Life without Mike kicked off on LA Kings Night at the Vault, as the Reign sported variations of classic Kings duds. But missing their main man, would Ontario's performance sink to traditional Forum blue and gold lows?
The only stretch of time that this game ever seemed in the balance was about 10 minutes into the first. It was this tightly contested: Shots were 5-5 and ES scoring chances just one apiece. It was so even that when Jonny Brodzinski took the game's first penalty, two seconds into the Bakersfield man advantage, Anton Slepyshev interfered with Andrew Crescenzi.
But Ontario's sense of fair play would only extend so far. Some strong boardwork had left Valentin Zykov alone with the puck behind Ben Scrivens. Doing his best Wayne Gretzky impression, the young Russian waited until Kris Newbury, who had just jumped on the ice, raced into the slot to accept a seeing-eye pass through Griffin Reinhart. Zykov gave a colorful description of Newbury's goal, "He jumped from the middle like a bullet, like it was obvious to make a pass to him. You cannot deny this guy, he really wanted it so bad."
That was but the first volley in Jordan Samuels-Thomas/Crescenzi/Zykov's charge. In their very next shift, Crescenzi cut by Josh Currie on the wing for a bid, and Zykov rang the post on the rebound. Then a Kevin Gravel point shot resulted in a Samuels-Thomas stuff, but the Professor held the fort. A little later, Zykov chugged between Brad Hunt and Dillon Simpson and almost scored an inside-out beauty, only to send the puck wide.
The star of the period was definitely Zykov, who responded resoundingly to his first scratch of the season. His bounceback paralleled Brodzinski's, who came back from a recent first scratch with a goal in the following game. Coach Mike Stothers made sure to give his compliments, "They’re young guys and they need to play and they need to develop, but I don’t think it hurts to sit out either as a young guy.
"Sometimes you just expect that you’re going to play. I don’t want them to expect that they’re going to play, I want them to earn that they’re gonna play. The response has been good from both of them."
At the end of the opening frame, Ontario had overturned the table by strongarming their way to an 11-6 shots and 6-1 ES scoring chances advantage.
The Reign kept it rolling in the second, as they pelted Bakersfield with chance after chance. The Condors didn't even register their first shot of the period until 13:21 left.
This ignited a Bakersfield push, but to Ontario's credit, "ignited" is probably too mighty a word for a Condors' effort that didn't result in much more than a Ryan Hamilton tip off a Bogdan Yakimov snapshot. As he has been throughout the season, a lightly-tested Peter Budaj was solid when needed.
The Reign would answer Bakersfield's defiance emphatically more than halfway through the middle frame. Vincent LoVerde tightroped the blueline, feeding Brodzinski for a troublesome wrister off the wing. In the ensuing chaos, Ontario managed to outnumber the opposition around the net, and an unmarked Brodzinski shoved home a loose puck. It was a defensive effort worthy of the Condors' parent club:
A minute later, however, Ryan Horvat gave Bakersfield a reprieve, as he kindly tripped Currie behind Scrivens. While it was noteworthy to see Brodzinski earn some serious PK time in Mersch's absence, the real story was Joey LaLeggia firing a bullet through traffic from the top of the circles past Budaj right after the penalty expired.
The Condors were back in the game. Perhaps inspired, Tyler Pitlick led a 2-on-1 with Andrew Miller, but Kevin Raine slid and sealed off a centering attempt. It was perhaps the turning point of the game, as shortly thereafter, Nic Dowd exploited his own 2-on-1 with a bold toedrag then pass to a waiting Zykov. It was a well-deserved marker for a game well played by the 2014 second-round pick. For his part, the setup man was just glad everything worked out, "Stuttsy probably would have ripped my head off if I would have put it through his legs and not even have got a shot on goal. He probably would have liked me to shoot it, but it went in, so he can’t say much."
Blogger says Mersch called up will create Kopitar-sized hole for ONT. ONT up 5-2 ES scoring chances in 2nd, 11-3 so far. Blogger quits— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 13, 2015
Of course, that blogger would be yours truly!
Bakersfield did have the fortune of beginning the closing frame on the man advantage; they needed chances and got nothing. Perhaps a microcosm of the night, Ontario followed with their own PP; they didn't need chances and got plenty.
As per their norm with a lead, the Reign tightened the screws, besides another Horvat OZ penalty. But Bakersfield ever so generously returned the favor, taking a too many men on the ice then a Slepyshev tripping behind Budaj with five minutes to go. That would be their death knell.
Perhaps the Condors thought they would feast on the Reign's Mersch-less remains, but it was Ontario who ate. Even in the third, they outshot and outchanced a Bakersfield team that should've been hungrier for a comeback.
"I think it was 19 shots against, which is good. We played the way we needed to play," said Stothers, who went on to note that the Condors were on a back-to-back. "Bakersfield came off a big win last night, and I thought it was a very entertaining game. Now we’ve got to put that behind us and get ready for 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon and get ready for San Jose."
Full game highlights courtesy ieProSports.