The #2 seeded Ontario Reign host the #7 seed San Diego Gulls in the opening round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.

It’s playoff time in the Inland Empire as the Ontario Reign welcomes their Pacific Division rivals San Diego Gulls to Toyota Arena in a best-of-three first-round series.

The schedule for the three games was released on April 25th:

 

Head to Head

Ontario finished the regular season 9-3 overall against San Diego. The Reign outscored the Gulls 42-30 (a per-game average of 3.5-2.5). The performance was even more dominant at Toyota Arena.

While at home, the Reign went 6-0 against San Diego, outscoring them 26-12 (per-game average of 4.3-2). Ontario scored at least four goals in five of the six home games and won by at least three goals on three different occasions.

Overall the Reign had the second-best record on home ice (per winning percentage), so it isn’t surprising that things went better for them in Ontario against the Gulls.

On the other hand, San Diego was one of the worst road teams in the league, going just 11-19-1-3.

Special Teams

The Special Teams has been a topic of conversation around the Ontario Reign all season long – both good and bad. First, the good.

The Reign boasts the best power play in the AHL and not just the 2021-22 version of the AHL, but the league’s history, clicking at a 27.8% rate. Not surprisingly, it was even better on home ice, as they converted on 28.3% of their chances with the man advantage in Ontario.

San Diego was an above-average team on the power play. Their 19.8% with the man-advantage ended the season as the 11th-best. On the road, it was right along those lines at 19.3%.

Now to the bad, the penalty kill. Ontario has had one of the worst penalty kills in the AHL. They ended the season at 76.7%, good for 27th in the league. It was even worse on home ice. Ontario had a league-worst 70.5% penalty kill at Toyota Arena.

San Diego’s penalty killing wasn’t great either. They finished with the 15th-best penalty kill at 81.0%. On the road, it ranked just 24th at 77.9%.

Against each other, San Diego’s penalty kill fared a little better than most other teams against the Reign, as Ontario went 11-for-42 (26.2%). However, when the games were in Ontario, the Reign scored on over one-third of their opportunities with the man-advantage, going 7-for-20 (35.0%).

San Diego’s power play was one with which the Reign didn’t have too much of a problem. The Gulls were just 4-for-38 overall (10.5%) and 3-for-18 while in Ontario (16.7%).

Key Players

Ontario brings the league’s highest-scoring attack into the playoffs, led by reigning AHL MVP T.J. Tynan. The Illinois native finished second in the AHL in scoring with 14 goals, 84 assists, and 98 points. In 12 games against the Gulls, Tynan picked up 20 points.

His partner in crime is right-winger Martin Frk. This season, the 28-year-old eclipsed the 40-goal mark and was lethal on the power play, scoring 15 goals with the man advantage – which tied him for second in the league.

Look for Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Samuel Fagemo to provide secondary scoring for the Reign. They finished third and fourth respectively on the team in points.

Akil Thomas ended the season with eight goals and three assists in his final 15 games. Also, Ontario saw the returns of Alex Turcotte and Helge Grans in their season finale against Henderson.

The Gulls don’t bring the same type of firepower into the series. Lucas Elvenes, who started the season with the Henderson Silver Knights, had 32 points in 40 games since joining San Diego.

Alex Limoges led the Gulls in goals with 23. His 12 power play goals ranked him in the top ten in the AHL.

San Diego will also be getting some reinforcements as Hunter Drewย and Trevor Carrick were among a handful of players sent back down after the NHL season ended for Anaheim.

Drew was second on the Gulls in goals with 17; six came against the Reign as he was a thorn in the side of Ontario, scoring 11 points in 12 games.

Carrick’s 30 points were second among San Diego defensemen. Nikolas Brouillard proved to be a threat from the blueline, scoring 13 goals and 39 points this season.

Between the pipes

While it should be considered an improved season for Matthew Villalta, it was still inconsistent. The Kingston, ON native appeared in 46 games this season, his busiest as a pro, finishing 28-10-7 with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.

He faced the Gulls nine times in the 2021-22 season, winning seven. The 22-year-old had a 2.44 goals-against average, and a .903 save percentage against San Diego.

Garret Sparks has been on the ice recently recovering from injury, and David Hrenak has played well in his three appearances since joining the Reign, but this is Villalta’s net.

Lukas Dostal saw the bulk of the net for the Gulls, going 18-14-4 this season with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. While those are solid numbers, in his five appearances (four starts) against the Reign, he went 0-4 with a 2.60 goals-against average, and a .893 save percentage.

Olle Eriksson Ek‘s regular season wasn’t nearly as good as Dostal’s. The Swedish netminder went 7-15-2 with a 3.44 goals-against average and a .880 save percentage. Against the Reign, he was 3-4 with a 2.71 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage. However, he was one of just two goaltenders to shut Ontario out this season. Since being pulled against Ontario on February 20th, Eriksson Ek went 2-1 in his final three games against the Reign, posting a 1.67 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage, including that shutout.

While neither has fared all that well against the Reign, Eriksson Ek has had some recent success.

Prediction

This Gulls team does not have the firepower to keep up with the Reign, nor have they shown the ability to keep any team off the scoreboard. Ontario is getting some key players back in the lineup, and home-ice advantage is the cherry on top: Reign sweep, 2-0.

(Main photo credit: Ontario Reign)