Last night, the Ontario Reign wore special "hot rod" jerseys, to be auctioned off after their tilt with the Bakersfield Condors. The team certainly was fired up, but the effort didn't translate to a successful result as Bakersfield was a bit hungrier and a bit more aggressive all night.
The biggest bright spot on Saturday was Nic Dowd. Known more for his passing at this point in the season, Dowd went to the "dirty areas" quite a bit over the course of the game, and he was rewarded with a pair of goals from essentially the same spot on the ice. Both goals came on rebounds and were set up by point shots; the first looked as though it may have been tipped by Michael Mersch and in, but neither was the case! Kevin Raine's point shot simply came off the post, and thankfully, Dowd made sure it was in.
The second tally for Dowd, like the first, cut a two-goal deficit to one. At this point, the game was 3-1, and the Reign badly needed to convert on the power play. Dowd obliged, as he was quickest to this loose puck less than a minute into the man advantage.
The Ottawa Senators had shown earlier in the day that a fightback from two separate two-goal deficits was very much possible. Ontario was never able to find that second consecutive goal, though, and some earlier key plays showed exactly why the Reign couldn't climb that mountain.
The biggest reason was Ontario's inability to smoothly exit their own zone and enter the other. Coach Mike Stothers noted after the game that the former was a much bigger problem than the latter, and he's got a good point because you have to take care of the former first! Bakersfield came out with a strong forechecking effort, hounding many of the defensemen into losing the puck or handing it over altogether. In the third period, even Derek Forbort put a pass up the middle on the tape of a Condors stick, and he wasn't the first to do it. Ontario had to resort to some alternate methods of breaking out throughout the night.
Reign still having trouble with Condors' forecheck, so Derek Army simply skates it from behind his net to opp. blueline. Good chance ensues.— Eric (@EricJFTC) January 17, 2016
The third goal for Bakersfield, between Dowd's markers, was a microcosm of the evening. Ontario was on the power play looking to tie the score, and after 30 painful seconds in which they couldn't start a cycle, they were nearly there! But Rob Klinkhammer, who had cleared waivers from Edmonton the day before, punished Adrian Kempe and Sean Backman, picking off a pass and heading off to the races. He tucked that shorthanded goal past Peter Budaj and, even more distressingly, nearly scored another goal before Ontario's power play was up.
The remainder of the third after Dowd's second wasn't bad, actually, but some increased pressure couldn't break Bakersfield's resistance. In one final instance of strong Condor structure, the Reign couldn't get out of their own zone and Budaj couldn't get out of his net as the game wound down, and when Ontario finally did get an extra attacker on, Bakersfield scored an easy empty-netter after a couple Reign shots went begging.
The battle had been an uphill one all night, though, and the Reign were really set up to fall after a lackluster opening frame. Again, some alternative methods were tried.
Abt 6 mins left in 1st, ONT needs spark, down 6-2 in ES chances, Forbort tries to provide it w/ take-down/near fight w Moroz— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 17, 2016
Unfortunately, Paul Bissonette hit a guy late shortly after, and Bakersfield's Joshua Winquist converted on the PP to make it 2-0. Sometimes things just don't work, and combined with the earlier top-shelf tally from Tyler Pitlick, it was enough to put out the flames and sink the Reign.