The San Diego points streak was at fifteen games before this most recent stretch of action; they had won their first game without Max Jones and Troy Terry, but a constant state of uncertainty hanging over the parent club has meant an ever-shifting roster and ice time is suddenly hard to come by for a group that had once shown signs of almost invincibility.
San Diego Gulls vs Bakersfield Condors - STAR WARS NIGHT
On Star Wars night the Gulls were ready for a test - continuing their fifteen game point streak while missing Max Jones, Troy Terry and Sam Carrick. To make up for Carrick’s absence, Keaton Thompson was again inserted on the fourth line.
The Gulls appeared to come out flat and were clearly not the hungrier team. It did not help that Keaton Thompson - playing center - could not win a faceoff. Alex Dostie did not carry on his strong play from the last game to start off with; Sam Steel however, did. The rookie shifted in and out, keeping the puck on a string and eventually got held by an opposing defender as he kept the Condors at bay with a one-man possession show. On the ensuing power play Kiefer Sherwood had a golden opportunity from the slot, but hit the post. The period ended with the Gulls only generating three shots on net to the Condors’ ten, despite having an additional power-play during that span.
San Diego again came out flat to begin the second - getting victimized by an odd-man rush and surrendering the games opening score when the Condors forward fanned on the shot as he skated in on Boyle. On the immediate shift after the Condors won the center ice face off, they got the puck deep, won the puck battle and sent a shot on Boyle that barely got by him, sneaking over the line for a quick 2-0 lead.
The Gulls appeared to wake up after that and held possession while generating all of the next few scoring chances. However the Condors got the next marker - capitalizing on yet another man advantage, awarded when Corey Tropp was forced to drag down his man on the breakaway after he fumbled the puck in the neutral zone.
The penalty troubles continued for the Gulls as Korbinian Holzer was assessed a dubious boarding call to put the Gulls down two men and join Trevor Murphy in the box who was already serving an equally dubious “kneeing” penalty. San Diego managed to kill both penalties including the forty second five on three.
San Diego kept at it and finally got on the board courtesy of a Jake Dotchin slapshot from the point that initially appeared to be tipped by Steel but actually hit a Condors player on its way in.
BJ said it best with five seconds left to play in the second - “the Gulls haven’t really been on the same page for the last forty minutes”, suggesting that they needed to get it together for the remaining period and get some more shots on net if they wanted to make the come back and keep the streak going.
Despite San Diego pressuring in the final frame, the visitors regained their three goal lead just before the midway point of the period and it looked like the streak was likely to end.
Then Adam Cracknell made things interesting, getting another one back to make it 4-2 with just under ten minutes left when he beat out an icing call and threw the puck off the back of the Condors’ netminder.
However the Condors re-asserted their three goal lead when a three on two rush back into the Gulls’ zone was finished off with ease with a nice wrist shot that Boyle could not see through a screen.
They then iced it into the empty net with three and a half minutes left while Boyle was pulled for the extra attacker to put the ultimate downer on what was a very disappointing and off night for the Gulls.
San Diego Gulls @ Ontario Reign
A more full San Diego roster with Carrick and newcomer Kloos coming into the line up gave the Gulls more confidence in a crucial bounce back game. Dostie was scratched and Simon Benoit set as the seventh defenceman - double shifting Carrick on both the top and fourth line. Corey Tropp also sat - possibly a causality of the maximum veterans limit.
Although San Diego came out with the most jump, they got caught down low and a Reign two-on-one coming back the other way led to the game’s opening score as Matt Moulson put a shot from the right hashmarks by Jeff Glass on the Reign’s first shot of the game, just forty seconds in.
San Diego came back with a strong push and had chances from Gazdic off a nice no look pass form Steel and some good puck recovery from Sherwood. They eventually got the game, tying score via a wrist shot from the point courtesy of Jake Dotchin, who immediately saluted the large contingent of Gulls fans who had made the trip to Ontario.
The Gulls then proceeded to make the Reign look silly, winning puck battles and zipping in and out of stagnant defenders. Sam Steel had a wide open net but was denied by a diving save from Cal Petersen.
Chase De Leo created his own chance in the slot moments later, but had his shot deflected high and wide.
San Diego had a penalty kill to start the middle frame but had little trouble preventing the Reign from setting up in their zone - sending Adam Cracknell on a breakaway as he exited the box and he made no mistake putting in his sixth goal in six straight games to take the lead.
There was a scary moment just after the midway point of the second when Sam Steel limped to the bench after having an Ontario player fall on him awkwardly during a puck battle, but he thankfully re-appeared for his next shift.
Despite dominating play but for the odd mistake (which Glass thankfully either kept out or the Reign managed to shank wide or hit a post on) the Gulls headed into the final period up by the one goal, out-shooting the home team 30 to 19 through the first forty minutes.
The third period began with San Diego on the power-play as Alex Lintuniemi was assessed an interference call in the final five seconds of the second period. The Gulls finally solved Petersen as Chase De Leo potted in a rebound off a redirect in front to take the score to 3-1.
Cal Petersen continued to stand on his head, denying back to back opportunities from Patrick Eaves and Sam Steel, leaving both forwards looking up in frustration.
San Diego continued to own the neutral zone - diffusing Reign attacks and sending it back the other way. Sam Steel finally broke through after seemingly fighting a losing battle with Cal Petersen when he got an easy tap in after a nice Justin Kloos redirect fell to his stick at the side of the net.
As Ontario are wont to do - things got nasty when Reddekopp sent Ben Thomson head first into the boards on the very next shift. All Gulls players on the ice immediately went to his aid, including Sam Steel who was right in the thick of it.
San Diego toyed with the Reign for the remainder of the game - most of which was spent on the five minute major penalty assessed to Reddekopp for the aforementioned hit. Suppressing and allowing just two Ontario shots on goal for the entire period, coming out 4-1 winners to begin the win streak anew.
San Diego Gulls @ San Antonio Rampage
I didn’t get to watch this one live and listened to maybe two thirds of it on the radio. It didn't sound great. Anaheim had just played their final game before the All Star break and thus sent down everyone that was eligible to get some extra game time. This included Troy Terry, Max Jones, Sam Carrick, Andy Welinski, Jacob Larsson and the recently intentionally-floated-on-waivers-again Andrej Sustr. To balance out the rosters - Korbinian Holzer and Jake Dotchin were called up; it should be noted that these two are on one-way deals.
Despite the huge influx of talent - the Rampage too received some skill injections in the form of Jordan Kyrou, Jordan Nolan and Samuel Blais. It was a true battle of which club had the better prospect pool, and St Louis won.
San Diego was out-shot through the first two periods and appeared to be coming on strong toward the end but it was too little too late as the hosts came away by a four to zip margin.
Notes: Sam Steel debuted his new number - 23 - which he wore in Junior; it became available after Luke Schenn was dealt to the Canucks. Trevor Murphy also switched to 29 - not entirely sure why the change other than perhaps he wanted to get closer to his more familiar 28.
San Diego Gulls @ Texas Stars
Once again playing with a full complement of troops both in the forwards and back on defence, Dallas Eakins was again forced to make some tough decisions. Sitting Benoit and Thompson in favor of Sustr and Larsson. San Diego were looking to regroup after the embarrassing effort of the night before and Kevin Boyle got the start in the back to back before he left for the All Star Classic the next day.
This was Patrick Eaves’ last game of the two game extension requested and applied to his conditioning loan.
Play was mostly confined to the neutral zone for the first seven minutes - each team locked in a battle of wills, poke-checks and turnovers. San Diego managed to slowly gather momentum, and with that came chances.
With both teams skating at four-on-four due to Carrick getting caught on a retaliatory cross-checking penalty, and the Stars forward Laberge slightly unfairly being assessed a high-sticking call on the same play, Ben Street flew into the Stars’ zone, going wide on the left but finding an opening to fire a pass across the front of the net to the oncoming Corey Tropp for the game’s opening goal.
Two minutes later, directly after a strong shift from the Steel-Terry-Kopacka line, the Stars were forced to ice the puck. Ben Street won a faceoff back to Jacob Larsson who measured a smooth wrist shot on net that Street in turn deflected high past the Stars’ netminder to make it 2-0, and his second point of the night.
San Diego kept up the pressure, getting chances mainly from the Carrick-Street- Jones and the Terry-Steel-Kopacka lines - eventually getting a power-play when Patrick Eaves was hauled down on a trip - with four seconds left in the period the Stars were overzealous in a clearing attempt and incurred an additional delay of game penalty.
The middle frame began with twenty seconds of five-on-three, but the visitors could not capitalize; regardless San Diego kept up the pressure until Jack Kopacka received a pass coming late, pulled up at the top of the circles and fired a shot that the Texas goaltender could not track through traffic, eventually squeaking by him for the 3-0 lead
Texas would answer a few minutes later on an odd-man-rush with blistering speed. The combination of speed and hard, high perfect wrist shot proving too much for Boyle
Side note: the Stars use the Ducks’ goal song because I guess nobody can be original anymore - I called out the Texas Stars’ account on it mid-game and got drawn into a lame twitter war with their mascot.
Sustr had a massive brain fart that thankfully Boyle was able to recover from when he sent an errand pass across the slot to a Texas player - have no idea what he was thinking there.
Texas carried momentum for the remainder of the period, including a two minute power play but Kevin Boyle played perhaps his strongest game yet, turning aside several point blank and cross ice opportunities.
The Stars continued to pressure Boyle to start the third, but he stood tall making some insane saves in the process.
San Diego then began to swing momentum back their way with some inspired shifts keeping the puck in the Texas zone through multiple shifts until a point shot from Trevor Murphy was tipped by Street to give the Gulls the 4-1 lead and the Gulls took it from there to hopefully began the win streak anew.
News and Observations:
It has been more than a bit difficult to keep track of the last few weeks roster change that saw the Gulls swap in ten different players over a span of three days.
As of writing this the current plays with the Ducks and Gulls are as follows:
Jacob Megna (recalled yesterday)
Patrick Eaves (not officially announced as recalled or reactivated off IR but reported to be skating with the Ducks)
You can expect Jones, Terry and Larsson to get called up before the Ducks next game in Winnipeg. It looks like Megna has earned a promotion over Larsson while Eaves, Silfverberg and Perry look like they are ready to play - meaning that Jones and Terry can stay with the Gulls. So with that I expect the Gulls’ line up to look like the following for their upcoming battle at home against the Reign.
The Jones-Carrick-Berry line has excelled in hemming opposing teams in the offensive zone and causing turnovers down low. They score from the dirty areas or draw calls with strong play. De Leo, Kloos and Sherwood havent quite clicked yet but you can see what Eakins is trying there. All three have very good foot speed; all they need now is to develop chemistry. Chase De Leo has suffered the most at the hands of the Blandisi trade, scoring just one goal in five games. It would be good to get him firing again and hopefully pick up Sherwood along with him. Steel and Terry have been good together; I had initial misgivings given the obvious chemistry Terry already had with Jones, but in the time since Steel has looked a hell of a lot better playing alongside Terry. Kopacka complements the line well as a natural sniper who loves following the play. Then there is the fourth line. Right now it resembles the spare parts but the very strong spare parts at that. With the current state of the health of the rosters of both clubs, I am sad to say that Dostie might not be able to see much more time down the stretch and things are going to get even more tricky when Cracknell, Roy and Kossila eventually come back.
Now that both the Ducks and Gulls are healthy on their blueline, it means more than a few extra bodies between the two clubs. The acquisition of Trevor Murphy to cover the frequent recalls of Andy Welinski has now made things a tad awkward; Dallas Eakins is now left with a conundrum of which in-form players to ice on his blueline.
In the most recent game he made the seemingly painful decision to sit Simon Benoit, as well as third year veteran Keaton Thompson. The pairs looked as follows:
Megna - Murphy
Mahura - Welinski
Larsson - Sustr
Currently Holzer and Dotchin are in Anaheim but I would assume Larsson gets called back up along with Sustr and we see Benoit and maybe Holzer together on the third pair.
Megna appears to have earned the promotion with Dotchin being sent back, while Larsson stays down but the point still remains. This leaves at least one spare defencemen for each club - Holzer for the Ducks and enough for two extra pairings for the Gulls. It is the strong play of Benoit this season, combined with the acquisition of Murphy as well as the possible plateau of Andy Welinski’s development that I am re-iterating once again - I could see him being dealt at the deadline or allowed to walk after this season.
In case you missed it - Jack Kopacka made his long awaited return to the lineup this past weekend and looked very good. He scored a goal- slowing up on the play to ease himself into a soft area to wire it through traffic. The twenty-year-old now has three points in five games.
Deven Sideroff also returned from the hand injury he suffered in an early game fight against the Reign a few weeks back.
More importantly - with all respect to Mr Kopacka and Sideroff - is the news that Kevin Roy should resume skating in a week. You read that right.
By The Numbers:
Through 40 games the Gulls have been out-shot 1261 to 1252, picking up 22 wins. They have the 8th best points percentage in the league with 0.613. They have won a total eleven games - so half their overall wins - when being out-shot and have won twelve when scoring first. Out of their 40 games they have been outshot in the first period 19 times, the second period another 19 games and the final period 14 times.
The numbers last season told a story of the Gulls consistently being out shot but somehow still winning essentially by overpowering opponents with timely scoring from experienced snipers. This was ultimately their downfall when those players were called up to the Ducks later in the year. This season tells a different story of a younger team that has learned to come out fast, get a lead, and- most of the time - hold it. When that game plan isn’t always able to be followed, Kevin Boyle has been able to steal a game here and there. The outliers are the games where the Gulls themselves have run into a hot goalie, such as the loss in Iowa at the hands of Kahkonen or against the Reign when Petersen has managed to spoil things.
So About That Boyle Guy...
Remember when I gave Kevin Boyle an A-grade in my mid-year grading and some of you respectively disagreed? Well look who made the All-Star game bitches? Yes I realise it was to replace Terry, but they could have picked Sam Carrick (20 goals tied for 4th in AHL) or any other goaltender in the AHL, but they logically went with the goaltender who now has the second most wins in the league, tenth in GAA and seventh in SV% (over twenty games played). He has a 17-6-1 record, looking at that again, he is responsible for 17 of the 22 Gulls total wins thus far. He has looked almost unbeatable in the Gulls’ most recent action and the only aspect of his game that looks at all shaky right now is the speed at which he gets back into position - sort of like how Gibby used to look when he first broke into the NHL. This second half stretch (and hopefully) deep playoff run will be a true test of how he handles big time pressure situations.
Troy Terry Still Leading
Troy Terry leads AHL rookies in points per game with 1.09. Jordan Greenway is technically still the leader, with an impressive four points in two games for the Wild, but among active rookies Terry’s 37 points in 34 games is tops. Max Jones has snuck up and caught him in the Game Winning tally race, with both rookies now sporting three game deciders each - placing them tied for second overall with a few other players.
Looking At The Standings
The Gulls are now fourth in the Pacific in points and third in points percentage. If the playoffs started today they would face the Roadrunners in a first round best of five match-up without home advantage - historically this has not worked out well, so San Diego will need to get hot again in this final stretch to ease themselves into a first or second place position in the division. If one thing is for sure- they do not want a repeat of the “falling out of a playoff spot” losing streak that they ended things with last year.
A rematch with the Ontario Reign this time at home tonight. Will we see the debut of the newly acquired Grundstrom? Then Kloos faces his former team mates as the Wild come to San Diego Saturday night. Followed by a Wednesday and Friday night home and away with the Reign.