Chris Driedger turned the tables on the Ontario Reign (11-6-1-1) Friday night, holding them off the scoreboard with 28 saves in a 2-0 victory for the visiting Coachella Valley Firebirds (10-7-0-0) at Toyota Arena. Ontario had previously held the Firebirds without a goal in the first two matchups of the series in the desert.
David Rittich made the start in net for the Reign and turned out 19 of Coachella Valley’s 21 shots in a losing effort, allowing Firebirds goals to forwards Devin Shore and Shane Wright.
After a bout between Samuel Helenius and Jacob Melanson at the 2:27 mark of the first period, Shore got Coachella Valley on the board for the first time this season against the Reign with a power play goal at 6:31. Ontario outshot the Firebirds 8-7 in the opening 20 minutes but trailed by one when the buzzer sounded to begin the first intermission.
The Reign had multiple opportunities to get back in the contest during the second period with three consecutive power play chances and a total of 14 shots on goal during the middle frame but were unable to solve Driedger. Two of Ontario’s best opportunities came on shots that rang off the right post by Samuel Fagemo and Kevin Connauton.
After a long shift in the offensive end for the Reign, the puck bounced out into neutral ice and led to a counterattack rush for Wright, who beat Rittich with a shot over the glove to make it 2-0 Coachella Valley with 1:14 remaining in the second.
Ontario’s chances were fewer and far between in the third, only able to muster six pucks on goal in an attempt to get back in the contest. The Reign brought Rittich to the bench for the final 2:30, but couldn’t muster any more offense in the last moments of the game.
Shore’s first period goal was the lone man-advantage goal of the contest and the Firebirds finished 1-for-3 on the power play while holding Ontario to an 0-for-4 mark.
Postgame thoughts from head coach Marco Sturm and defender Tobias Bjornfot, who returned to the lineup Friday night, are below.
On tonight’s shutout loss
The intensity and the emotion were a little flat, I thought, but it wasn’t terrible. We had plenty of chances to score and even win the hockey game, but something was just missing today. I think that was probably the difference.
On the power play struggling
The only thing I didn’t like was that we kept it to the outside all the time. It doesn’t matter if it was five-on-five or five-on-four or on the power play, we wanted to make the perfect play. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and if you play a team like Coachella, they play very tight, and sometimes you have to go through and we just didn’t do that today. We played on the outside and it was probably too easy. It was an easy game for them. That’s something we have to make sure, especially on the power play, that we have to shoot and break in. We didn’t do that today.
On David Rittich’s bounce-back game
We knew he was going to have a good game. He got a bad bounce on the first goal but he kept us in the game for a long time. Again, it was just a good game I guess and unfortunately we left two points behind. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.
On Tobias Bjornfot returning to the lineup after his injury in the last game against Coachella Valley
First of all, its always nice to see Toby with the Reign, especially after that incident. We’re just happy that he’s alright and that he got this game under his belt. It probably wasn’t easy for him mentally, but he got through it and we just want to take advantage of him as long as we have him. I’m just happy he’s back playing again. He’s an NHL player, and if you’re one of them, you can do it all.
The Reign and Firebirds will conclude their weekend home-and-home series in Palm Desert on Saturday night at Acrisure Arena at 6 p.m.