The defending champs lost 2015 AHL MVP Brian O'Neill and Calder Cup MVP Jordan Weal's firepower, but gained goalie Peter Budaj (league-leading 1.75 GAA & .932 save %) for their move out west. Consequently, their margins are thinner, but the results haven't been markedly different—they score a lot less, but also give up less—as the Ontario Reign once again march into the postseason as their conference's top seed.
Like Ontario, the San Jose Barracuda lean heavily on their stalwart between the pipes. While Aaron Dell's numbers (2.42, .922) don't sparkle quite like his counterpart's, his defense is admittedly more vulnerable. Leading scorers Ryan Carpenter (18-37-55) and Bryan Lerg (21-30-51) will help Dell try to steal this series.
|Points %||.684 (1st, Western)||.537 (8th, Western)|
|Goals For||2.82/gm (15th, AHL)||2.91/gm (11th)|
|Goals Against||2.03/gm (1st)||2.84/gm (12th)|
|PP %||16.0 (20th)||15.4 (24th)|
|PK %||88.7 (1st)||82.4 (19th)|
|PIMs||16.2/gm (25th)||12.5 (5th)|
|Date||ONT Corsi For||SJ Corsi For||ONT CF %||ONT Scoring Chances For||SJ Scoring Chances For||ONT SCF %||Result||Notes|
|10/24/2015||47||37||8||8||ONT 3-0||Budaj starts season with 3rd shutout in 5 games|
|11/1/2015||55||61||11||9||SJ 4-2||Dell makes 32 saves, handing Ontario its 1st regulation loss of year|
|11/11/2015||55||41||13||8||ONT 2-1||MacDermid pots 1st pro goal of his career|
|12/13/2015||60||38||9||8||ONT 2-1 (OT)||Auger ties it with minute left, then Gravel drops OT winner|
|1/22/2016||39||33||10||7||ONT 3-2 (OT)||Backman ties it with minute left, then Dowd takes it in OT|
|1/23/2016||44||42||11||6||ONT 2-1||Budaj needs to make only 18 saves in victory|
|2/5/2016||40||27||7||3||ONT 1-0||Budaj claims his 8th shutout of season|
|2/6/2016||41||35||10||7||ONT 3-2||Brodzinski & Auger score 16 seconds apart in 2nd period|
|2/10/2016||69||41||22||12||SJ 4-2||Dell holds off Reign with 50 saves|
|3/13/2016||34||44||8||4||ONT 4-1||Deadline acquisition Sutter notches 1st goal with Ontario|
|3/16/2015||31||33||7||8||ONT 3-2 (OT)||This time, San Jose scores with minute left to tie game, but LoVerde closes it in OT|
|3/30/2016||46||46||12||8||SJ 3-1||Dell stops 35 shots to help Michael Brodzinski beat brother Jonny in 1st-ever AHL meeting|
|12 games||561||478||54.0%||128||88||59.3%||ONT 9-3-0|
Despite dropping nine of 12 to the Reign, the Barracuda can point to the eight one-goal games between them as a sign of their competitiveness. Ontario, however, can rest its case with their 59.3% stranglehold of even strength scoring chances in the season series.
Budaj VS Dell
Not enough can be said about Budaj's Lazarus-like resurrection: No AHL/NHL goalie has ever gone from zero to 40 wins in a season. That said, as the foundation of a relatively low-scoring squad, he cannot afford to falter.
If the Bastien Award winner for best AHL goalie does buckle at all, Dell has proven capable of pilfering a game or two. In San Jose's three wins over Ontario this season, he's made 117 saves. The opposition is certainly paying attention. "Every time I've seen him play, he's played well," said Kings Goaltending Development Coach Dusty Imoo. "He is fairly aggressive and never gives up on pucks."
Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers added, "A lot of their success is Dell...I don't think you can overstate how good Dell is."
Kings VS Sharks
Stylistically, most AHL teams reflect their parent clubs; the Reign and Barracuda are no different, making for an exciting—or numbing—parallel with the grind of the ongoing Kings-Sharks ground war. "Watching [LA-San Jose] and the 12 games we've played, it's so similar, both styles," observed Assistant Coach Chris Hajt. "It's neat, actually, to see that."
"We'll have to make sure we have good dump-ins.
"They're a pretty mobile bunch back there. They come out of their zone quickly."
Hajt continued, "That's something we pride ourselves on too, trying to get out as fast as we can and have that transition.
"Their goaltenders are active back there, no different than our goalies. They like to come out and stop the puck. They're not afraid to move the puck.
"They support each other back there."
Stothers echoed Hajt. "They're kind of like us. They get everybody involved. They expect everybody to be strong in their own end.
"They're not afraid to block shots. They're really good about getting in the shooting lanes. They're good on faceoffs. They got the puck. Kind of sounds like you're talking about the same team, right?
"I anticipate our series to be just as entertaining and just as difficult [as Kings-Sharks]. There's not going to be a lot of ice out there.
"You gotta minimize your mistakes."
Brodzinski VS Brodzinski
After frontliners Nic Dowd (14-34-48), Sean Backman (21-34-55), and Michael Mersch (24-19-43), the Reign are counting on Jonny for a shot of secondary scoring.
The rookie has found his footing in the league, sniping 15 goals in his last 50 contests—this, after going goalless in his first 17.
But Stothers suspects the winger is on the cusp of a breakout. He told Ontario Reign Insider, "Watching him shoot a puck is a thing of beauty...It’s unbelievable how he can get it away."
Like his older brother, the recently-signed Michael has suffered his share of growing pains, registering a -11 in just his first six AHL games. Jon Allred of Fear the Fin noted though, "He was mostly paired up with Mirco Mueller, someone who both Barracuda and Sharks fans feel has regressed this season.
"Case in point, opening night at SAP Center...Mueller looked like he was pouting on the ice so much that it came off as he didn't want to be on the ice, and Barracuda color commentator Dave Maley commented on it during the radio broadcast (to paraphrase Maley, he said that Mueller just needs to play better and stop worrying about not being on the Sharks main roster).
"If Brodzinski had this same rating while paired with one of the Cuda's top defensemen in Gus Young, Joakim Ryan, or Karl Stollery, that would be a different story to me."
That said, this Brodzinski Bowl may not come off at all, as Michael has been in and out of the line-up during San Jose's playoff push. Allred added, "The Barracuda defenseman I think that will draw into this series will be Matt Tennyson, who didn't play in any of the 12 regular season games against the Reign and is just coming back [from injury]."
Barracuda VS SAP Center
Because of a scheduling quirk, the series starts in San Jose. Advantage: Barracuda? You would think so, but sharing the SAP Center with the Sharks has magnified the AHL team's already-low attendance (24th in league). They average 4,432 in an NHL-sized arena; in comparison, the Reign average 8,570 in a much smaller barn.
Allred, however, doesn't think it's affected the on-ice product. "The Barracuda players have done a solid job of adjusting to and playing at SAP Center, regardless of attendance, as they finished 18-13-3 after starting the season by losing six of their first seven games at SAP Center.
"While attending the regular season finale against the Stockton Heat this past Sunday, I was happy to see a bigger-sized crowd than I had seen during the season (just based on eye test, it was the biggest crowd I had seen there since opening night), and hopefully, that same amount (and more) will be there this Friday and Saturday for the playoff games." (JFTC note: Officially, San Jose's home finale drew 7,664, while the opener sold 6,977 tickets.)
Jewels from the Crown VS Fear the Fin
JFTC: Prediction time! I say Reign in 4. Dell will steal a game, but Ontario has dominated even strength play against San Jose (and the AHL) all season, and unlike their parent club, the Barracuda don't have the 5v5 or special teams explosiveness to overcome that.
FTF: "Five games and I pick hometown Cuda.
"The Barracuda path to an upset in this series is building on the momentum of the March 30th game, where they beat the Reign 3-1 at SAP Center and chased Peter Budaj after just 30:25 by scoring three goals on 12 shot attempts. In addition, the Barracuda need to score three goals or more of each game as their three wins in the season series came by scoring three or more goals (scored four goals twice). In the Cuda's nine losses, they were shut out twice, scored two goals three times, and scored one goal four times. Lastly, the Cuda power play needs to get going as they were 5-for-45 against the Reign in the regular season (11.1%)."
And check out Fear the Fin's preview of this series!