San Diego, CA
While it may not be NBC’s official rivalry night, it was certainly a grudge match in San Diego last night as the Reign kicked off their 2016-17 season.
There is no love lost between the San Diego Gulls and the Ontario Reign as demonstrated in their preseason games. Last night was no exception as the two teams combined for 18 infractions and 48 minutes of penalties.
Unfortunately, no one told the Gulls that the Reign play differently when the season starts. For the Reign, they came out ready to play, bringing their size to bear on the smaller Gulls squad. They controlled most of the first and second periods, only allowing the Gulls chances on the power play. The Reign’s infamous defense kept the Gulls from bringing their speed into play and stifled any attacks they tried to mount. Midway through the first period, the Reign had out-shot the Gulls 9-1. The Gulls were gifted with a couple of opportunities on the power play to get back in the game, including a two-man advantage, but Campbell was able to keep the puck out of the net. As testimony to the Reign’s underwhelming offense, however, the teams finished the first period at a scoreless tie.
The Gulls seemed to come out even more flat for the second period, taking an early penalty when Cramarossa ran into Campbell after the play was over to put the Reign on the power play. During the power play, Sean Backman released a shot from the point while most of the Gulls were distracted along the walls. An unmarked T.J. Hensick almost lazily deflected the puck past Hackett to give the Reign the 1-0 lead. Shortly afterward, the Reign gave the Gulls another two-man advantage, but Campbell shut them down again, stopping at least four backdoor tries. Two minutes later, the Gulls found themselves down by two players and once again, a Backman shot from the blueline was deflected in, this time by Michael Mersch. Both goals came from a pass by Jonny Brodzinski to set up Backman. From there, the period was marked by borderline hits, scuffles and a couple of fights. Despite the hostilities, the score stayed at 2-0.
The third period, the Gulls managed to settle down and even put pressure on the Reign. Ontario had their lead, however, and set about to defend it at all costs. They had to rely on Campbell for more than a few nail-biter saves, but Campbell came through for them. With 17 saves in the third period alone and 36 overall, Campbell earned his first shut-out of the season.
Impressive: Despite earlier misgivings and some apparent injuries, the Reign’s defense was back where it usually is, helping Ontario to dominate most of the game. This is especially impressive given that Paul LaDue left Friday’s practice early and was not in the line-up, nor was Eric Cernak. Instead, Paul Bissonnette found himself on the blue line once again and acquitted himself nicely. As the last line of defense, Jack Campbell was impressive in his 36 save shut-out, easing the fears of Reign fans over Budaj’s call-up. Sean Backman and Jonny Brodzinski both had two points on the night, both figuring in the games only goals.
Not So Much: Although they went a perfect six for six in the game, the penalty kill did not look that good. Campbell was forced to make a variety of tough saves and many times was left nearly alone. The Gulls were able to keep the puck in the zone for a majority of the kill, rarely allowing the Reign to even change players out. MacDermid has returned to his borderline play, laying out a few high hits as well as a couple of hits from behind. It will get him into trouble again if he can’t reel it in a bit, which neither Reign nor MacDermid need.
Elsewhere in the division: The Roadrunners started their season Friday night with a 5-3 loss to the San Diego Gulls in San Diego. The Texas Stars also opened their season Friday, with a four goal first period leading the way to a 6-2 over the Charlotte Checkers. The two were at it again on Saturday night, this time with the Stars winning 4-2. Over in San Antonio, the Rampage hosted the Moose who handed them a 2-1 loss for their home opener. San Jose headed inland to meet up with the Stockton Heat. Their one goal lead evaporated in the second and they were unable to recover, eventually losing 3-2.