Ontario’s power play finished the regular season third-best in the AHL, operating at 22.9 percent. Through two games in their tied best-of-5 first round series against San Diego, they’re 0-for-6 with three missed opportunities each contest.
“I think they were better on the special teams than us,” said forward Michael Mersch fairly bluntly when asked what he took away from the games last weekend. “Scored shorthanded and a power play goal and I don’t know if we did either.”
In fact, the shorthanded goal came in Game 1 last Friday with the Reign fumbling a puck at the offensive blue line and Nic Kerdiles coming free to elude Jack Campbell on a breakaway while Mersch could only chase behind. That tied the game at two but the Reign managed to score with 11.7 seconds left on the Jonny Brodzinski game-winner to win 3-2. The next day in Game 2, San Diego’s power play scored on its opening chance in the first four minutes with Nick Sorensen putting away his first of two goals in a 31-second span. San Diego won 2-1 to even the series.
Ontario’s lone goal in Game 2 by Mike Amadio was a conversion of a Cameron Schilling pass just four seconds after a power play attempt expired, but if you ask the top forwards on the Reign’s power play units, they expect much more in Friday’s Game 3 in San Diego. The misses weren’t so much on zone time but on quality chances.
“I thought we had zone time. Unfortunately for us you’re probably right, we were kind of a one-hit wonder,” said center T.J. Hensick, who led the Reign in power play points with 23 (7 goals, 16 assists). “Sometimes with the skillset that we have or the guys we have on the ice maybe we’re making too many plays, making too many cute passes.
“We’re a confident group that we feel like our power play can be a difference. It’s been the difference all year for us. We’re excited for the opportunity to be that difference on Friday. Like I said, the guys that we can put out there, we’re confident. We’ve got Kempe, Teddy, Vinny, Backs. We’ve got guys who can make plays and bury chances. It’s a tight game. It’s probably going to come down to a power play or taking a penalty or not or blocking a shot. As that group of power play guys we want to be that difference.”
Part of the problem too though has been the Gulls’ discipline. They did not take a penalty in the third period either game and were particularly poised in Game 2 when the Reign were pushing for a comeback. In Game 1 the Reign had a gimme of scenarios with the Gulls bizarrely taking back-to-back too many men on the ice calls that set up Ontario power plays that came and went.
“If you’re playing you should be expected to score,” head coach Mike Stothers said. “The only guy we don’t expect to score is [Campbell]. He’s the only one I’m letting off the hook.”
Hensick, on the details in the series:
It’s been a tight series, they could be up two-nothing, too. It’s the little things, the details, the mistakes that are probably going to be the difference-maker in the series and right now their power play has got a goal, ours doesn’t. I feel like we’ve had chances, opportunities to score, and they haven’t gone in. And they have a shorthanded goal. Two big goals right there that could be differences right now. Like I said, it’s little things: picking up your guy coming back on the backcheck, make sure you hit the net, blocking a shot, winning a faceoff. Right now they’re doing well in the faceoff circle and it’s something, myself included, we’ve got to figure it out, especially on the road and we know it’s going to be a hostile environment with the series at one-one.
Hensick, on the low-scoring series and beating Enroth:
There’s only been four each way. It’s been a tight series. Enroth’s obviously a good goalie. He’s been in the NHL for a while. He knows how to get the job done. Obviously you’ve got to get traffic. He’s a smaller guy, you want to get some goals upstairs. Look at Brodz’s goal, even my goal there upstairs on him but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where you want to shoot. It’s going to be hard-working goals, it’s going to be second efforts. It’s going to be nice plays like Schilling’s pass to Amadio. But more than not it’s going to be a goal within three feet of the net, a guy scrambling, trying to get a second opportunity.
Stothers, on the Reign’s performance in the faceoff circle in Game 2:
It’s no question they were better than us in the faceoff circle. They had the puck an awful lot. And it’s not always just the centermen. You can easily go, well your centermen need to be better, a lot of times you need some help. Centermen will tie it up, you need some help from the wingers. I think we were guilty of hurting ourselves a couple times of icing the puck unnecessarily and now you’ve got another defensive zone faceoff. You can’t get the change, they get the guys out that they want. So, and special teams it’s the same thing. Got to win the faceoff. Power play, you’re starting in the offensive zone, so why would you go all the way back to the far end just so you can break out? They changed that rule to give you an advantage. I think our guys will be better. We haven’t been a bad faceoff team all year long. There’s been some nights where we’ve been better than others. You’ve got to give some credit to your opposition, some good players over there. They’ve got some good guys on faceoffs. They’ve got some guys who know how to play. That’s why it’s going to be a great series.