Kempe Scores, But Gulls Hand Reign First Regulation Loss at Home

Stothers Mike AHL Manchester MonarchsAfter dropping a close contest in San Diego Friday night, the Ontario Reign fell again to the Anaheim Ducks farm club on Saturday night, this time 3-1.

Adrian Kempe, one of the Kings top prospects at forward, netted his seventh marker of the season in the third period, but it wasn’t enough to spark a comeback for the Reign. The most obvious difference in Saturday’s contest was the success, or lackthereof, of each club’s power-play unit. San Diego sits second in the AHL in power-play conversion rate, clicking at over 25%. Meanwhile, the Reign trail not far behind at 23%, good enough for third in the league. This time around, the numbers were not so close, as the Gulls scored on one of their five chances, while the home team could not convert once. Reign leading scorer, Michael Mersch, attributed the difference in the game to the difference in the special teams department,

“Yeah the power-play; bottom line,” said the left wing. “They scored on the first one and we need to be better, bottom line. We didn’t execute on any of them. Face-offs, we have to help on those. They had a good centerman that was winning draws for them. Power-play is where it starts and finishes at. We had I don’t know how many chances tonight, but no momentum or anything.”

Mersch also addressed what could be done to help them score goals while on the man advantage in the future, adding, “Its a long season, there are going to be different units eventually. There were at the beginning of the year than there are now. We do enough of it, we have enough games where we work on it. It’s nothing different, we’ve scored on it, we scored two last night, but tonight it wasn’t clicking. Maybe they made some adjustments and we didn’t, but we scored two last night so why make any adjustments? It just wasn’t clicking tonight.”

Clearly, it was a rough contest for Ontario, as they didn’t get off to the same start they had in many previous games, including one against the Gulls. The game took on much more of a physical temperament right away.

“You know what, hockey is a game where you have to put things behind you and move on when they don’t go your way,” noted head coach Mike Stothers addressed what may have been emotional carry-over from Friday nights tilt at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. “You don’t harbor things, but I think its going to be a pretty good matchup for the rest of the year.”

After what some considered a dirty hit on Friday night, Stothers spoke about if he was conversing with Brian McGrattan from the bench:

“Just asked him how his family was. Theres nothing to it. I suppose he must have read the tweets, I guess, of my post-game comments. I stand by what I said. He doesn’t like it, too bad.”

It was an uncharacteristic start for Ontario, one that ended up carrying on right through the middle frame. The Reign were outshot 14-9 in the period, allowed the final two San Diego goals and the game began to slip out of reach,

“There were a lot of penalties. It was hard to get any flow. The weekend is a little blip on the radar for us. Obviously didn’t go the way we wanted, but as we talked about earlier, you put it aside and move on. We’re already looking forward to Monday because we have a good week of practice in front of us before we head to Charlotte for a couple games,” continued Stothers. “It’s a long season. You’re going to have some great weekends and some you want to do over again. We just keep marching ahead. We know that’s a good team, but we know we’re a good team.”

He had even more to say when asked about his mixing of the lines:

“You would hope they would be able to figure it out and sometimes out of necessity, you do. But there are some comfort levels. We try to keep the the lines as structured and similar as possible. There are times when you change them, but for the most part we’ve kept everybody relatively similar. Things might change when Newbury gets back, we haven’t had him for quite a while. That gives us more balance and depth. We picked up Gogol and that gives us more depth. We’ve been operating here for a long time with just what we have, one extra body and it’s usually a defensemen. Not making excuses about it, it is what it is.”

A strong play by LA Kings prospect Kurtis MacDermid sprung Sean Backman down the ice on an oddman rush. Backman was quickly joined by another Kings propects and second leading goal scorer for Ontario, Adrian Kempe. Backman made a nice curl toward the board, opened up and dropped the puck right on to Kempe’s tape. Kempe made no mistake about it, as all expected, but it turned out to be the only marker for Ontario. The goal inspired a valiant effort by the Reign to try and claw back into the game. But with just over 7 minutes left, it was too little too late.

When asked if he agreed with Mersch on the power-play being the difference in the game, Stothers pointed out almost the exact same concerns. The similarities in their answers demonstrates the club’s solidarity between coach and players. So while it may not have been the correct formula tonight, it speaks to the success they have had up to this juncture.

“What did we go, 0/7?” he remarked [note: it was actually 0/6]. “We had ample opportunity and it didn’t work. But I go back to the fact that our power-play has been pretty darn good all season long. So the fact that it wasn’t good tonight, i’ll still sleep well. It’s going to happen, thats what you do in sports. We know they’ve been responsible for us winning a lot of games. It balances itself out over the course of the season I guess.”

Stothers, who was unusually chatty postgame, also shared thoughts on his team’s penalty kill struggling over the past few games:

“Again, do you think you’re going to run at 94%? It’d be unbelievable if we could. Coming into this game you have the two best power-play teams in the league going head-to-head. The fact that they only scored one, I think thats a moral victory right there. It’s unrealistic. You guys kept talking about it and I knew that was going to come back and bite us in the ass because you guys kept talking about it. It cant stay perfect, it’s like anything else. At the end of the day, i’m really happy where we’re at and with the guys we have. Come Monday, we will be the hardest working team in practice and we’ll get ready for an upcoming weekend in Charlotte.”

Ontario will have a week of practice before embarking on their longest road trip of the season; beginning with a visit to Charlotte, North Carolina next weekend to take on the Checkers, the Carolina Hurricanes AHL affiliate.

Video highlights and line combinations are below.

Forwards

Auger – Kempe – Backman

Mersch – Dowd – Brodzinski

Zykov – Crescenzi – Samuels-Thomas

Sabourin – Horvat – Bissonnette

Defense

Leslie – Gravel

LoVerde – MacDermid

Raine – Schultz

Goaltender

Budaj

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