Back to back home games against the Bakersfield Condors could not have been less alike for the San Francisco Bulls. They started badly on Saturday but won 3-1. That was after Friday’s shootout loss to the Ontario Reign and an all night bus trip home. Taylor Nelson started in goal Saturday, even though he had played the night before. Sunday, the Bulls lost 4-2 despite out-shooting their opponent 42-15 and dominating play through all but the briefest moments.
This was the Bulls’ tribute to the Sharks weekend, with the team wearing teal and grey like the Sharks of yore. A superstitious person might wonder if this colored their game in more ways than one. Like the current San Jose Sharks, their penalty kill has been perfect lately. Their streak stands at 22 penalties killed through five games and bit. Their power play has been slightly better than their NHL affiliate’s, but Head Coach Pat Curcio explains that it is still frustrating:
Crossbar, post, empty net…even came across the one time, Peter missed the empty net for a tap-in. That’s hockey, guys. You just wish… we could find a little more consistency.
The Bulls had nine power plays Sunday, and scored one power play goal. Their prior record was seven power plays in a game, back on November ninth in Stockton. They scored just one power play goal then too.
Asked to summarize Sunday’s game, Curcio began:
Nelson was supposed to start today… We outshoot a team [42-15] and we lose. I thought it was one of our best games of the year, and we’ve got nothing to show for it. I’m hoping we can learn from it.
To plan to start the same goalie for three games in three days seemed excessive. The reason Nelson did not start the third game in a row was that he came down with the flu. Why did Nelson play Saturday, instead of starting Thomas Heemskerk in the second of three in three? Curcio explained:
Nelson was going really well, he played outstandingly in Ontario, he got us a point, he came back and he was amazing last night.
It’s not that Heemer wasn’t good, it’s just that he hasn’t [seen] any shots. We needed another practice or two, a morning skate, [to] let him prepare. So as a goalie when you’re just thrown into the fire sometimes it’s difficult to react that quickly. It’s one of those ones… you look at the score sheet, you’re in awe that you lost.
The reason Heemskerk hasn’t seen any shots recently is that he was only recently activated after rehab from appendicitis surgery. The game wasn’t ideal for a cold start, with the Condors only taking 15 shots all night. It can be as hard on a goalie to see too few shots as to see too many. “Yeah, and then all of a sudden you get a breakaway,” Curcio added.
While the Bulls dominated Sunday’s game in most respects, their mistakes were gross errors. Two Condors goals resulted from odd man rushes, one was a shorthanded goal. Curcio has observed that short-handed goals are bad omens for the Bulls: “It breaks your back… I don’t know how many times, if you give up a shorty, you lose the game. It’s the kiss of death.”
The Bulls are now second to worst in the league for allowing short-handed goals.
The Bulls scored once in nine power plays. Can a team get too much of a good thing? Curcio acknowledged that this was possible, but he didn’t think it was the case here:
The penalty kill is a momentum builder…It works against you sometimes, when you get a power play and you don’t capitalize. It is a momentum swing. But I don’t think it swung our momentum. I think we kept going. Watching that game… my head was turned… [in the direction of the offensive zone] the whole time.
Saturday’s game started as a mirror image of Sunday’s loss. I attended as a ticket holder so I could bring my parents and some friends. My parents don’t watch much hockey at all. My mother leaned over during the first period to say: “It seems to me that if the Bakersfield team is spending all the time at this end, shooting the puck at the net, that they are the stronger team.” Not long after, my father asked: “When do they get to go play at the other end?”
That the Condors started stronger than the Bulls on Saturday was glaringly evident. The Bulls took seven penalties to the Condors’ four, though two of the Condors’ penalties overlapped for a lengthy five on three. That five on three resulted in the Bulls first goal of the game. The Bulls were outshot through two periods. Still the Bulls rallied, eventually overtaking the Condors on the shot clock and winning 3-1.
To fall the next night 4-2 was an alarming turn of events in the coach’s eyes. It is not a good way to prepare for the upcoming road trip:
[Going] to Idaho to play one of the best teams in the league, if not the best team… they haven’t lost many games, two of the best goalies in the league..it’s not going to be a good time… we’ve got to find a way to beat this team.
Sunday’s game was a penalty-ridden, laborious kind of a game. There were three minutes and 42 seconds left when Sivak scored to bring the Bulls within a goal. Sivak’s goal woke the Cow Palace up from a whistle-induced drowsiness.
Less than a minute later, the Condors scored again to put the game out of reach. That was Sunday’s loss in a nutshell. “That’s hockey. You rebound and learn from it and go from there, ” Curcio concluded.
I caught two seasoned hockey fans in the parking lot on the way out to ask for their perspectives. They both had good seats, not together. They could see (and hear, it turns out) details not discernible from the press box.
Asked how she felt about Sunday’s loss, LeeAnne shared an understated opinion:
Well, I really enjoyed the one the night before a little bit better. They kind of let Bakersfield get under their skin today and it was kind of ugly. It really was.
Misty offered more specifics, but came to the same conclusion:
I lost count of how many f-bombs Dean-O dropped. Clendenning kept his head on. Kwiet was borderline. Langer was great, Sivak was great, but unfortunately they let the Condors get under their skin.
Saturday, Bulls goals were scored by Rob Kwiet (PPG, Christian Ouellet, Cody Carlson), Marek Viedensky (Kwiet), and Jordan Morrison (Kris Belan, Jordan Clendenning). Jake Morley scored the lone goal for the Condors (Brett Perlini, Jacob Lagace). Nelson made 34 saves for the win, Bakersfield’s Brian Stewart made 34 saves for the Condors.
Sunday, Condors goals were scored by Kyle Haines, Jacob Lagace (SHG, Francis Verreault, Haines), Scott Freeman (Tyler Maxwell), and Nicholas Tremblay (Morley). Peter Sivak scored twice for the Bulls, once on the power play (Viedensky, Carlson) and once unassisted. Stewart made 40 saves for the win, Thomas Heemskerk made 11 saves for the Bulls.
The Bulls now hit the road for Idaho where they play Tuesday and Wednesday nights. They return to the Bay Area to play the Thunder in Stockton Saturday evening and again Sunday afternoon at the Cow Palace.
LeeAnne and Misty were two of 3,891 in attendance Sunday.
Speaking of the Condors, if you haven’t seen this, you should really check out this unhappy condor at a Condors game.
Originally published at Inside Hockey.