With a month and change left in the regular season, time and space are in the Reign’s favor as far as the playoff race goes. A lot would have to go haywire for them to miss the postseason. With 15 games remaining in their regular season schedule (the least of any Pacific Division team), their Magic Number is 21 and teams behind them like Bakersfield and Tuscon would have to make up a lot of ground.
But head coach Mike Stothers has been left recently to wonder just what team is going to show up night in and night out. Ontario went 1-2-0-0 last week against divisional opponents outside the playoff picture.
The theme in the two losses, a 6-2 drubbing on Wednesday in Stockton and a 2-1 loss at home against Tucson, have been dreadful second periods — four goals allowed in the second against Stockton and Tucson’s two were scored in the second, a period in which the Reign were outshot 19-7.
“I’m not sure, you know,” said Justin Auger, when asked what needs to change after Saturday’s loss. “I think it’s just a mindset, you know. You just have to show up ready to play every night. It’s not acceptable to take nights off. It’s not acceptable to show up one night and not show up the next night. It’s something we really have to look at ourselves and work on.”
After a February 24 game in Bakersfield in which the Reign blew a 3-1 lead to only lose 4-3, the result of giving up two goals in the final five minutes, Stothers was asked what lesson could be taken away from the defeat.
“We shouldn’t be learning lessons at this juncture in the season,” he said. “We should be sending messages that we are a difficult team to play against because we stick to the systems and fundamentals every night.”
In their last 16 games since their last winning streak, a three-gamer from Jan. 21-25, they’ve put together two wins in a row just once. On the losing side though, the Reign have lost consecutive games just five times this season, a mark that proves they have the ability to bear down and answer a loss with a rebound win. The next step would be putting two wins together, which has been tough to come by.
Getting players like Michael Mersch, Teddy Purcell, Alex Lintuniemi and Joel Lowry back in the lineup should help as the longer they play the more they should get into a rhythm. Mersch already has two goals in three games. But in the one step forward, one step back category, the Reign are now without leading goal scorer Jonny Brodzinski, who was injured on a hit from behind Wednesday against the Heat.
The final 15 games starts with nearly a full week of practice before a Friday night game at Bakersfield. That’s followed by Saturday, Sunday home games against Tucson, all three being chances to do the things players like Brett Sutter and Auger said they need to do: play a full sixty minutes and execute.