Andrew Crescenzi tapped home a loose puck just 67 seconds into the game and the Ontario Reign never looked back in defeating the San Jose Barracuda 3-0 on Saturday night at the Citizens Business Bank Arena improving to 5-0. Adrian Kempe got his first of the season on a pretty pass from Sean Backman on the power player and Michael Mersch ended the night finding the empty net from center ice to seal the victory. Peter Budaj was stellar in goal for the Reign making 24 saves on the night getting his third shutout of the year in five games. Budaj has only allowed five goals in the five games that he’s played while stopping 106 of 111 shots against him this season.
The key for the Reign was getting off to a faster start than the night before. Defenseman Zac Leslie, in his first professional game, received the puck after a faceoff win deep in the Barracuda zone and put a wrist shot towards Barracuda goaltender Troy Grosenick. Grosenick got most of the shot by Leslie but as the puck was slowly trickling across the line Crescenzi lunged forward tapping the puck past the goal line. Coming out with a better start was a key for Head Coach Mike Stothers.
“We addressed it and they knew, they needed to be better and they were, ” said Stothers, the 2014-15 AHL Coach of the Year. “I just thought it was a pretty efficient game from everybody.”
After a penalty by Barracuda defenseman Karl Stollery, the Reign doubled their lead. Sean Backman sped down the right hand wing and spotted Kempe coming down the slot. Kempe took the pass from Backman and tipped it past Barracuda goalie Aaron Dell who came in for the injured starter Grosenick.
“I just tried to place my stick on the ice and go to the net,” said Kempe, one of the Kings top prospects. “He gave me a great pass and it wasn’t so hard.”
For Kempe it was an improvement after a rough night the night before against the Bakersfield Condors where the Swedish-born forward was a non-factor. “I felt much better than yesterday,” he said. “I don’t think I was that good yesterday, it was a tough start for me yesterday and for the team. I felt much better tonight”
Mersch added to his point total when Nic Dowd deflected a San Jose pass that went right to Mersch, who fired the puck into the empty net from center ice. For Mersch that was his fifth point of the season and he has now scored in four of Ontario’s five games.
The Reign penalty killing unit was perfect for the night killing all five penalties taken by the Reign. Kevin Gravel was a +/- +2 on the night and was on the ice for all three Reign goals. Backman led the team in shots on goal recording six of the Reign’s 28 shots.
Mersch – Newbury – Backman
Auger – Dowd – Zykov
Kempe – Horvat – Sabourin
Samuels-Thomas – Crescenzi – Brodzinski
MacDermid – Loverde
Schultz – Ebert
Leslie – Gravel