The Reign So Far: An AHL Playoff Preview
The Ontario Reign stumbled into the playoffs and are now set to face the team that swept them in the second round of last year's playoffs: the Colorado Eagles.
The Ontario Reign stumbled into the playoffs seemingly by accident as they finish their regular season with a three game losing streak and only winning once in their last eight.
This is not the Ontario Reign of last season, who steamrolled every divisional opponent but Calgary before dismantling the San Diego Gulls in the first round without breaking a sweat. Last season, the Reign had two players in the top 6 of league scoring in TJ Tynan and Martin Frk (Frk is now in the St Louis organisation).
This Reign team finished sixth in the division with a record of 34-32-5-1, with only one player finishing in the top 20 of league scoring; first year Captain TJ Tynan, who had 81 points in 72 games, four away from the league lead. Tynan was the only Reign player to have more than a point per game this season, as second place in scoring was Lias Andersson, with 59 points in 67 games.
To add insult to injury, in the first round the Reign will be facing the team that swept them in the second round of last year's playoffs: the Colorado Eagles. The Eagles are a better team this year than they were last year, finishing third in the division behind Calgary and Coachella Valley, and the Reign are going to have to find a new level to be able to compete with them to have any hope of advancing to the second round.
The Reign's main strength last season was their goal scoring, and especially their scoring from a top line of Tynan, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Frk. With Frk now in Springfield and Anderson-Dolan graduating to the NHL to spend the season in LA, Tynan was the only returning member of the Reign's best line. He still managed to put up a crazy amount of points, but there wasn't really anyone who managed to step up for the Reign this season, and thus, missing 40 goals from Frk and another 24 from Anderson-Dolan, they went from 2nd in the league in goalscoring to 27th.
They were actually a little better defensively, allowing the 11th fewest goals vs 14th fewest in 2021-22, but not enough to balance out their offence falling off a cliff.
The other big change for the Reign was their goaltending. Cal Petersen, after a very shaky start in the NHL, became the starting goalie for the Reign after going through waivers, and actually had pretty similar numbers to Matt Villalta's 21-22 season, with a .904 save percentage and a GAA of 2.88 in 40 games. It's easy to point at a goalie when he has a 16-20-4 record, but he allowed fewer goals than Villalta in roughly the same amount of games, which leads us right back to goal scoring being the issue.
THE EAGLES HAVE LANDED
The Reign were caught by surprise in last year's playoffs, and it cost them. The Eagles swept the Reign in 3 games, and now they're back again to torment you, me and all Reign fans out there. The Eagles went 40-22-7 and 3 this season, giving them 90 points in a very strong Pacific Division, finishing 3rd among the division and 7th league-wide.
The Reign and the Eagles had a back and forth season series, with the Reign winning four of their nine games in the regular season, though they lost the last two coming into this season.
A possible saving grace for the Reign is that the Eagles are about as bad as they are at scoring goals; their leading scorer in Charles Hudon only had 54 points in the regular season, and their only point per game player was Alex Galchenyuk (yes, that Alex Galchenyuk), who had 42 points in 42 games for Colorado this season. The Eagles in total scored four more goals than the Reign did this season, however they allowed the third fewest goals of any team in the league. The Reign finding a way to solve the Eagles goaltending is going to be key to this series.
However, there is one area the Reign could find a way to win: special teams.
The Reign had the 7th best powerplay in the league this season, running at a pretty good rate of 22%. In contrast, the Eagles had only the 17th best penalty kill in the league, allowing 55 power play goals on the season for a success rate of 81%. If the Reign can strike on the power play, their chances at winning this series goes up a massive amount.
Special teams have been a strong point for the Reign all season. In addition to their 7th best PP, they had the 2nd best penalty kill in the league, and they scored 9 shorthanded goals, tied for 5th most in the league. The Eagles had the 21st best power play in the league this season, scoring on only 18.1% of their man advantages.
The Eagles might have the edge at even strength, but if the Reign can get their special teams rolling, Colorado might be in for a shock.
REIGN TO WATCH
It goes without saying that the one player to watch for the Reign is the original short king, TJ Tynan. He led the team in scoring, wore the C for the first time, and did it all at only 5'8" (officially). He's on a cold streak with regards to scoring, with a 17 game goalless streak to finish the season, but in those 17 games he went pointless in only seven of them, and finished the season with 8 points in his last 6 games.
Another player to watch for this team is Lias Andersson, a former first round pick who's had some ups and downs in his career. He finished this season with 31 goals, tied for 5th in the league and only 6 behind the league leader. He and Tynan have been a pretty formidable duo this year, which must ease some of the pain from losing Anderson-Dolan and Frk.
The third player to watch for the Reign is their number one defenceman, Jordan Spence, who has been up and down to the Kings all season, but still managed to put together a respectable sophomore season of 45 points in 56 games.
EAGLES TO WATCH
The Eagles leading scorer, as previously mentioned, is Charles Hudon, who was just under a point per game this season. The Eagles don't score a lot, but when they did, Hudon was involved in over 25% of them. It's fair to say that if there's a goal in this series, chances are Hudon will be there.
That being said, the Eagles are a team that is very much built on goaltending, splitting the net three ways between Jonas Johansson, Justus Annunen and Keith Kinkaid (acquired from Providence). Annunen took the bulk of the work, going 22-10-8 with a sv% of .916, but Johansson got the job done too, with a record of 14-9-2 and a sv% of 920, the third best in the league. In 7 games for Colorado, Kinkaid went 4-3 and had a sv% of .918, but it seems fair to say that Colorado will be relying heavily on the duo of Annunen and Johansson in this series. Even if the Reign manage to solve one of these goalies, solving both of them is a tough ask.
SO, WHO'S GONNA WIN?
The Eagles have the edge in defence and goaltending, the Reign have the special teams boost. Neither team scores a lot of goals, but both teams have players who can turn it on when needed.
Prediction: Reign win game 1, but Eagles take the series in 3.