January 15: Reign game breakdown

Reign game breakdown
In a rivalry where they’ve looked lost at times, the Reign (20-9-2-1) turned the corner against the Ducks’ AHL counterpart in a commanding 5-0 win over the visiting Gulls (17-15-1-1) on Friday night. Derek Army scored his first AHL goal with less than a minute left in the first period, Jordan Samuels-Thomas had two goals, captain Vincent LoVerde had a goal and an assist and goalie Peter Budaj was outstanding in stopping 27 shots for his fifth shutout of the season. And somewhere in all this, left winger Michael Mersch (who leads the team with 12 goals) returned to the Reign after being sent down by the Kings earlier in the day. A second period goal by Nic Dowd, his fifth off an assist from Jonny Brodzinski in the second, rounded out the scoring. For good measure, top dogs Derek Forbort and Nick Ritchie dropped the gloves in the second period. Before tonight, the Reign had dropped four straight games against the Gulls.

Best quote
Paul Bissonnette, on if he was surprised that there was only one fight tonight: “Yeah, apparently their bus got here really late and it was just kind of a weird start for them. That’s what a few of their guys were saying on the ice. I just think it kind of threw them off and we got the jump on them early. I don’t know if that had a factor, a few of them mentioned it, that’s why I just say they were thrown off. It seemed like it upset them and rattled them enough to distract them. We’re thankful for the win.”

Three stars
–Jordan Samuels-Thomas – The left winger got back to the things he does well around the net and was rewarded with a two-goal third period. His tip-in tally at 8:49 put the Reign up 4-0 and he struck again shorthanded by getting his stick on a Sean Backman rebound with less than two minutes to go in the game.
–Vincent LoVerde – The Reign captain was literally everywhere on the ice and led by example in picking up his fourth multi-point game of the season. His point shot in the first was tipped by Justin Auger, eventually leading to Army’s goal to open the scoring. LoVerde made an impact again early in the second as his shot from the right point sailed past Gulls goalie Anton Khudobin just 2:22 into the period to give the Reign a two-goal lead.
–Peter Budaj – Starting his 18th straight game, the goaltending workhorse picked up his first shutout since Nov. 11, 2015, and his league-leading 19th win. He kept the Gulls scoreless on four power play chances and went post-to-post on a highlight-reel save on a Brian McGrattan wraparound attempt in the second period.

Turning point
Army’s first AHL goal came at the right time for the Reign with just 26.2 seconds left in the first period. Without it, the Reign were looking at going 0-for-3 on the power play in the opening frame which would have included a miserable 5-on-3. Instead, they went into the second up 1-0. Ironically enough, Stothers said before the game that he wanted to put Army with Mersch and Backman because he wanted the rookie surrounded by strong veterans in the rivalry game. And Army was a difference-maker in this one, scoring his first AHL goal in his 6th game with the Reign (10th AHL game overall). The 5-foot-11 center picked up the trash in the blue paint after Auger’s tip of a LoVerde shot went off the post behind Khudobin.

Stat fact
–5 – Shots on goal by Mersch in the first period of his first game since being reassigned to the Reign from the Kings on Friday morning. He had a scoring chance on a wraparound attempt less than 30 seconds in but overall didn’t have to be “the guy,” and that was a good thing. Instead, his presence was felt elsewhere as his addition helped spread the Reign’s forward depth, pushing Auger to the third line with Andrew Crescenzi and Samuels-Thomas.

This and that off-ice
Reign defenseman Kurtis MacDermid served the eighth game of his 12-game suspension for his hit on the Gulls’ Matt Bailey in the last meeting between these two teams back on Dec. 26, 2015.

Next up
It’s a back-to-back-to-back weekend for the Reign and on Saturday they’ll host Bakersfield Condors at 6 p.m. The Reign were shut out by the Oilers affiliate 4-0 on the road just last Saturday.

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