It’s Friday the 13th, so some bizarre high jinks must be afoot, right?
When the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings) and the Iowa Wild take the ice at Wells Fargo Arena Friday night, it will be a match-up of two teams looking for firsts. Neither have a win to start the season. Neither have a power play goal, though the Reign’s 0-for-3 looks a little more manageable than Iowa’s 0-for-12. Both are trying to find their identity together with a new rosters.
It’s early, so there aren’t many standouts for Ontario that you can point to following a 2-1 loss to San Antonio (Colorado/St. Louis) last week. Their lone goal was netted by former Wisconsin Badger, Michael Mersch, and came without an assist. And it was more a lapse on San Antonio’s part rather than a well set-up attempt.
Mersch carried the puck through the neutral zone, dumped it, and then San Antonio’s Martin Spencer had a misplay behind the net that allowed for Mersch to backhand it in. The backhand was “pretty neat,” but It was the only one of Ontario’s 19 shots to find the back of the net, and it was a wide open one.
Watching the highlights alone, you saw a lot of early season mistakes. Turnovers in their own zone turned into scoring opportunities, defensemen being blown by, and the like. However, in their opening game for 2017-18, the Reign dressed six rookies, three of them on the blueline, and returned just ten skaters from the season before.
Similarly, Iowa dressed seven rookies (counting Lucia) in their first two contests and only seven full-time (50+ GP) skaters from the season before: Pat Cannone, Colton Beck, Kurtis Gabriel, Christoph Bertschy, Zack Mitchell, Nick Seeler and Hunter Warner (Zach Palmquist was scratched and Sam Anas is battling a lower-body injury).
Might make for a sloppy game, might be our real first look at a talented group coming together.
(I hope it’s the latter)
Who to watch:
Rookie Matt Luff might be somebody to pay attention to for Ontario. The twenty-year-old, undrafted winger had three shot attempts of Ontario’s nineteen against San Antonio. In just three seasons in the OHL, the Oakville, Ontario-native racked up 137 points (61G/76A) in 170 games played (0.81 PPG) for Belleville turned Hamilton. An impressive PDC for LA turned into a contract before his 49 point (25G/24A) performance in just 45 games for the Bulldogs last year.
If you need a parallel, think of the Brennan Menell story line, but on offense. Head coach Mike Stothers praised him as having “a good, heavy, hard shot,” adding “He’s also pretty intelligent [...] he’s a student of the game. That’s only going to help him.”
Center Mike Amadio was a guy who was on the fringe of making the Kings’ roster out of training camp, but starts the 2017-18 in Ontario. As a rookie last season, he was a 41 point producer (16G/25A) and a top 25 scorer amongst AHL greenhorns. After being beat out by Ham Lake-native, Jonny Brodzinski on the center depth chart, look for Amadio to play his game with a bit of an edge.
If you’re a fan of the fisticuffs, keep an eye out for rookie Boko Imama, whose five minute fighting major accounts for all of the Reign’s PIMs to start this season.
Limit the penalties, and take advantage of opportunities. The power-play is scary in terms of the numbers, but it’s not for a lack of control or patience. In the first few possessions against Milwaukee, winning the opening draw meant clean passing and seeing a lot of guys touch the puck in the OZ. Patience is the name of the game, and the breakthrough will come.
Let Svedberg do his thing. Milwaukee in the first game challenged the Stockholm-native heavily to his blocker side. Yes, eight goals against isn’t pretty, but two came from players sprinting out of the penalty box, something that is rare, even more so in back-to-back games. One went off the backside of his own stick. Another was the one where Menell put it into the chest of Kelleher who who turned it into a breakaway. Two games in and a week of practice should alleviate some jitters.
Coach Lalonde has mentioned the mindset of the AHL being a league where the season is a series of five game experiments. Iowa has a chance to turn it around before the first grade report comes out for 2017-18, starting with Ontario.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 CST and it’s $2 beer night at Wells Fargo Arena.