Peter Budaj came into the 2015-16 season having not won a game in over a year. He was slated to be the back-up for Bartosak and not really expected to play much. An injury followed by legal entanglements later, Budaj has become the anchor for one of the best teams in the league.
This weekend, his legend grew.
There to back him up was the Reign’s top ranked defense.
His weekend started with a trip to San Diego to play the rival Gulls. These two teams have cultivated a nasty rivalry as was evidenced in the after whistle scrums & hard hits. Ontario, however, thrives in the physical games and soon took control of the match. They stifled the Gulls offense, caused turnovers and otherwise dominated the entire match. A killer goal off of a deflected pass by Michael Mersch with only six seconds left in the first period stole the air from the packed arena. The Gulls came out fired up in the second period, but were promptly shut down by the Reign’s defense. During a power play six minutes in, Adrian Kempe found himself with the puck and a lot of time. His pass set up a completely uncovered Schultz in the slot who had time to fake out Hackett & slide the puck into the net. That goal would be the last scored in the game. The Reign outshot the Gulls 30-21 and looked like they were holding a clinic in their win.
The next night, the Manitoba Moose were back in town on the final leg of their western tour. Their trip has not gone well for them, featuring only nice weather and losses. Saturday night in Ontario, it was no different. The Reign controlled the game from start to finish. They started their scoring with a Kris Newbury goal mid-way through the first period. The top line continued to produce in the second, posting two more goals (one from Backman, one from Mersch) to put the Reign up 3-0. The Moose were unable to muster any push back in the third, managing only four shots on goal. The empty net goal by Mersch sealed the deal, but the game seemed over well before that point.
Budaj finished the weekend with a perfect save percentage, having stopped 40 of 40 shots against, and having only allowed three goals in the past four games. He now leads the league in goals against, shut-outs and games played. He is tied with Matt Murray of the Penguins in save percentage at 0.933.
Impressive: The top line of Backman-Newbury-Mersch figured in all four goals against the Moose. Nic Dowd has become a force in the face-off circle, dominating the Gulls and impressive against the Moose. Beyond that, the rest of the Reign were impressive from top to bottom, puck drop to the last whistle, controlling everything in between.
Not So Much: Unfortunately, MacDermid is still having problems with dangerous plays. A boarding against the Gulls and another dangerous hit against the Moose show that he hasn’t figured out where to stop yet. The good news is that the high hits have mostly stopped. At least in the past couple of games.
Elsewhere in the Division: San Antonio and Texas were both back in California after a brief trip home to face each other. They took turns posting wins against the Barracuda (Texas with a 3-0 shut-0ut on Wednesday, San Antonio with a 2-1 win on Friday). Texas caught a flight out to Lehigh Valley after their Wednesday game, but lost to the Phantoms 3-2 on Friday. Saturday, they turned the tables and beat the Phantoms 3-2. Bakersfield posted two 6-2 wins over the Moose, one on Tuesday and one on Friday, then lost to the visting Heat 4-2 on Saturday. That Stockton win was the second this week as they beat the Reign 2-1 in overtime on Wednesday. Those wins have vaulted the Heat into fourth in the Pacific, just behind third place Barracuda. The Stars are still holding onto second place while the Reign remain entrenched in first. The Reign also go into the All-Star break first in the Western Conference and second in the league. The Toronto Marlies still hold first place overall with a winning percentage of 0.798 (the Reign are at 0.700).
The full gallery for the Reign vs Moose can be found here.
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