REIGN PREVIEW 12/2 – Ontario at Coachella Valley

WHO: Ontario Reign (11-6-1-1) at Coachella Valley Firebirds (10-7-0-0)
WHEN: Saturday, December 2 @ 6:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Acrisure Arena – Palm Desert, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: AHLTV – AUDIO: Reign Radio – TWITTER: @ShafReign & @OntarioReign

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Ontario Reign complete a back-to-back weekend series in Coachella Valley against the Firebirds at Acrisure Arena Saturday night. Ontario is looking to continue its success in the desert this season, previously winning both of their contests with shutout results on Oct. 25 and Nov. 21.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Reign and Firebirds are developing a fierce regional rivalry, with tonight’s matchup already the fourth time they’ve battled in the first 20 games this season. As a result of their loss on Friday, the Reign dropped to third place in the AHL’s Pacific Division standings behind Calgary and Abbotsford with 24 points. The Firebirds are in seventh with 10 wins and 20 points from their first 17 games. With their recent hot play to close out the month of November, the Reign have lowered their season goals-against average to 2.47 which ranks third in the league. Coachella Valley has been one of the highest-scoring teams in the AHL this season, averaging 3.41 goals per game which is ninth in the league. The Reign have multiple players vying for the team’s scoring lead, which is currently held by captain TJ Tynan (3-18=21), who is fifth in the league with 21 points. Just behind him is defender Brandt Clarke, who leads all AHL defenders with 18 points on five goals and 13 assists, and Alex Turcotte who has 17 points on four goals and 13 helpers.

LAST TIME OUT: Chris Driedger turned the tables on the Ontario Reign Friday night, holding them off the scoreboard with 28 saves in a 2-0 victory for the visiting Coachella Valley Firebirds 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.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Ontario had a mostly even inaugural season series with the Firebirds last season, posting a record of 3-4-1 in eight outings, but were more successful in Palm Desert than at home in the IE, going 1-2-1 at Toyota Arena. This season’s first two meetings were one-sided in favor of the Reign, who shut out Coachella Valley in two straight to open the series at Acrisure Arena before the result was reversed on Friday. Goaltender David Rittich has manned the net in all three previous contests for Ontario, stopping 41 shots in the first which finished in a 1-0 score on Oct. 25 and 24 in the second during a blowout 6-0 decision on Nov. 21. Defender Kevin Connauton netted the lone goal of the first matchup while the Reign got offense from throughout the lineup last Tuesday including two goals from Samuel Fagemo and four assists by TJ Tynan.

FAGEMO’S FLASHY RETURN: Forward Samuel Fagemo has dominated since returning to the Reign lineup prior earlier this month, posting 12 points in his first eight games with Ontario on eight goals and four assists. Prior to Friday night, Fagemo had been on the scoresheet in each game, netting a goal in his first appearance on Nov. 12 and scoring twice on three different occasions including Ontario’s most recent victory on Saturday in San Jose. Four of his tallies have come via the power play, while three have ended up as game-winners. The Goteborg, Sweden native started the regular season with the Nashville Predators and earned a goal in four appearances but was placed on waivers and re-claimed by the LA Kings before being assigned to Ontario. In 159 career AHL games with Ontario, Fagemo has 106 points on 68 goals and 38 assists.

PORTILLO CONTINUES TO STAND OUT: Rookie goaltender Erik Portillo entered a game in relief for the first time on Tuesday night and looked as good as he has when he’s gotten a chance to start, stopping all 15 shots that came his way through the final 40 minutes of action. In doing so, he strengthened his numbers this season, which are among the league’s leaders. Both Portillo’s goals-against average of 1.96 and 0.932 save percentage through seven appearances rank fourth in the AHL. The 6-foot-6 native of Goteborg, Sweden was acquired by the LA Kings in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres last March prior to the end of his final collegiate season at the University of Michigan where he went 25-11-2 in 38 appearances with a 0.908 save percentage.

SCOUTING THE FIREBIRDS: Coachella Valley came into the weekend after falling short to San Jose at home on Wednesday night by a 5-3 score. Prior to that, they won on the road in Bakersfield last Saturday night with a 4-2 victory. The Firebirds have been outstanding on the road to begin the year with an 8-1-0 record away from Palm Desert but have only won two of their first eight home contests. Forward Max McCormick was leading the club in scoring with 17 points in 16 games on eight goals and nine assists before his recent recall to Seattle Friday afternoon. Returners Cameron Hughes and Kole Lind are also among the team scoring leaders with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Netminder Chris Driedger has suited up in 12 games for Coachella Valley, earning a record of 7-5-0 with a goals-against average of 2.17 and a 0.919 save percentage.

PENALTY KILL PICKS IT UP: The Reign are the top penalty killing team while on the road so far this season, allowing just two man-advantage goals against from their first nine contests away from Ontario. In total, they’ve produced a 93.3% success rate from their road penalty kill by discarding 28 of 30 shorthanded situations and were perfect last week with a combined 9-for-9 mark in their three outings outside of the Inland Empire. While they haven’t been as successful at home, the Reign are still in the league’s top-10 teams when it comes to overall penalty killing with an 85.5% rate that ranks seventh.

2023-24 Head-to-Head Schedule vs. Coachella Valley (all times Pacific):
Wed., Oct. 25 at Coachella Valley, 1-0 W – Full Recap
Tue., Nov. 21 at Coachella Valley, 6-0 W – Full Recap
Fri., Dec. 1 vs. Coachella Valley, 0-2 L – Full Recap
Sat., Dec. 2 at Coachella Valley, 6:00 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 20 vs. Coachella Valley, 6:00 p.m.
Fri., Feb. 23 vs. Coachella Valley, 7:00 p.m.
Fri., Mar. 15 vs. Coachella Valley, 7:00 p.m.
Wed., Apr. 10 at Coachella Valley, 7:00 p.m.

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