has changed between last year and this year is Marty Wilford. The Gulls’ long time defense coach earned a well deserved promotion to the big club and his replacement - doesn't seem to quite have a system to replicate Wilford's success. I am not trying to say that this is entirely a coaching issue - like I stated; there are a variety of factors coming together which could contribute to the Gulls being unable to succeed like they once have, but this is an area that has changed. There is one other potential variable also...
Last season the Gulls had a similarly terrible start, albeit with a much better record at this point of the season than this year’s current crop - but it wasn't until the acquisition via loan of Eric Fehr that things really turned around. The veteran forward brought so much to the team that it cannot be completely quantified on a spreadsheet. He acted as an almost player-coach, guiding team-mates and teaching them in how best to protect the puck or win board-battles. I am guessing that Ben Street was supposed to be that presence this season, but due to the injuries as well as his initial strong play he is still up in Anaheim. Enter Adam Cracknell.
When the Oleksy for Cracknell deal was announced I was initially massively confused. With the then-state-of-affairs between both Welinski and Mahura being with the Ducks and Fowler being still injured, it meant that the Gulls would almost definitely need to rely on regular minutes from at least one ECHL call-up if not two on their blue line. They were hurting on defense. Why? Why Bob Why? Then I realised that in addition to the move to add Matt Berry in the previous week, Eakins had asked his GM to add more grit, leadership, and accountability. They were searching for someone to provide the turn-around that Fehr brought last year. A common characteristic of a young team is lack of mental fortitude. When the Gulls won that hard-fought fight-filled and chippy affair against the Moose but then turned around and fell completely flat in the very next game, I believe that was the moment the call was made that something had to be done. Cracknell provided the game winning shootout goal over the division leaders in the last game. Let’s see if his presence leads to a more consistent effort from the team moving forward.
Do a Line
Cracknell was slotted in on a line with youngster Isac Lundestrom, presumably to aid in the 2018 first rounder’s development in his first year in North America, but this wasn’t the only change to the line-up. Eakins has elected to completely switch lines around in a move that has me scratching my head. The once very consistent and always great Sideroff-Thomson-Dostie line is no more, with either Sideroff or Dostie (or both) being scratched on a night-on night-off basis. Hell, even Thomson was scratched for the most recent game. I may be completely wrong, and it may be injuries or illness that is forcing the coach’s hand (and actually makes way more sense)... but without word or updates on that, I can only assume and hope that this line gets put back together eventually. Meanwhile Terry and Jones were split up to start the last game - another weird call as they have shown great chemistry. Essentially none of the lines made a heck of a lot of sense to me in that last game, except for maybe having Kossila and Tropp together. Here is hoping Eakins puts things back to semi-normal for tonight's game. Oh but speaking of Kossila.
Curious Case of Kalle
Kossila had a noticeably off game in the win over the Barracuda, redeeming things with his shootout conversion but being seemingly half asleep on the play for the first Barracuda goal.
Kalle has eleven points in twelve games but hasn't exactly been dominating action since his return, and is quietly fading into the chorus while the likes of Jones and Terry take center stage.
I hate to call him out because I love the guy and I still believe this is his year to permanently make the big club, but he needs to shake whatever is ailing him. But on a more positive note..
Max Jones = Beast
Max Jones is in the midst of his coming out party and I would like to take this opportunity to call out all of those who said he was on his way to becoming a bust due to how often he has been injured over the past few years. The first year pro now has twelve points in twenty games, and slowly but surely he is showing why the Ducks elected to call his name with the 24th selection in the 2016 entry draft. He was a physical force in the game against San Jose and not even a vicious stick to the twig’n’berries could stop him. If he can keep this up game in and game out, it won’t be long before he gets the call to Anaheim.
Tyler Soy now has 14 points in 19 games for the Tulsa Oilers - placing him 4th on the team in scoring. He will need to pick it up again if he wants to see some time with the Gulls this year.
With the departure of Oleksy, it took Chase De Leo less than a hot minute to switch his number to the newly available number 7. I have to admit I do prefer it on him as opposed to his previous 15. Now it looks like the Gulls have their own - more offensively gifted - Andrew Cogliano flying around the ice.
Keep An Eye Out
To make up for my lack of updates lately, I plan on doing a mid-term grades for both the Gulls and other players in the Ducks organisation. Watch this space.
The Ugly Fish come back to town for a rematch tonight - puck drop at 7pm Pacific. Then it’s a home and away with the Ontario Reign on Friday and Saturday - at 7pm and 3pm respectively.