Cleveland, OH- It turns out that the Reign needed a visit to Cleveland to finally post a win.
Ontario took their third road trip this season to Ohio, where they played back to back against the Monsters. Just two seasons ago, the two teams were fighting for the Western Conference Championship and a chance at the Calder Cup. They entered this weekend with the 29th and 30th power play and penalty kill as well as a reputation for being unable to score.
Friday night, both teams had an offensive explosion as they combined for 11 goals. The Reign, however, were only very briefly in the game. They came out flat and uninterested, as they tend to do after a week off, giving up three goals in the first period. Jack Campbell seemed to not be able to track or even see the puck, at one point giving up on a play to complain to the ref only to have the Monsters put a goal in. Campbell was pulled after the first period in favor of Cal Peterson.
The change gave the Reign a little bit of life and they were able to put together some pressure, causing the Monsters to take penalties. Their first goal came off of an odd bounce, but it was the power play goal by Kevin Gravel that broke their special teams drought. It would be supplemented by another power-play goal from Michael Mersch later on in the game to pull the power play out of the AHL basement. The Reign would also pick up a short-handed goal to give them four on the night. It wouldn’t be enough, however, as the Monsters were able to put three more past Peterson & one in an empty net to keep the Reign winless.
Saturday night, the Reign came out like a team with their entire season on the line. The Monsters were back on their heels, chasing the puck and taking penalties. The Reign’s power play continued their redemption tour, picking up 2 early goals. The second period saw them start to back off, however, and the Monsters were able to pick up a power-play goal of their own, bringing them within one. The Reign left the third period up to Campbell to win. He was already having a solid game, a bounce back from the previous evening, but had to find another level to keep the Reign’s first lead of the season. All told, he stopped 34 of 35 shots, 15 in the last frame alone to earn the Reign’s first victory of the season.
The Good: Sean Walker had two goals for over the weekend and was one of the better players for the team. Michael Mersch was also beginning to look like his old self, creating scoring chances, blocking shots & scoring himself. Jack Campbell had a good answer for Friday night’s poor performance, making sure the Reign did not fall to 0-7.
The Bad: Michael Mersch took a puck to the upper body early in the game on Saturday night & had to be helped off of the ice. He would return a few minutes later & score what would become the game-winning goal. However, he left the game again in the second and did not return. As the Reign’s leading scorer, they can ill afford to lose his services for any length of time.
The Ugly: Ontario is still having problems after any amount of time off. They are also struggling to play more than one good period. They earned their first win by the grace of two early goals and a strong performance by Campbell alone.
The Reign return home to Citizens Business Bank Arena to host San Jose on Wednesday night and then take on San Diego in a weekend home and home series Friday and Saturday.