WHO: Ontario Reign (21-12-3-1) vs. Coachella Valley Firebirds (21-12-3-1)
WHAT: AHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME #38
WHEN: Saturday, January 20 @ 6:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Toyota Arena – Ontario, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: AHLTV – AUDIO: Reign Radio – TWITTER: @ShafReign & @OntarioReign
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Ontario Reign return home to host the Coachella Valley Firebirds in a Saturday night bout at Toyota Arena. The contest will be the fifth overall meeting between the two Southern California rivals and the second battle hosted in the Inland Empire. Ontario has won three of its first four contests against the Firebirds during the 2023-24 season, going 3-1-0. The clubs enter tonight’s matchup with identical 21-12-3-1 records from their first 37 games this season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Reign recently concluded their longest road trip of the season Wednesday in Abbotsford, losing to the Canucks by a 2-1 final. Ontario went 3-2-0 overall on the five-game swing through three different cities, including four straight one-goal results during split series in both Calgary and Abbotsford. Ontario and Coachella Valley are now tied in third in the Pacific Division standings with 46 points apiece, each just two points out of first place where Tucson sits with 48 points. The teams are also evenly matched on the defensive side of the puck as two of the best in the league. Ontario has allowed 2.65 goals per game through its first 37 contests, while the Firebirds have allowed three more goals in the same number of games for an average of 2.73. Coachella Valley also ranks in the top 10 of the AHL offensively by scoring 3.30 goals per night.
LAST TIME OUT: In a game that remained scoreless until early in the third period, the Abbotsford Canucks got enough offense in a 90-second span that featured two goals to defeat the Ontario Reign Wednesday night by a score of 2-1 at the Abbotsford Centre. Samuel Helenius netted the lone Reign goal of the contest during an Abbotsford power play in the third, while goaltender Jacob Ingham held the Canucks off the board for most of the night and finished with 29 saves in a losing effort.
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 teams skated to a split during a home-and-home weekend on Dec. 1-2. Goaltender David Rittich manned the net in the first three contests for Ontario and posted shutouts in the first two with 41 saves on Oct. 25 and 24 on Nov. 21. The Reign have outscored CV 11-5 overall in this year’s series, going 4-for-14 on the power play (28.6%) and 12-for-14 on the penalty kill (85.7%). TJ Tynan has led the Reign in scoring against the Firebirds with five assists in the four previous meetings this season.
KILLER INSTINCT: Forward Akil Thomas has continued to be one of Ontario’s best forwards over the past few weeks. Although his recent season-high point streak of six games ended Wednesday night when he was held off the scoresheet, Thomas has still racked up eight points on five goals and three assists in his last seven outings. The forward came within a game of his career-high points streak of seven straight which he achieved during his rookie season. With 25 points in 37 games this year, the Toronto native is just one point shy of his single-season career-high of 26 which was also set during 40 contests in his rookie year. Thomas had a goal in each of Ontario’s three consecutive wins over San Jose to begin 2024 before adding a power play assist and two goals in Calgary last week and another helper in Tuesday’s win at Abbotsford. He has appeared in each of the Reign’s first 37 games this year and his 13 goals have already surpassed his previous career-high total of 11. The LA Kings’ former second-round pick in 2018 has appeared in 130 AHL contests with the Reign in his pro career.
SCOUTING THE FIREBIRDS: Coachella Valley earned its 21st win of the season on Friday night with a 4-3 defeat of Calgary at home in Palm Desert. Prior to that, they came up short on Wednesday night to Henderson in a 6-4 defeat. The Firebirds have been the best road team in the AHL’s Western Conference this season, posting a 13-4-1 record away from home for a 0.750 points percentage. Returning forward Cameron Hughes leads the club in scoring with 34 points in 37 games on 11 goals and 23 assists. Team captain Max McCormick is second with 31 points on a team-high 15 goals and 16 assists, while Kole Lind has reached the 30-point mark on seven goals and 23 helpers. Chris Driedger suited up in 15 games before being recalled to Seattle and in his absence Ales Stezka has played in 16 contests and produced an 8-5-1 record and a 0.900 save percentage while Cale Morris has seen time in six and Jack LaFontaine has played three.
TOP NOTCH PENALTY KILL: The Reign allowed just their seventh power play goal on the road this season during Wednesday night’s loss in Abbotsford, which is tied with Utica for the lowest number in the league on the road this year. Ontario’s road PK is the stingiest in the AHL, discarding 90% of opponents’ opportunities. Overall, the Reign rank fifth in the league when down a man, killing 85% of the 127 times they’ve been shorthanded.
INGHAM EARNING MORE TRUST: Goaltender Jacob Ingham has showcased himself at both the AHL and ECHL levels this season, earning a combined record of 14-3-0 in 19 appearances between the two affiliates. Ingham began his year with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and racked up 11 wins in 14 contests with a goals-against average of 2.64 and a 0.920 save percentage in just shy of 800 minutes. He was then recalled by the Reign in December, posting even better numbers through his first five outings with a 1.99 goals-against and a 0.940 save percentage. The netminder won three straight starts with Ontario after his recall before suffering his first loss on Wednesday in Abbotsford despite not allowing a goal during the first 40 minutes and finishing with 29 saves on 31 shots. Ingham’s best performance to date was last week in a 2-1 win at Calgary which featured 36 saves on 37 shots to take down the division leader.
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, 4-3 OTW – Full Recap
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.