Behind their 3-1-2-0 record and the feeling that their game is just now starting to turn the corner, the Reign have one aspect of their play to feel pretty darn good about.
The Reign’s power play is far and away the best in the AHL at 44 percent (11-for-25 overall). The next team down the line is Tucson, a team the Reign are 15 percent ahead of.
Sure, it’s only six games in but in every one of those six the Reign have converted on the man advantage.
“I think we’re just keeping it simple,” said defenseman Kevin Gravel on Wednesday before being recalled to the Kings. “A lot of our goals have been rebound goals or traffic in front. You saw Kempe last weekend, he had a shot from out a little bit and a screen in front or a rebound goal that Augie had.
“T.J. (Hensick’s) been a huge help. He’s been on the half wall and he has a calming presence out there. He’s been on the power play for the majority of his career and you can tell he’s got a lot of poise with the puck out there. He’s been a big help. I think the big thing is both the units have been successful. We’ve used even three units at times and everyone who’s been out there has been able to get the job done one time or another.”
As Gravel mentioned, really the only change personnel wise has been the addition this season of Hensick and of course the subtraction of Nic Dowd, who’s with the Kings. Hensick, who was acquired in the offseason and is a 10th-year pro, already has five power play points (2 G, 3 A) and seven points in all. But the success isn’t defined by just one player. The team’s leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski has four power play assists, Michael Mersch has two goals and two assists, Justin Auger has two goals, and the list goes on.
“Hensick has been a great addition as he is so slick and skilled making plays,” head coach Mike Stothers said. “Some of the others are just coming into their own as far as getting some reps last season has made them even more effective this season. Kempe, Brodz, Auger to name a few. LaDue and Amadio are new additions with great hockey sense. Mersch, LoVerde, Backs and Gravel are the reliable backbones that are known for making big plays when needed. Like every other aspect of the game, you need all five guys working, and executing as a five man unit.”
As far as the effectiveness and the mastermind behind it, Stothers defers to the tireless work of his assistant coach.
“A lot of the credit goes to Chris Hajt,” Stothers said. “He spends a lot of time watching successful power plays of other teams, as well as our opponents penalty kill tendencies. He has also picked the brain of Davis Payne with the Kings.”
In each of the Reign’s three wins the game-winning goal has been on the man advantage. Confidence is, and rightly so, at a high for a team whose power play didn’t deserve many headlines a season ago.
“It’s important with the power play to know that even if you go 0 for your first three in a game, you’re probably going to get called upon again and you’re going to need to score,” Gravel said. “You can’t get down. … So if you go 0 for your first whatever, you can’t get discouraged. And I think we have a little bit of confidence right now in even if we don’t score one of them, chances are we’re going to get another chance and if get that other chance we’re going to put it in the back of the net.”