Welcome to another update, apologies for how few and far between these have been - real life and full time employment has been slightly more demanding this season.
The Gulls have had an up and down December. They have a 4-5-2 record since our last update but have just snapped a three game losing streak as well as overcame the odds to topple a division rival that seemingly had their number in what has to be the most feel good win of the season thus far.
Injuries as well as the cooler months have not been kind to both the Ducks and the Gulls. As a result, both clubs have been scrambling to put together make-shift lineups of late. The Gulls in particular have used defencemen Patrick Sieloff as a forward for a few games as recently as last week as well as signing and inserting former Dallas Stars second rounder Brett Pollock for three games in addition to last-year’s ECHL call-up Kyle Thomas for one game.
Game Recaps are as follows:
Game 15: San Diego Gulls vs Stockon Heat*
* I didn't cover this one, it was during work hours, the Gulls lost and I had no time to catch the replay.
Timeline Of Movement
The last game covered in the most recent update occurred on November 16th. Since then the following roster movements have taken place:
- Defencemen Steven Ruggiero was recalled from Tulsa while Ryan Johnston was out injured and both Josh Mahura and Brendan Guhle were recalled to Anaheim.
- Steven Ruggiero was returned to Tulsa as Ryan Johnston returned from injury
- Josh Mahura was returned from Anaheim
- Jacob Larsson was assigned from Anaheim
- Anthony Stolarz was called up to Anaheim to cover for John Gibson having the Flu
- Josh Mahura was recalled to Anaheim
- Jack Kopacka was sent down to Tulsa of the ECHL
- Max Jones was returned from Anaheim
- Brent Gates Jr. was recalled from Tulsa of the ECHL as Blake Pietela missed time with Flu like symptons
- Max Comtois was recalled to Anaheim
- Anthony Stolarz was returned from Anaheim
- Sam Carrick was recalled to Anaheim
- Brendan Guhle was returned from Anaheim
- Josh Mahura was returned from Anaheim
- Jacob Larsson was recalled to Anaheim
- Jack Kopacka was recalled from Tulsa of the ECHL
- Olle-Eriksson Ek was recalled from Tulsa of the ECHL after Kevin Boyle comes down with the flu
- Isac Lundestrom was recalled to Anaheim after Ryan Getzlaf was unable to go with the flu
- Max Jones was recalled to Anaheim
- Daniel Sprong was recalled to Anaheim
- More transactions have occurred since but you get the idea
Hard to follow? Welcome to AHL life. Essentially, injuries to Troy Terry and Rickard Rakell and the flu hitting both Ryan Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg caused a mass call-up of the Gulls more experienced and/or skilled forwards, leaving them with a core that consists of Blake Pietela, Justin Kloos, Chase De Leo as well as veterans Corey Tropp and Alex Broadhurst. The Gulls faced a tough task in getting a win against the 17-5 Stockton Heat, they needed someone to step up in the absence of those departed. Wait... whose music is that??
Jack Kopacka not only stepped up, he lead the Gulls to a win over the Heat in a game in which the more frequent and familiar narrative looked to be repeating history. San Diego had enjoyed a two goal lead but squandered it to be down by a goal midway through the third period. Attempting to mount a feeble comeback but struggling to get something by goaltender Jon Gillies, it appeared that this would be another night to forget. But Jack Kopacka took it upon himself and show both poise and patience to handle the puck by the right circle and choose just the right time to fire one by the Heat netminder for the games tying score; his second goal of the night. Overtime provided no answers and like the previous shootout win, Kevin Boyle held firm to deny all would-be shooters while Justin Kloos and our hero Jack Kopacka grabbed the win with their expertly finished attempts. The former fourth round pick now has 11 points in 20 games and is sixth on the team in scoring in his second year as a pro. I would like to take this opportunity to point that I did make a preseason prediction that he would break-out this year.
Getting Guys Back
It hasn’t been all bad news on the injury front. Kiefer Sherwood made his return after missing the last eleven games with a knee injury. The San Diego penalty kill immediately benefited while his leadership qualities were also evident. Andrew Poturalski is still MIA but has passed the minimum length of time he would be out with injury as indiciated by his initial prognosis. He should be back practising within the next two weeks. All San Diego players hit by the flu have returned to action with the exception of Brendan Guhle.
Something To Keep An Eye On...
Please don’t take this the wrong way but the Gulls were 2-0 without Daniel Sprong, it’s not that I am blaming any previous losses solely on him. But there were times where...let’s just say I am curious to see how they do without him in the line-up.
UPDATE: Sprong was returned for the second game of the Gulls back to back against the Reign and they lost in the first game he came back. Nothing that I can fault him for though! He came very close to getting the go-ahead goal in the third period as he started to celebrate after taking the shot, but he hit the post. At this point it is just this weird nagging feeling that the game could really go either way when he is in the line-up.
Special Teams Update
The power play is still terrible and the penalty kill is still better than average. Despite some better showings and results of most recent times, the man advantage is still ranked 26th out of 31 teams with a 13.8% conversion rate while the penalty kill sits 11th with an 83% kill rate. It should also be noted that the Gulls have played the least games of any teams in the league.
Playoffs and Standings Update
San Diego had moved into the fourth spot in the Pacific and the final playoff spot, but then fell back out by virtue of the most recent overtime loss to the Reign. They now sit equal with the Reign in percentage points but lose out on the regulation wins tally. They have five games in hand on the Reign, though, and an additional two games on most of their other division opponents.
Half-Season Awards and Corrections
The Gulls are just under halfway through their schedule so now would be a good time to give out some mid-season recognition while also correcting myself for how wrong I was about some players in my preseason predictions.
Note: I only covered those who had played 20 more games for the Gulls with the exception of Sherwood and Carrick who have been with the team since the beginning of the year.
Antoine Morand: A++
Starting with the best and also the most consistent, I initially earmarked rookie Hunter Drew as the one to watch this year based off of his impressive rookie camp in Irvine back in September. But Antoine Morand has proven that all eyes should be on him. It is hard to believe that the 2017 second round pick was a healthy scratch to start the season. He has 10 points in 26 games - placing him 11th on the team in scoring but just four points out of the top five and is always noticeable when he is on the ice. I tweeted it earlier in the year when I grew more and more impressed with his play - but I will repeat it again here; Morand will be in the NHL next year.
Kiefer Sherwood: A+
When Sherwood went down with a knee injury midway through November, the Gulls lost their next three games and were 4-5-2 without him. His consistent tenacity and above average work-rate were sorely missed, particularly on the penalty kill. Sherwood returned for the Gulls most recent two games, picking up a goal in one of them and as has been the case all year, he probably shouldn't be playing in the AHL. Once the Ducks clear out some space on right wing in their bottom six, we likely won’t be seeing him again in San Diego.
Chris Wideman: A+
Chris Wideman is another one of those players that came out of nowhere after the Gulls finally made their early November turn around. I had initially written him off as a veteran presence to replace Andy Welinski but the St Louis native has proven himself to be so much more. He has been near the top of the team in scoring and overall scoring by defenders for much of the season now and has had many Ducks fans clamoring for his call-up. He may get that shot eventually, but I don’t really see it being a long-term move the Ducks anticipate making down the stretch. Just call it a hunch.
Jani Hakanpaa: A
What can I say about Hakanpaa? Well to start I thought he would be back in Europe as soon as his name was included on the list of final Ducks training camp cuts. But the big Finn stuck around and has proven to be not only a great locker room presence for the overhauled 2018-2019 Gulls, but a sneaky-good shutdown defensemen. The more I watch, the more I like his game. Like many of the Gulls he has gotten better as the season has progressed and lately he is being matched against opposing team’s top-lines. He has also been a positive influence on whatever defensive partner he is paired with on the night to the point where it could be said their play suffers when they are not skating next to him.
Sam Carrick: A
Carrick deserves an A+ but he already set the bar pretty high with his performance last season. This year he has been just as good, if not better. His current call-up is much deserved and he is making the most of it but I will admit, I want him back. Whenever the Gulls are in a bind and need either a game-tying goal or last minute winner, he can usually provide or create that. Corey Tropp has done an amicable job as de facto-Captain in his absence but it’s pretty clear whose team this is and, much like Getzlaf, the Gulls go as Carrick does.
Alex Dostie: A
I stated that Dostie needed to have a big year to earn another deal after this current entry level contract expires and he is doing just that. Finding himself on the top-line in a couple of games lately, the speedy center has been doing mostly everything right. On offense he is keeping it simple, using his speed to get around defenders, going to the dirty areas, and being in the right place at the right time to score. On defense, he can sometimes find himself lost or out of position and is prone to panic if under pressure. He is still only 22, though, and a fourth round pick. His career hasn't exactly met expectations thus far but this year has proven he deserves to stay. He has 12 points in 25 games.
Anthony Stolarz: A
I will admit I had my doubts about Stolarz to start the season - particularly about his very real and recent injury history. But the former Flyers second rounder has been the difference in more than a few games this season, using power and athleticism to make game-saving stops when opposing teams attempt to beat him with the cross-ice pass. He has a 10-8-2 record thus far and a 2.82 GAA and 0.916 SV%. His averages are mostly skewed by matchups against the Heat and Griffins; teams that employ wide open run-and-gun offensive structures. Which leads to his one weakness: an overtly aggressive style that can sometimes burn him.
Jack Kopacka: B+
Much like this article, Kopacka has been inconsistent and that is the most frustrating thing I can fault him for. He has demonstrated that when needed, he can carry the team by himself using his speed and deceptive release, but then he completely fade into the background for a game or two. The most recent example being his dominant performance over the Heat that was followed by comparably pedestrian outings against the Reign in a back to back. I would have liked for him to have been kept with Brett Pollock to see that evident chemistry develop even further, but I will trust in Kevin Dineen until proven otherwise. He has 12 points in 22 games and five in his last four games so he is still very hot, but I would like to see that dominant performance at least one more time this season, if not more.
Daniel Sprong: B
Sigh. I try not to be so hard on him as his speed and shot are clearly NHL-level, but it also perplexes me how much he does not seem to think or care about defense sometimes. There were back to back games where he would camp out at the redline waiting for a hail-mary pass, which is awesome and great when it works but also leaves your team exposed by a man on the defensive side of things in their own zone. For the record, those two instances of camping out at the redline resulted in back to back breakaways, but they were both stopped.
I get that his game is high-risk, high-reward but there are safer ways of doing that. I do like that he has been playing a much tighter game as of late, committing to the defensive effort in the Gulls zone. Gone are the days of camping out at the red-line, but I did find it a tad interesting that he was not used in the most recent overtime session for at least the first three shifts. I will say one other thing: he leads the team in assists right now with 12; yes, with that shot and goal scoring ability, Daniel Sprong has been more willing to dish the puck. If he could get his confidence back in his shot (if there is an issue there) then look out.
Justin Kloos: B
I can’t really say a bad thing about Kloos this season. I guess I would have liked him to get on the scoresheet a little sooner given his pedigree but the same could be said for the entire team with the rough start the Gulls had. Of the five goals he has scored thus far, two have been shorthanded and he is tied for second on the team in assists with 10. His speed and forecheck are an intergral part of the Gulls penalty kill. He is on a one year deal extension earned by avoiding arbitration and I have always had a soft spot for him. I hope he can stick around past this season.
Isac Lundestrom: B
A B is probably too harsh given his age, but I am only giving this grade to be in-line with the others in terms of overall consistency. When Lundestrom is on his game its like he teleports in and out of opposing teams defenses, skating through neutral zone traps like a fighter jet avoiding anti-aircraft fire. You can tell he is on his game when he carries into the offensive zone then holds until he finds the right lane to feed the perfect pass to an open team-mate. The only downside is he doesn't always do this, sometimes he carries but then forces the pass and turns it over to create a dangerous counter-rush, or cant find the open man and turns it over when he is eventually converged upon (I am happy to say the later two of which were happening less and less which is likely reason for his deserved call-up). That said - he won’t be completely ready for NHL duty until he can show that kind of game breaking ability on a nightly basis, right now consistency is his is only issue. But he is only 20, it will come.
Kevin Boyle: B-
I wanted to give Boyle a B but his GAA and SV% aren’t quite what they should be just yet. Harsh I know, he hasn't really been given the opportunity to correct those numbers after Stolarz supplanted him as the incumbent number 1 but a 3.26 GAA and 0.895 SV% isn’t that great. He too was victimized by the Heat earlier in the season but has proven that recently he is probably the better choice to face down their high-octane style. He has a 2-4-1 record on the year so far but has two wins in his last three starts with an over 0.900 SV% over that span. The style he employs couldn't be any more different than Stolarz but for the Gulls it works and I feel it helps to have two vastly different goaltenders at your disposal to keep opponents guessing.
Alex Broadhurst: B-
Like Morand, Broadhurst started the year as a healthy scratch. The former Blue Jacket missed games at a time through October before he would eventually secure a spot in the lineup as the Gulls began their November winning streak. He found some good chemistry with Daniel Sprong and Blake Pietela during that run and put together seven points in 12 games during that span. He has since tailed off a bit but his speed and tenacity on the puck is a weapon that Dineen employs to great effect. He has the most shorthanded goals on the team with three, tied for second in the league and his shootout prowess has helped on more than one occasion thus far.
Chase De Leo: B-
De Leo finished second on the team in scoring last year, totaling 55 points in 66 games. This season he has 11 points in 26 games, good for roughly 28 points over the same amount of time if he keep scoring at the same rate. That is a big drop off and not the kind of output the La Mirada native wants if he hopes to earn another extension, particularly after he filed for arbitration this last summer. He is still a huge part of the penalty kill and provides a steady presence in the top six, but given the emergence of Antoine Morand this season and Bob Murrays tendency to deal anybody who files for arbitration, I’m a bit worried about De Leo.
Blake Pietila: C+
10 points in 25 games isn’t bad but it isn't great when you start the year by scoring three goals in one game during the preseason. Like Broadhurst, Pietila did the majority of his scoring during the win streak in November where he contributed eight points in 12 games. So yes, he has totaled just two points in 13 games outside of that. He had 46 points in 50 games with Binghamton last season and at his current rate he would have 20 points over the same stretch. I am not ready to call him a disappointment just yet, but unless he goes on a tear and soon it’s not looking great for him getting an extension on his current one year deal with the Ducks.
Simon Benoit: C+
The dreaded sophomore curse appears to have afflicted last years feel good story. The undrafted free agent that found a spot in both Gulls and Ducks hearts by playing his way into an eventual NHL entry level deal has just seven points in 26 games thus far and is a -2 on the season. By comparison he had 16 points in 65 games last year, so his current rate would surpass that by roughly two points but he also finished the year leading the team in +/- with +16. I know its a shaky stat in the grand scheme of things but it is visually evident that he isnt consistently defensively sound as he was last year. I don’t entirely believe it is all his fault and defensive partners have a lot to do with it, but he is definitely missing some confidence in his game this season. He has not rushed the puck as often and I do miss seeing him join the attack.
Hunter Drew: C+
This leads me to Hunter Drew, the other half of the “Legion of Boom” as I have self-appropriated the occasional defensive pairing of former QMJHL defenders. I had ear-marked him as “the one to watch” but have only seen the rare game or two that showcased the kind of old-school rugged defender with the dangerous point shot we saw on display at the rookie tournament in Irvine. For a rookie, Drew has played very well and has not looked out of place, even restraining himself when unfairly targeted by opposing team’s pests and would-be combatants. He also has a wrist shot that is so powerful it has to be seen to be believed. But other than that there are concerns to his game that need correcting if he hopes to progress in his career further. He can get beaten on the rush by smaller, speedier forwards and can too easily lose men - particularly on a broken play.
The Gulls finish out the year and the decade with a showdown in Tuscon before playing five straight home games against the Condors, Wild, and the Reign.