UPDATE!: After I posted this it was announced on the Gulls in Flight podcast that Kevin Roy, Mitch Hults and Julius Nattinen would be healthy-scratched for the first Ontario game. A very bold move by Coach Eakins with the playoffs on the line but one (if you read my comments on Roy further down) that possibly needed to be made to shake things up.
What a season it has been. One that started with a depleted line up that slowly got further decimated until things suddenly swung the other way and excess personnel were quickly a hindrance. A year of insane power-play streaks and perplexing shots for/against disparity. A year of temporary heroes now missed and consistent workhorses. And now one last scene to conclude this epic.
Where we last left the Gulls they had dropped a disappointing St Patrick's Day Shocker, a game in which they held a record breaking very early 2-0 goal lead but squandered it and allowed the Condors to chip away a 5-2 win in their own building. San Diego then had 6 straight games against opponents with lesser win percentages, 3 within division but 2 on the complete other side of the continent. The compacted schedule and distance to travel seems to have caused our beach friendly fowl to stumble just before this final hurdle and they now find themselves in the precarious position of clinging to the final 3rd/4th spot in the ever tightening garbage compactor that is the Pacific Division.
San Diego Gulls 4 - Cleveland Monsters 3 (OT)
Making the long trip to Ohio to visit the affiliate to the Columbus Blue Jackets, San Diego fell behind early when Monsters forward Alex Broadhurst capitalized on a curious bounce off the end-boards that took Reto Berra completely by surprise. Austin Ortega tied it up with his 3rd on the season 7 minutes later on a nice setup from Kevin Roy. Pro Debutant Spencer Naas put the Monters back in front midway through the 2nd on a shot that Berra probably should have had, before Corey Tropp again tied it this time on the Power Play just a few minutes later, picking up the rebound from an Ortega point shot. San Diego took the lead just under 2 minutes into the 3rd off a beautiful wrist shot from the point from Jacob Larsson, his 3rd of the year. It looked as though the Gulls might grind out an away victory before Cleveland tied it with less than 3 minutes left. Then - and I want to preface this by stating I called this in my piece last week when speaking about newly signed Keifer Sherwood.
So as I was saying....Then with less than 2 minutes left in OT a flurry of shots from Kalle Kossila were miraculously saved but one rebound sprung free to the lurking Sherwood, and he popped it home for the game winner. In his debut. If you look at the replay it was a high risk play, if the goaltender makes the save and rebound springs out, both Sherwood and Kossila would have been caught down low.
San Diego Gulls 2 - Cleveland Monsters 1
In their final game in Ohio, the Gulls came out flat to start. Allowing yet another pro debutant to score their first goal - this time in the final minute of the first period. Play was middling through the 2nd though San Diego did pour on the pressure, out-shooting Cleveland 12-7. They broke through in the final frame - Giovanni Fiore netted his team leading 18th on the newly melded top line with assists from Kossila and Tropp. Former Kings property Jeff Zatkoff was having a monster (excuse the pun) game and stopped both Kossila and Tropp on a rush before Fiore buried the 3rd rebound late. Nic Kerdiles got his 13th on the year 4 minutes later on a tip in front from a Jaycob Megna wrist shot. The Gulls managed to hold off any further Cleveland resistance this time thanks to Kevin Boyle’s 27 saves and escaped Ohio with 2 valuable wins.
San Diego Gulls 2 - Bakersfield Condors 3
You could be forgiven for thinking there was a typo on the score-sheet for this one as once again San Diego fell behind early - both goals by the exact same scorer with the exact same helpers but just a period apart. Fighting an uphill battle in a game they knew they had to win to stay ahead in the Pacific Division the Gulls game out fighting in the 3rd getting goals from Mitch Hults (off a beautiful pass from Roy) less than 2 mins in and - Mr Clutch yet again - Keifer Sherwood midway through the final frame to tie it. But Sherwood could not be the hero this time as the Condors took the lead again less than a minute later and manged to hold it to hand the Gulls their 2nd straight loss to the Condors.
San Diego Gulls 3 - Cleveland Monsters 1
Still reeling from the loss to the Condors, San Diego withstood the initial storm from the visitors and were the first to score first for the first time in the last 4 games when Mitch Hults took a pass from Roy and fired a shot high over Zatkoffs right should from the top of the circles. Kalle Kossila then made it 2-0 with a beautiful backhand goal coming in from the right boards on a broken play. Cleveland would get one back before Keaton Thompson restored the 2 goal lead with 7 minutes left in the middle frame. Kevin Boyle made the score hold up - turning aside 44 shots. Yes the Gulls were out-shot by their opponent in the win yet again.
San Diego Gulls 1 - Bakersfield Condors 2
Heading to Bakersfield for their final date with the Condors for the season and the first of 3 games on the road, San Diego seemed to have the right start when Kevin Roy opened the scoring less than 2 minutes into the game for his 12th on the season. But Bakersfield were determined to repeat history and once again, slowly etched away at the Gulls. Tying the game up midway through the 2nd before taking the lead midway through the 3rd. Reto Berra faced over 30 shots through the first 2 periods before both teams managed only single digit shot totals in the final frame. Another disappointing loss to the Condors who seemed to have the Gulls number this season.
San Diego Gulls 0 - San Jose Barracuda 4
Playing in San Jose usually means a matinee game but thankfully this one was at a normal evening time. Though that didn't seem to help the Gulls much. San Diego again witnessed 2 pro debutantes scoring their first goals on the first 2 Barracuda goals. The first by Huntington Beach native Alexander Chmelevski, the other by actual-Russian Ivan Chekhovich. San Jose put two more by Boyle in the 2nd and 3rd periods respectively and San Diego had no answer. On a positive note - they did keep the shot totals close. By games end it was 33 San Jose, 27 San Diego.
Thoughts and Observations (In honor of Ready Player One - 80s/90s video game titles)
The Secret of Monkey Island
Much like this classic puzzle based adventure game, the Gulls recent struggles and inconsistency is a source of constant confusion that must have Coach Dallas Eakins feeling like Guybrush Threepwood. As I mentioned last week, they have been out-shot in over 2/3rds of their wins and on the year have been out-shot in 44 of their 63 games played. That is roughly 70% of their games. Again it doesn't take a smart person to know that you aren't going to win too many games when getting out-shot by your opponent. Even with how good Kevin Boyle and Reto Berra have been, its unavoidable. There needs to be a better team commitment to defense and tighter checking. Much like that one puzzle in the game that stumped me for like a whole week - the answer is right in front of your face Gulls, just get it together.
That said, the Gulls have been shorthanded on the blue line ever since the recall of Marcus Pettersson. They have gotten by without him with Andy Welinski, Jacob Larsson and Jaycob Megna stepping up but then Andy Welinski and Korbinian Holzer were recalled for potential injury cover. Since then the Gulls have been rolling the following pairings:
Megna / Larsson
Schultz / Oleksy
Thompson / Cooper
The first two pairings can handle themselves but as demonstrated earlier in the season, Thompson and Cooper can get a tad overwhelmed at times. To make matters worse, Jacob Larsson left the most recent Bakersfield game after getting hip checked and falling awkwardly on his head. He was replaced by recent college signing Chris Forney. All of a sudden the Gulls defense pairings are starting to look like an NHL 94 Anaheim roster, Bobby Dollas and Bill Houlder anyone? If they somehow fall out of the playoff picture before seasons end, this recent run of bad luck to hit the blue line would be a big part of that.
Street Fighter II
I mentioned Mike Liambas in my last piece but I have to bring him up again because in nearly all of the recent losses, the Woodbridge Ontario native has dropped the gloves in an attempt to fire the team up. I realize it is his job and I know not everyone is a fan of fighting in the game but with the way the team has been playing lately, it does feel good to know that at least someone is playing with a little heart and is doing what he does best to try to motivate the team. I for one hope he gets a good end story when he takes out the final boss at seasons end.
I said it already but I need to bring it up again, Kiefer Sherwood is clutch. The Columbus, Ohio native has 2 goals in 6 games, the first an OT winner and the other a late game-tier. If the Gulls have any hope of winning or getting points out of these last 5 games, they need to put Sherwood on the ice when the game is on the line.
Sonic The Hedgehog
It has been a while since we last spoke about Kevin Roy. That’s because the speedy winger has been relatively quiet of late. Yes he has consistently been putting up assists, playing on a line with Mitch Hults and Austin Ortega. But he hasn't been lighting the lamp as often as he used to and definitely not as often as he did with the big club earlier in the season. He was also directly responsible for a defensive breakdown that lead to a Barracudda goal in the last game when he failed to support his defender in obtaining a loose puck after a puck battle along the boards. I am not sure what he was thinking there but like much of the rest of the team, he needs to wake up. Sorry Kevin Roy fan club, but at this rate, you aren't getting him back in Anaheim until he gets back to his old ways.
The final 5. All within division and all against teams with better records. Starting tonight with the Ontario Reign, then the second of the back to back at home with the Reign (Fan Appreciation Night - Gulls are retweeting #GullsFansTakeover tweets) before division winning Tuscon comes to town for the final regular season home game and then its on the road to Tuscon for the final 2 games which hopefully will not be defining the Gulls playoff hopes.