Friday night, The Ontario Reign made their first journey out to that other Arizona desert city, Tucson. It was the first time this season that the Reign would meet up with the newcomers to the Pacific Division. The Roadrunners had arrived in the Western Conference as a struggling team and quickly righted that ship, jumping out to first place in the Division and Conference. Also meeting up were the first and second ranked power plays and two different goaltending stories.
The Reign’s difficulties in net have been well documented and they were starting yet another new goaltender in Anders Lindback this weekend. Somewhat hidden under those stories has been the Roadrunners trials in the same position. The Roadrunners started the year with Marek Langhamer and Justin Peters in net. Early on, however, Justin Peters was recalled to the Coyotes due to an injury to Mike Smith. Adin Hill was brought back from the Rapid City Rush to back up Langhamer. Langhamer only played one game before suffering an injury of his own. Adin Hill was given the net and Austin Lotz was grabbed from the Rush. Hill has made the most of his opportunities, giving the Roadrunners a chance to win every night even when they are outshot almost 2-1. The Roadrunners, for their part, have kept finished every game except for one with a one goal difference.
The two games were an evenly matched defensive battle. Friday night’s game occurred mostly in the neutral zone with little sustained pressure by either team. Both of Ontario’s goals occurred off of the rush, specifically, a two on one breakaway from Zach Leslie and Vincent LoVerde. Both times. The Roadrunners’ scored were similarly limited, with the last goal coming off of an uncovered player charging down the slot for a deflection.
Saturday night’s game saw more sustained pressure and even a few set plays. The Reign jumped out to an early two goal lead when they victimized Hill twice in 16 seconds. The Roadrunners battled back on the strength of their power play (and the Reign’s weak penalty kill) to tie the game and then take a one goal lead. Ontario was able to respond, twice erasing Tucson’s lead to tie the game at 4. The two teams fought through half of overtime before the Roadrunners finally finished the Reign off.
Impressive: The tale of the numbers shows Ontario out-shooting Tucson 40-20 on Friday and 48-28 on Saturday (90-48 for the weekend), but the numbers don’t reflect the game. The Roadrunners scoring chances were pretty close to even with the Reign’s despite the disparity, Tucson choosing quality of shot over quantity. That being said, Adin Hill was decently impressive in both games. It is not hard to think that he is the main reason for the Roadrunners’ current success.
Not So Much: The Reign’s penalty kill was abjectly terrible. It killed two of six penalties for a success rate of 33%. A one game anomaly might be expected, but this has been an issue for the Reign since the beginning of the season and for two nights in a row, it cost the Reign the game. They had started to look better, but took a major step backward and need to go back to the drawing board.
Elsewhere in the Division: The Texas Stars were back in California again, this time spending the weekend in Bakersfield. The series started out well for the Stars with a 3-1 win over the Condors on Friday. Saturday night, the Condors rode the strength of a three goal second period to a 5-3 win over the Stars. Up north, The Heat were hosting the San Diego Gulls for the weekend. Stockton greeted the Gulls with a 6-1 thumping Friday night and followed it up with a 7-3 win on Saturday night. The two wins pushed the Heat back to second in the division, with Tucson still on top. Texas passed Ontario for third while the Reign fell to fourth in the division.The San Antonio Rampage are set to meet the San Jose Barracuda tonight.