Ontario finally succeeded in creating a definitive score line in regulation time after having sent their last four games past the allotted 60 minutes of guaranteed hockey. Unfortunately for Ontario, the Reign ended up on the losing end of back to back 6-2 and 5-3 losses this past weekend, as the team’s first record of AHL competition against one another came to a close.
The weekend away in Colorado provided a wealth of important information on a Reign squad that has only been able to scrounge together one win in seven appearances this season. To put things into perspective, the only other team who has one win in 2018-19 is the San Antonio Rampage; they haven’t made the playoffs in the past three years and they still have a game in Ontario. Evidently, it is going to be a monumental effort to try and find any silver linings from a rough beginning to the season and an away series that succinctly illustrates the Reign’s rocky start to 2018-19.
About Last Weekend…
The Reign touched down in Colorado on Friday having a (1-1-2-1) record – ranking fourth in the pacific division – trying to break free from a lengthy and intimate dance with overtime. Their opponent, the Colorado Eagles (AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche), ranked third in the pacific division with a (2-1-1-0) record, competed as a team in the ECHL last season, and finished its two most recent AHL fixtures against San Antonio with convincing wins.
The match-up between the two pacific division teams was slated to be a neck-and-neck battle, which would help solidify a holding amongst the upper echelons of the division’s ranks and would make a strong case, for either team, as division a hopeful. The mile-high men must have been touched by magic, however, as they walloped the Reign over the course of the match, dominating the first and second period by a score of 6-1.
Recently reassigned Reign goalie – Peter Budaj (SV% = .750 for 20 minutes), shared time with auxiliary Reign keeper – Cal Petersen (SV% = .909 for 40 minutes) but did not quite show the same sort of goaltending prowess he did in the Reign’s only win of the season against Stockton in game two. After getting scored on four times in 20 minutes of play, Budaj sat the rest of the series while Cal Petersen reclaimed his spot in net for the Reign. Ontario defenseman – Matt Roy, broke up the onslaught of Colorado goals midway through the second while Reign forward – Mikey Eyssimont, scored the lone goal of the third period.
Defeated and derelict, the Reign departed Budweiser Events Center (home of the Eagles) with the humiliation of a 6-2 score line, highlighting their worst goals for/goals against ratio on the year since a 4-1 loss to San Jose in the 2018-19 season opener.
To make matters worse, Ontario went zero for six on power play opportunities, cementing their lowest single game power play percentage of the season. They also allowed their opponents, who came into the weekend with the worst power play percentage in the league at five percent, to capitalize on two of their five man advantages for the night.
The following evening, Ontario played a game that was, by and large, more comparable to the match-ups the men in black and white have seen for a majority of the season. Categorized by back and forth scoring, a healthy amount of penalty minutes, and a late push to equalize, Ontario ultimately succumbed to the Eagles after a last-ditch effort to collect a point on the road, ended up giving Colorado a late empty-net goal to lead the game by two.
The Eagles played an enormously disciplined game on Saturday, giving up two penalties that Ontario, again, could not manage to score from. On the other hand, the Reign gave up five penalties and improved only slightly from the night before, giving up one powerplay goal on the day.
Get in the box!
In a class all their own, Ontario has gifted 157 minutes of penalty time to opposing teams over the course of the last seven games; they lead the league in PIM (penalties in minutes) and have an extra 20 minutes of time in the box over the second highest infraction-infested team in the league (Utica Comets).
In conjunction with The Reign’s apparent lack of self-control, Ontario’s inability to facilitate a top-tier penalty kill is a formula for disaster. The Reign boast a 70.6% PK rate, which is ranked 26th in the league and 2nd to last in their division. If the PIM issues persist and the PK% doesn’t take strides to improve, the Reign are in for more of the same and are inducing self-inflicted harm each time they procure a penalty.
Players like Reign defenseman – Kurtis MacDermid, who makes up just under 40% of the teams total PIM with 61, need to make a concerted effort to decrease the number of minutes they are racking up in the box because the Reign do not have a highly functioning penalty killing unit to nullify opposing powerplays. The relationship between penalty and penalty killing in Ontario is not unlike the relationship between a drawn bathtub that has a clogged drain.
Ontario keeps feeding the opposing team powerplay opportunities, much like water feeds a tub’s basin, and the penalty kill unit is expected to take on the unrelenting task of killing large amounts of penalties, similar to the faulty drain that can only allow so much water to pass through before the water in the tub supersedes the amount of water the drain allows through. Ontario, operating as the metaphorically clogged tub, would be remiss if they did not attempt to solve the problem by unclogging the drain or turning off the faucet – either way, something has to change before the overflow becomes too much to handle.
As was mentioned earlier, the Reign went the whole weekend in Colorado without putting a puck in the net on a man advantage; of course, this did not come without warning. Ontario’s powerplay has been on a downward trend since it was consistently hitting at a rate of 25% in the beginning of the season. Additionally, losing premier point producer and former Reign forward– Sheldon Rempal, to the Kings has likely affected the Reign’s powerplay in a negative fashion, considering that he led the team in powerplay assists before his move to the NHL.
The devastating weekend away threw an already faltering powerplay on its head. Ontario now sits uncomfortably in 20th place amidst all other teams in the league with a 16.1% powerplay percentage.
As unfortunate as losing Rempal has been for the Reign, Monday morning on the 22nd, the Kings sent out a press statement that notified its reclamation of Ontario defenseman- Sean Walker, who after this weekend, ties for third highest AHL defenseman in terms of goals scored (three) and ties for ninth amongst defenders for total points amassed.
Needless to say, Ontario has to figure out a way to manipulate their current skaters to recreate high-end powerplay scoring in the absence of Rempal and the offensively effective Walker. With the way things are trending in LA right now, Ontario may end up having more and more of its shining stars shipped off to Staples Center as the season wanes on.
Although a solution to the Reign’s powerplay is only exacerbated as offensively skilled players fly the coup, utilizing players who aren’t in major danger of leaving Ontario for the City of Angels seems like a good place to start making reparations on special teams. Players like captain and centerman – Brett Sutter, veteran winger – Matt Moulson, or former 2010 first round NHL draft pick – Emerson Etem, ought to take more commanding roles on the powerplay in an effort to create a more cohesive powerplay unit that provides stability and familiarity, amidst the perpetually changing roster of an AHL team.
Allowing players who are attached to Ontario more freedom to dictate the powerplay (whether that be quarterbacking, leading a powerplay line, or eating up valuable man advantage minutes) affords Ontario to maintain stability when effective powerplay producers leave the fold. Again, this isn’t the end all be all suggestion to get the powerplay rolling again, but it can’t hurt to try to get some lower line players minutes on a powerplay that hasn’t been operating at a high level since the beginning of the season.
Besides, on the off chance that a guy like Etem finds his scoring touch on a powerplay, the confidence boost guys like that might get is immensely important right now for an Ontario bottom half that is struggling to generate points in all facets of the game (bottom half not generating a lot of point scoring.
Personnel and Line Changes
On a more positive note, Ontario is taking strides to shake up the Reign roster and bring in talent from outside the organization that might provide much needed assistance in areas Ontario feels are lacking.
Aforementioned goaltender –Peter Budaj, was reassigned to Ontario after Johnathan Quick returned to the Kings roster from IR this past week, which means that backup Reign goaltender – Cole Kehler, has also been reassigned to Reign and Kings ECHL affiliated, Manchester Monarchs.
From the Monarchs, forward – Spencer Watson, was recalled this past week and will be sporting number 12, playing primarily on the right wing for Ontario. Reign Defenseman – Austin Strand, will be sent back down to Manchester, where he will likely play a larger defensive role for the team after being on the Ontario roster since the beginning of the season, and having not been capped in a game since.
Watson’s call up to Ontario gave the 22-year old another opportunity to play for the Reign, after having played eleven AHL games with Ontario previously. Watson started in both Friday and Saturday’s games against Colorado and went (0-0-0) and a plus minus – negative one, on both nights. The young winger replaced the spot of likely starter and 2nd year forward – Jamie Devane and is gunning to be the long-term solution to injured winger – Zack Mitchell, who suffered an unknown injury in game three of the season.
As was mentioned previously, the LA Kings made room for defenseman – Sean Walker, after this weekend’s performance solidified his ability as a scoring threat and raised him up the ranks as a top AHL blueliner in goals scored and point totals.
The lines did not change all that much this weekend, and most of the line groupings stayed the same but may have shifted in relation to where their current position (i.e. top line goes to second line, vice versa).
Typical Line pairings:
Eyssimont – Maillet – Luff
Moulson – Sutter – Morrison
Herr – Bauman – Watson
Imama – Rymsha – Etem
Typical defensive pairings:
MacDermid – Walker
Brickely – Roy
Clague – Lintuniemi
Big Skates to Fill
There is no surprise that Ontario has struggled offensively after losing their leading scorer and point getter – Sheldon Rempal, and with the recent news of Walker’s call up to the NHL, Ontario will be losing another offensively effective skater. However, with a talented and hungry roster, the Reign have a few key names to look out for as they internally sort out ways to mitigate the vacated offensive presence created by Walker and Rempal.
The 22-year old American born – Mikey Eyssimont, has been making a strong case for himself in Rempal’s absence, scoring three goals in four games since Rempal was called up. Eyssimont (4-2-6) now leads the team in goals and is tied for second in points behind Moulson (2-6-8). Additionally, defenseman and first year pro – Sean Walker, is tied with Eyssimont for points (3-3-6) and is coming into his own as a lethal offensive threat, scoring three goals in his last three games and accumulating four total points (3-1-4).
Given that both of these individuals often share minutes on the ice together, if they continue to trend upwards, their offensive conglomeration could spell trouble for opposing defenses and can contribute nicely to a powerplay that has been on a gradual decline in Ontario.
The Reign have a lot to work on before they take home ice this upcoming Friday at 7 p.m. Coming home from a road trip with no points to show for it in the overall standings, Ontario needs to come up with points against a Tucson Roadrunners team, who is currently ranked higher than their last opponents. Playing in a more disciplined fashion, manipulating skaters who are unlikely to be called up or play lesser minutes on the powerplay unit. Finding ways to hone in on offensive production as offensively talented players, like Walker, join the list of NHL call-ups will be key for the Reign as they take a much-needed five-day break ahead of their fourth home game.
Will Zack Mitchell be poised to make a return to the lineup and attribute to a stagnant powerplay, or will Watson continue to start in the lineup in search of his first points on the season? How will Ontario’s powerplay and penalty kill operate at home after having several days of practice and rest? Can the Reign manage to break the curse of home game losses in overtime, or will they sink further into the depths of the Pacific division rankings?
Stay glued to The Hornet to find out if resilience or regression will prevail for the Reign Friday, Oct. 26, at Citizens Business Bank Arena!