Three-on-three overtime might be a total gimmick, but it's so much better than the shootout and about a thousand times more exciting.
This game reminded me of one of Darryl Sutter's more famous quotes: "Nobody died, and it’s a hard-working point for our team." He said that following an overtime loss against the New York Islanders on February 11, 2012, just a couple of months after he took over the team.
Sometimes Lady Lucky is on your side and sometimes, it points in the other (wrong) direction. For the Reign on Friday, they just didn't have quite enough good fortune, despite getting close - though close, as you know, doesn't get you two points.
It was an interesting game with the absence of top line center Kris Newbury affecting the line juggling. Adrian Kempe slid over to center, a position he's actually quite familiar with. Ontario was also without the services of fourth line grinder Paul Bissonnette, who provides a tough, physical presence; Bissonnette is still recovering from a lower body injury suffered in Manitoba two weeks ago.
Following the game, Kempe said he had played center most of his life before being switched over to wing when he played pro in Sweden. The biggest difference was mostly how much lower defensively the centers are supposed to go in the zone versus wingers, who can hang out a little higher.
It should be noted that Peter Budaj was solid as always. He had some big rebounds but he usually did a good job with directing them into the corner. San Antonio's second goal did come off a rebound, but with the 5-on-3, there wasn't quite enough time or manpower available to clear the rebound before the Rampage jumped on the loose puck. It was only the second power play goal that the Reign have given up so far this season.
The first period was pretty close and ended up a goaltender's duel, though Calvin Pickard wasn't sharp. The Reign had several chances to score, including an early shot that leaked through Pickard, but slid through the crease and wide of the goal posts. However, he was solid against the best of Ontario's chances, and gave his team a chance to win.
Midway through the second period, Nic Dowd's snapshot found a spot above Pickard's glove. The shot came off a great feed from Kurtis MacDermid who had held the puck in at the blue line and came streaking down the boards where he found Dowd unmarked at the faceoff dot to the goaltender's right.
(GIF courtesy of Sheng Peng)
It didn't take long for the Rampage to tie it. After some extended time in Ontario's zone, Zach Redmond was left alone in the faceoff circle to Budaj's right while the Reign were mostly clustered on the Slovak's right. Redmond shot the puck from a tough angle and Budaj got a piece of it, but he ended up knocking the puck into the net as he was getting back into position.
Sometimes Fortune favors you and sometimes it cackles and gives you the middle finger. (That's definitely how the saying goes, right?)
The rest of the period ended quietly with Ontario holding only a slight edge in SOG, though it certainly felt like they'd had the better chances. San Antonio's team defense was mostly terrific, though, blocking a lot of shots and deflecting/tipping many attempts out of high danger zones and overall making life difficult for the Reign. Defensively, they're certainly better than their parent club.
The third period seemed like it'd be an unending stalemate with neither team generating much in terms of high quality chances. Andrew Crescenzi's roughing penalty 6:25 into the third opened the door for the league's most high powered offense to get a go-ahead goal. And 30 seconds later, Ryan Horvat's penalty for slashing proved to be the tipping point for San Antonio. The Rampage scored with about 20 seconds remaining on the first power play. Derek Forbort was standing in front of the net, but was helpless to clear away a rebound in time before Colin Smith pounced on the puck.
A lot of credit goes to the coaching staff and the Ontario Reign as they never wavered in their approach. If anything, they doubled down on their attempts and kept plucking away. They were rewarded for their efforts when Justin Auger drew a critical tripping penalty late in the period. That was the third penalty Auger had drawn, who was excellent all night and used his speed and frame to be a thorn in the Rampage's side. It's only appropriate then that it was he who got the game-tying-goal.
Pickard had stopped Kempe's initial shot but Auger forced the puck through the 5-hole. Pickard was not pleased.
Auger just knocked in Kempe's rebound with his back to Pickard. Between his legs. Pickard is going nuts checking scoreboard. 3:27 left 2-2— Lindsay Czarnecki (@ReignInsider) October 31, 2015
A pretty unbelievable goal. The refs consulted briefly and deemed it a good goal. There is no coach's challenge for goalie interference in the minors, so it came down to the officials' decision, who let it stand.
Ontario's offensive attack didn't stop after tying the game. They tried to end it in regulation but just couldn't get one past San Antonio's tendy, who was great when called upon.
Three-on-three overtime started with Dowd, Michael Mersch and Vincent LoVerde. They generated several quality chances, but just couldn't quite finish any of them. Of all the lines that got put out in OT, they were the best and had the most looks. With less than a minute to go, Ben Street got a second breakaway and went bar-down, top shelf.
It was an unfortunate break for Ontario, who was the better team all night. But San Antonio had the hottest offense coming into the game, averaging 3.00 goals per game, and Street is the tenth leading scorer in the AHL, with 10 points in five games.
Head Coach Mike Stothers was pleased with his team's effort.
"I thought it was a great hockey game," He said. "Two good teams, you go into overtime, it’s 3-on-3, anything can happen so I was happy with the way we played."
Stothers also said both teams played "a good hockey game" and is looking forward to a rematch on Saturday afternoon.
Ontario will be without their number one center (or even a top center prospect) for a while, probably at least six weeks. For the most part, Stothers kept his lines intact on Friday night, giving Kempe a chance to use his skating and prove himself at center, where he was playing only a couple of years ago. Sometimes following special teams, the lines would change, but beyond that, he really tried to keep them together. Both teams took four penalties each, so Kempe's overall time on ice was probably just over 10 minutes. However, Stothers didn't staple the young Swede to the bench and even sent Kempe out for a late third period draw.
While Kempe struggled on the dot (I'm not sure his faceoff percentage, I can't find any statistics for it), his overall defense was okay. As a winger, Kempe has gotten into the habit of doing things a certain way and it's likely going to take more than one game to break some of those habits.
The Reign weren't able to get the preferred two points, but given the injury situation and utilization of centers in place of Newbury, it was a pretty good game overall.
Ontario back in action against the San Antonio Rampage. Follow Sheng Peng for all your in-game updates.