REIGN PREVIEW 2/23 – Ontario vs. Coachella Valley

WHO: Ontario Reign (23-19-3-3) vs. Coachella Valley Firebirds (30-13-4-2)
WHEN: Friday, February 23 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Toyota Arena – Ontario, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: AHLTV – TWITTER: @ShafReign & @OntarioReign

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Ontario Reign host the Coachella Valley Firebirds Friday night for the sixth meeting of the season between the two opponents who are separated by just 80 miles on the I-10 freeway. Ontario has lost both of their previous meetings with the Firebirds at Toyota Arena this season but have managed a 3-0-0 record at Acrisure Arena. As they prepare for the sixth head-to-head meeting of the season with the Firebirds, Ontario is in a tie with Bakersfield for sixth place in the Pacific Division with 52 points.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: After splitting a pair of contests in Tucson last weekend where they outscored the Roadrunners 10-4, the Reign are looking to get back on track in the Inland Empire, where they haven’t won at Toyota Arena since Jan. 6. Coachella Valley is the top team in the standings with 66 points and have posted a 7-1-1-1 record from their last 10 contests. The Firebirds are in the top-5 of the league rankings on both sides of the puck, scoring an average of 3.49 goals per game (foruth) while allowing just 2.65 tallies per contest (third). Ontario ranks 11th in the AHL on the defensive side of the puck, allowing 2.88 goals per game through 48 contests. Coachella Valley also averages the most shots on goal per contest in the league this season with an average of just below 34.

LAST TIME OUT: The Ontario Reign were unable to hold on to a late one-goal lead and came up short in a shootout by a 2-1 score to the Abbotsford Canucks on Wednesday night at Toyota Arena. Tyler Madden had the lone tally of the contest for the Reign, while Erik Portillo turned out 28 shots in a losing effort in between the pipes.

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 twice 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 13-9 overall in this year’s series, going 5-for-17 on the power play (29.4%) and 15-for-18 on the penalty kill (83.3%). TJ Tynan has led the Reign in scoring against the Firebirds with six assists in the five previous meetings this season.

HICKETTS RETURNS WITH A HELPING HAND: Defender Joe Hicketts was welcomed back into the lineup last weekend in Tucson, his first game action since suffering an injury Oct. 25 in Coachella Valley. The blueliner from Kamloops, B.C. made a big impact in his return, finishing Friday’s win over Tucson with a plus-3 rating before earning a pair of power play assists in Saturday’s one-goal defeat. Hicketts then followed that up with another helper on Tyler Madden’s goal Wednesday night against Abbotsford to increase his season total to six assists in eight games. The 27-year-old is coming off a career year with the Iowa Wild in 2022-23 where he totaled 48 points in 72 games on six goals and 42 helpers that included 24 power play assists which ranked tied for fourth-most in the league.

SCOUTING THE FIREBIRDS: Coachella Valley earned its 30th win of the season on the road Wednesday night with a 5-4 defeat of San Jose. The Firebirds have been the best road team in the AHL this season, posting a 17-4-2 record away from home for a 0.783 points percentage. Team captain Max McCormick and returning forward Kole Lind are tied for the club lead in scoring, each earning 44 points this season. McCormick has a team-high 24 goals along with 20 assists, while Lind has earned 10 goals and 34 helpers. Forward Cameron Hughes has also had a big year with 39 points in 47 games on 14 goals and 25 assists. Goaltender Chris Driedger is leading the way in between the pipes with a 14-6-3 record in 23 appearances to go with a 2.38 goals-against average and a 0.913 save percentage.

HUDON HEATING UP: Forward Charles Hudon has scored points in four straight contests for Ontario, including five assists in his last three outings. It’s the longest run the forward has had since he was on the scoresheet in six straight during the month of December. His latest streak has him at 39 points for the season, one shy of reaching the 40-point plateau for the third consecutive year and the sixth time in his AHL career. While his goal pace is behind the 29 that he put up with Colorado last season, Hudon’s assist numbers are up and he’s on pace for the highest total he’s had since his rookie year when he totaled 38 with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2014-15. Eight of Hudon’s 16 goals this season have come while Ontario has been on the man-advantage.

PORTILLO PROVIDING PATIENCE IN NET: Rookie goaltender Erik Portillo has continued to impress this season and has allowed just a single goal in back-to-back starts over the past week against Tucson and Abbotsford. In 25 games this season, Portillo has allowed only 60 tallies against for a goals-against average of 2.47 while accounting for a 0.920 save percentage and two shutouts. His save percentage ranks sixth among qualified netminders this season, while his goals-against number is 11th in the league.

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, 2-4 L – Full Recap
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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