Two nights ago, the Ontario Reign threw just two shots in the first period on San Jose. Coach Mike Stothers called it the "worst period of hockey I have seen us play in the two years we have been together!!!" So naturally, one would expect the Pacific Division-leading Reign to come out like a house on fire against the division-worst San Antonio Rampage...
Just 1:41 into the tilt, Ontario was burnt by uncharacteristically lax coverage:
It was Kris Newbury who let Sam Henley slip behind him, and for whatever reason, every man in white was above the circle at the time of Mikko Rantanen's point shot.
"We got outmuscled on the wall, knocked right off the puck." Stothers was going back to where 5'9" Garry Nunn beat 6'5" Andrew Crescenzi to get the puck to Rantanen. "Nunn! He’s not that big a guy."
This listlessness pervaded throughout the period. While the hosts came out of the first with a 9-7 shots edge, they enjoyed only one even strength scoring chance. This, against a San Antonio squad that is one of only six AHL teams to give up more than 200 goals in 2015-16.
Oh, and this happened too in the period:
Essentially, Mason Geertsen flung it down from the point, and Kevin Raine went fishing, leaving Borna Rendulic by himself in front of Peter Budaj.
Needless to say, the home locker room was not the place to be after 20, as they were forced to re-live these lowlights. "We had some video of things we needed to improve on," elaborated Stothers. "We weren’t getting back, we weren’t working to get back in our own end to even break out. We were getting back and arriving just as the defensemen were making the pass to us.
"We were still going in the wrong direction."
The Reign managed to turn the beat around on the Rampage early in the second.
About five minutes in, Sean Backman craftily beat a Nikita Zadorov blueline step-up by dumping the puck ahead, sidestepping the 6'5" defender, and regaining it in the corner. Left to his own devices, Ontario's leading scorer found Newbury streaking down the slot for a post:
While they escaped this time, it was indeed a sign of things to come for San Antonio, as just a couple minutes later, at the end of an Ontario power play, Newbury was heard from once again:
Again, Zadorov was left behind, as he skated toward Newbury's point shot instead of Justin Auger, who was parked in front of Roman Will. The hulking winger was surprised, "I think they just forgot about me out there."
After just one ES chance in the first, the Reign piled them on in the second, as I had them up 9-1 in just this frame.
Oh, and this happened too in the period:
After Dennis Everberg outbattled Jonny Brodzinski on the wall, a hard-charging Brett Sutter separated super prospect Mikko Rantanen from the puck...and Rantanen just gave up on the play, allowing Sutter all the time in the world to roof it.
Who would pick up the flagging Rampage? Not veteran Nate Guenin, who kicked off the final frame by high sticking Sutter. Brodzinski took over:
"A lot of that was [Nick Ebert]," said the young sniper. "Coming up the ice, and he faked it to the left pretty hard...I think it made [Brandon Gormley] and [Everberg] kind of bite." And it was top corner once again on Will.
Just a couple minutes later, Ebert beat Maxime Noreau to the puck in deep, feeding Auger at the left dot. A backchecking Everberg prevented the shot, but between Everberg, Noreau, Rantanen, and Nunn, nobody could corral the bouncing puck. Nobody, that is, until Ebert lugged it, untouched, from the top left circle to the slot and fired:
Once again, a puck-watching San Antonio allowed Ontario too much freedom, as Sutter cashed the change for his second of the night.
Backman made it three goals in 3:06 for the Reign as he also went high, this time from a distance. Was going upstairs on Will part of the game plan? The All-Star winger recalled, "I think we talked about it briefly.
"Nothing we really stressed on. Guys made some good shots tonight."
A besieged Will was yanked for Spencer Martin just seven minutes into the third. But there would be no March Madness-like upset for these undermanned Rampage. While Reid Petryk did intercept an ill-advised Derek Forbort break out up the middle to beat Budaj with seven minutes to go—and while Coach Dean Chynoweth did pull his goalie with over four left, much like his parent club Colorado Avalanche are wont to do—the underdogs never truly threatened this one-seed's grasp of the game again.
Stothers noted, "I didn’t have a great feeling in the morning skate this morning when I watched our guys. Just the execution, the way we were moving the puck around."
Ontario looks to ward off another slow start tonight. Perhaps the sight of bitter rival San Diego will help. At least Stothers's excitement was palpable. "I don’t think that I’d be stepping out of line by saying they don’t like us, and we don’t like them. And I think that’s healthy.
"There’s something about the Reign and San Diego. Gets the juices going."