The Ontario Reign and Colorado Eagles are back at it on Friday after Akil Thomas’ hat trick in Ontario’s win on Wednesday.

Tale of the tape:

Powerplay

ONT: 27.7% (1st)

COL: 19.3% (15th)

Penalty kill

ONT: 76.7% (28th)

COL: 76.7% (27th)

Goals for

ONT: 254 (1st)

COL: 233 (6th)

Goals against

ONT: 204 (13th)

COL: 202 (12th)

Key players

ONT: T.J. Tynan – 14 goals, 82 assists, 96 points

COL: Kiefer Sherwood – 35 goals, 38 assists, 73 points

Three things to watch for in tonight’s matchup:

1. Akil Thomas settling in

In his first 27 games of the season, Akil Thomas had just three points (one goal, two assists). In his last ten games, the former second-round draft pick of the LA Kings has six goals and eight points. Four of those six goals have come on the power play.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it would take him time to get his feet under him. What’s encouraging is that he’s scoring in different ways – be it in tight at the top of the crease, or showing off his quick release in the slot area. The Reign utilizes the bumper position on the power play as well as any team in the AHL, and Thomas has excelled there, as he did last season. His third goal on Wednesday was a great example:

With the playoffs right around the corner, he’s heating up at the right time.

2. New faces contributing

Over the past three games, many of the newcomers to the Reign lineup have been instrumental in the teams’ victories (3-0 during that stretch).

In goal, David Hrenak pitched Ontario’s first shutout of the season in his first career professional game. Defensemen Nelson Nogier (one goal, two assists), Frederic Allard (four assists), and Kim Nousiainen (assist on Wednesday) have continued to provide offense to the back end. With Sean Durzi, Jordan Spence, and Jacob Moverare in Los Angeles, not to mention Helge Grans who has been out with injury, it’s been important for the defense to still provide offense.

Up front, Samuel Helenius (first AHL goal), Andre Lee (first AHL point), and Taylor Ward (one goal, two assists, and a fight in San Diego) have also provided depth scoring.

T.J. Tynan, Martin Frk, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and Samuel Fagemo are going to ultimately drive this bus. But with many players either called up or injured, to still have this type of depth scoring is encouraging heading into playoffs.

3. Ontario re-Warding Taylor with ice time

Since joining the Reign from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Taylor Ward has adapted seamlessly to life in the AHL. In just his second professional game, he picked up three assists, and in total, he has three goals and ten points in just 13 games.

Quietly, he’s also riding a modest five-game point streak (three goals, two assists) while also showing the willingness to drop the gloves if need be:

The 6’2″ winger has been a staple in the top-six since he joined the team and has also seen time on the second power play unit. His goal with the man advantage against San Diego last week showed his poise with the puck, with his head up the whole time, before firing one in from his strong-side circle:

My personal favorite play of Ward’s in his young career is his tying goal against the Stockton Heat on April 10th. He makes a great play just inside the blueline, spinning off a check before throwing the puck across the zone into space where Wagner could retrieve it. He then has his eyes on Wagner the whole time while working to find a soft area for him to slot in to be an option for Wagner. The 24-year-old does just that before tying the game on a one-timer:

Noteworthy on that goal is he was on the ice in an extra-attacker situation. The young forward is establishing himself as a key piece to the Reign offense.

Puck drop between the Ontario Reign and Colorado Eagles is scheduled for 6:05 pm PT and can be seen on AHLTV.

(Main photo credit: Ontario Reign)