By Thomas Harrington
For the second year in a row, the San Diego Gulls have advanced to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. After losing in five games a year ago, the Gulls are hoping to have a better showing this year. This time, they’ll face off against the San Jose Barracuda, the team who had the best record in the Western Conference this season. San Diego and San Jose played against each other 10 times during the regular season, so there’s a lot of familiarities and bad blood between these two teams.
Jhonas Enroth was in net for all five of San Diego’s games against Ontario. Ontario is a team that likes to shoot the puck, a lot, so Enroth was kept busy throughout the series. In the five-game series, he faced 165 shots and only allowed nine goals. Overall, he had a .945 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.82. He didn’t really have any bad games, as the most goals he gave up in any game was three, in game one and game four, San Diego’s two losses. In their three wins, he was only beaten three times total. He’s been one of the best goalies in the AHL since Bob Murray brought him over from Toronto. Backup Dustin Tokarski did not play at all in the series.
For San Jose, their starter is Troy Grosenick. In the first round against Stockton, he went 3-2, had a save percentage of .907, and had a goals against average of 2.54. While those numbers aren’t as strong as Enroth’s, he’s still a solid goalie and was one of the best goalies in the AHL during the regular season. He led the AHL in shutouts with 10, twice as many as anyone else. Three of those shutouts came against the Gulls.
Overall, San Diego’s defense wasn’t stellar in the first round, as the team gave up too many shots in the last couple of games against Ontario, but they were good enough to advance. San Diego has three rookie defensemen playing big minutes for them: Andy Welinski, Keaton Thompson, and Brian Cooper. All three are playing in just about every situation for San Diego. While they did make some mistakes, overall, they were solid and learned a lot in that series. Welinski’s three assists were tied for the team lead, Thompson’s two goals were tied for second on the team, and Cooper had one assist. Welinski and Thompson really stood out, but Cooper had his moments as well. Besides those three rookies, San Diego relied on three veteran defensemen: Jaycob Megna, Jeff Schultz, and Nate Guenin. None of them are being counted on for their offensive contributions. Instead, they are out there to provide steady defense and help cover for any mistakes made by some of San Diego’s younger players. Those should be San Diego’s top six going forward; however, depending on what happens with Anaheim, one of Shea Theodore or Brandon Montour could join the team at some point.
Nick DeSimone led San Jose’s defense with four assists and four points in their first round series. In the regular season, San Jose’s most dangerous defensemen were Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan. Both had two goals and three points in the five-game series victory over Stockton. After those three, the Barracuda have Mirco Mueller, Julius Bergman, and Jacob Middleton round out their top six. Dan Kelly also played in one game. Similar to Anaheim, it’s a solid group with a mix of veterans and young players. The Ducks actually selected Heed in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Draft.
Nic Kerdiles led San Diego’s offensive charge against Ontario, and he’ll be counted on to continue playing at a high level against San Jose. However, he was called up to Anaheim this morning because of injuries and will miss at least the first game of this series. His absence means the rest of San Diego’s forwards will need to step up. Nick Sorensen quietly put up four points, and Spencer Abbott, Kalle Kossila, and Kevin Roy all had three points against Ontario. However, the Gulls do need more from a few forwards, most notably Antoine Laganiere, Sam Carrick, and Max Gortz. Combined, they had five points in the first round. With leading scorer Corey Tropp only playing in one game against Ontario, the Gulls will need a lot more from these three in the second round. It will be interesting to see how rookies Max Jones, Jack Kopacka, Tyler Soy, and Deven Sideroff are used going forward. Of them, Jones was the only one to see a significant amount of action against Ontario, while Soy and Sideroff were scratched in all five games. One player who could have a big impact on this series is Ondrej Kase. He played in three games in the first round and only had one assist, but it was on the Kerdiles game-winner in game three. It was definitely a turning point in the series. He’s in Anaheim right now but continues to go back and forth between the two teams.
For the Barracuda, Ryan Carpenter led the team with four goals and seven points in five games, while Buddy Robinson and Rourke Chartier both had five points. Carpenter’s seven points led the AHL in scoring in the first round. He also scored the game-winning goal in overtime, while San Jose was shorthanded, in game five. San Jose has a very deep offensive core. After their top three scorers, San Jose has Barclay Goodrow (four points), Timo Meier (three points in four games), Daniel O’Regan (three points), Kevin Labanc (three points), and John McCarthy (three points). Meier is a first round pick from 2015 and one of San Jose’s top prospects. He spent over 30 games in the NHL this year.
The season series
The Gulls and Barracuda faced each other 10 times during the regular season. Each team won five games in the season series, with both teams winning all five games on home ice. San Jose owns home ice in this series, and it will be imperative for the Gulls to steal a game in San Jose if they want to advance. One of San Diego’s five wins was probably their wildest game of the season, as the Gulls won 7-6 in overtime. Each team held a lead in that game, and San Jose scored twice in the third to tie it before Tyler Morley won the game for the Gulls.
Game one will be tonight in San Jose, with game two taking place on Saturday night. The Gulls and Barracuda will return to San Diego for games three, four, and, if needed, five. If needed, games six and seven will be back in San Jose. Based on their regular seasons, this should be a great, unpredictable series between two of the best teams in the Western Conference.
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May 5th, 2017