The Colorado Eagles (21-14-4-1) secured an early lead by scoring twice in the first period and never looked back in a 6-3 defeat of the Ontario Reign (22-16-3-1) on Tuesday night at Toyota Arena.
Defender Cody Haiskanen scored the first AHL goal of his career in a losing effort for the Reign, while forward Samuel Helenius found the back of the net for the second straight game and Taylor Ward picked up a power play goal in the second.
Colorado went in front just 6:08 into the game on a goal by Chris Wagner that came during an odd-man rush. Then less than four minutes later, an own-zone turnover led to a goal by Sam Malinski, who put a backhand shot past goaltender Erik Portillo to make it 2-0 Eagles. Colorado skated into the first intermission with a two-goal lead and outshot Ontario 14-6 in the opening frame.
A power play tally by Brad Hunt put the Eagles up 3-0 at 2:14 of the middle frame. It was the first of three man-advantage tallies by Colorado in the game, who were given seven chances with the extra man on penalties by Ontario.
Ward got the Reign on the board and made it 3-1 at 13:25, scoring his fourth goal of the year at the end of a power play opportunity. He was fed the puck by Tyler Madden, who helped win a battle along the boards along with Francesco Pinelli.
Then Helenius put Ontario back within a goal, scoring his eighth of the season on a wrist shot from the right circle at 18:49. Assists on the Reign’s second strike went to Kim Nousiainen and Hayden Hodgson.
But in the final minute of the period, Ward was whistled for high-sticking and Colorado capitalized seconds later with a goal by Jean-Luc Foudy to go up 4-2 with just 13 seconds remaining on the clock.
The Eagles built their lead back to three on Wagner’s second goal of the game at 6:16 of the third that made it a 5-2 game.
Haiskanen found the back of the net on a drive from just inside the blue line that went through a screen and past goaltender Justus Annunen at 12:06 to cut Ontario’s deficit to 5-3. While Tyler Madden provided the traffic in front, Akil Thomas and Kevin Connauton recorded assists on the play.
The Reign were unable to get any closer in the final minutes, however, and Colorado netted its third power play goal of the game at 17:26 on a redirect from the top of the crease by Jason Polin.
Ontario finished 1-for-5 on the power play in the contest, while Annunen earned the win for the Eagles with 23 saves and Portillo suffered the loss despite stopping 26 shots for the Reign.
On tonight’s loss
I think the timing of the penalties [was bad]. We get the momentum back, came back to 3-2, and with a minute left in a period you can’t take a stupid penalty like that. Four minutes left in the game, same thing. That’s something some of the guys have to learn. The PK, there’s a lot of pride in that when you’re on it, and when you’re on it you better get it done. So that, and probably some individual mistakes, cost us the game. We didn’t have the start at all. The guys were very tight. [Colorado] came out pretty good but we came back in the second. It was just too many mistakes.
On taking so many stick infraction penalties
It’s on us. You want to check with your legs. That means you’ve got to move your feet, and if you don’t move your feet, you use your stick. When you use your stick and if you’re late, you take stupid penalties. That’s how it is. It’s all on us. Again, for some reason, we just didn’t skate. We were just very passive and we took some really stupid ones.
On Samuel Helenius’ improvements this season
He had a big summer. He lost a lot of weight, so it took him a while to get going and also figure out his body I guess. I think it started a little bit in December. That’s where he kind of figured it out. That means he’s getting a lot better now. He’s definitely more confident. He’s one of the guys who took advantage of guys being called up and guys getting hurt, so that’s good for him. He’s a very good teammate and he wants to be the best every night, and he’s dropped the gloves too. I’m very happy for him.
On scoring his first AHL goal
Obviously, it’s a cool feeling. I’m just happy to be up here in the AHL. Every day I’m just grateful for the opportunity. [Offense] is not usually my area where I contribute, but I’m happy to chip in there when I can. I’m obviously super excited and happy to get that first one.
On playing with Kevin Connauton
Yeah, he’s a savvy vet so that’s huge. He’s great out there, both on and off the ice. He’s always talking to me and just helping me with the little things that I might not know or see. He’s obviously been around a long time, so I couldn’t ask for a better D partner to kind of help me along with my first couple games here in the AHL this year.
The Reign and Eagles will be back in Ontario for another matchup on Friday night at Toyota Arena beginning at 7 p.m.