Bulls start road trip with Idaho split

The Bulls started a six game road trip in Idaho with two new players on the team.  The moves didn’t pay instant dividends as the Bulls lost 4-0  Friday night to the Steelheads.  Saturday, both players helped the Bulls to a 4-3 shootout win against the same team.

Last Tuesday, the Bulls traded forward Alex Tuckerman and defenseman Martin Lee  to the Utah Grizzlies for winger Bryan Cameron, a Calgary Flames prospect.  Rylan Galiardi, recently cleared to skate after suffering post-concussion symptoms, was traded the next day to Idaho for a Dallas Stars’ prospect: forward Tristan King.   Both King and Cameron met up with the team in Idaho.

Cameron was the second leading scorer for the Grizzlies.  King was the leading scorer for the Steelheads.  It was a boost that Bulls’ Head coach and GM Pat Curcio felt the team needed urgently.  He explained how the trade with Idaho addressed Bulls’ need for offense to The Gackle Report:

“They wanted someone they could have for the future in Galiardi and for me, I’m looking to get into the playoffs, whether we can keep Tristan next year or not,” he said. “The next six weeks are more important than looking that far ahead.”

That urgency is enhanced by the fact that the Bakersfield Condors are making a surprising push to get into the playoffs.  The Bulls are the most likely team to be bumped out if they do make it.  Friday, the Condors were only four points behind the Bulls.

Before the game, Hans Benson was optimistic when Jason Lockhart asked him if the new players would help the team:

“You can’t say off the bat…I think these guys have a lot of talent and they seem like they can really help the team out right now.”

Lockhart also asked Jordan Morrison if an eight day road trip would be a good way for the new players to get to know the team:

You get to know the guys pretty quickly for sure.  I think that’ll be sufficient.  They’ll probably be sick of us by [the end of the trip.]

Curcio started Friday’s game with the new players on separate lines, putting Cameron with Kris Belan and Jordan Morrison, King with Dean Ouellet and Sebastian Trudeau.

The Steelheads had lost other players over the past few weeks, to injury and trade.  By all accounts they should have performed like a depleted team.  The first 15 minutes of the game were fairly uneventful.  The Bulls had several chances but a breakaway by Brad Ross at 14:36 put the Steelheads on the board first with a backhand over Heemskerk’s pads.

The Bull’s penalty kill has taken a beating lately.  After a five game streak without giving up a power play goal, they have given one up in the last five meetings.  Their first penalty kill  Friday made it to the last few seconds before a shot from the circle found its way through several players and went over Heemskerk’s glove.  The Bulls went into the second period down by two goals.  Curcio put Taylor Nelson in net to start the second period.

The Bulls’ Cameron took a tripping penalty at 4:33 of the period.  That penalty kill also made it to the last 30 seconds before giving up a goal to Ben Ondrus.  Now the Bulls were down by three goals and were being outshot 18-9.

Idaho made it a 4-0 lead when Gron got behind the Bulls’ defense and was left mostly alone in front of the net.  He was Idaho’s fourth goal scorer for the night.  The question of whether the Steelheads were depleted by their roster changes had been answered.  Whatever the new players could bring to the Bulls, they simply hadn’t had enough time to practice with the team.

The Bulls drew a hooking penalty with 3:13 left in a scoreless third period.  It was a chance to not be shut out 4-0 two games in a row.  As if to put the night’s loss in bold print, Peter Sivak had the best chance of the power play but hit the post.  The Bulls got a second power play to end the night, when Idaho’s Justin Taylor was called for roughing.  It didn’t matter. Idaho might have been sitting back but they were also shutting the Bulls down.

Nevertheless, the game gave Curcio a chance to reevaluate his lines, and he ended the night by reuniting Peter Sivak with Dean Ouellet and Christian Ouellet, and putting Tristan King with Morrison and Cameron.  The team didn’t give up any more goals, but it is hard to say whether that was because the Steelheads sat back or the Bulls figured each other out.

Saturday, the Bulls’ lines started were much as they ended Friday:   Sivak and Jordan Clendenning centered by Dean Ouellet, Cameron and King centered by Morrison, Jonathan Lessard and Kris Belan centered by Christian Ouellet, with Taylor Nelson back in goal.

Idaho started the game intent on not repeating the previous weekend split.  Bulls’ Captain Scott Langdon dropped the mitts with Mike Towns 5:33 into the period,  just as David Toews was flying into the Bulls’ zone on a breakaway.   For Langdon’s part, it was a perfectly timed bout, and one of the few things that went well for the Bulls in that first period. By the midpoint, the Bulls were being outshot 10-1.

Taylor Nelson held his ground through the period, including one particularly spectacular diving save on a wraparound attempt.  Finally, Towns beat Nelson with a backhand shot that caught the Bulls’ goalie just a little late closing the five hole.  There were 41 seconds left in the period.   The Bulls had been outshot 18-7.

The second period began with Idaho’s Scott Todd being hit by a Bulls’ slapshot from the point.  Bleeding from the face, he left the ice under his own power.  After the blood was cleaned off the ice, the Bulls picked up where they left off.  Dean Ouellet took a hit to get the puck to Simon Danis-Pepin who scored just 3:21 into the period.  The tying goal was Danis-Pepin’s first of the season, with a secondary assist going to Taylor Nelson.  It was the Bulls’ sixth shot of the period.  Idaho only had two in the same time.

Idaho scored again in the middle of the period, just as a power play expired.  The Bulls’ penalty kill had gone well, they even had a good short handed breakaway chance.  Nevertheless, they were now down by one again.

A high sticking call on Cody Carlson put Idaho on the power play at 13:20.  The Bulls killed that penalty and drew a slashing call as it ended.  Cameron tied the game, scoring his first goal as a Bull 35 seconds into the power play.

During that second period the shots were almost even 18 for Idaho and 17 for San Francisco.

The first eight minutes of the third period were marked by up and down play without a call.  With 11:17 left, Dean Ouellet went to the box for slashing.  Jordan Clendenning had the last clear of the penalty kill, making a smart decision to loiter around the half boards while two Bulls fought for the puck in the corner.  It paid off.  Before Idaho could bring the puck back in, the Bulls were going the other way.  Tristan King, not to be outdone by Cameron, scored the go ahead goal, the Bulls’s first lead of the game.

Seconds later, several unaccountable falls ended with a tripping penalty to Clendenning.  Idaho tried twice to dump the puck in on their power play.  The Bulls won the race to get it back out the first time, and Idaho’s Ian Watters tripped Morrison before the Steelheads could set up their power play again.  After a minute of four on four play, the Bulls had a 43 second power play.  The Bulls went into the offensive zone and they wouldn’t be easily pushed back out.  They were still on the attack when the power play ended.  That attack didn’t stop until Idaho’s goalie Josh Robinson caught the puck and held on to it.

With just over three minutes to go, the Bulls had an odd man rush going when the whistle blew, sending Bulls’ defenseman Dylan King and Idaho’s Justin Taylor off with matching minors for interference and diving.  That may have stemmed from a hit by King on Taylor several seconds earlier that had the audience howling for a call.

Four on four, the Bulls managed a good rush into the offensive zone but soon after, Gron caught the Bulls off guard and beat their defense with speed through the neutral zone. Scoring his second goal of the game, he tied it up with less than two minutes to go.

Morrison almost untied it with a feed from Tristan King but he hit the post.  With 32 seconds to go, the draw was in the Bulls’ zone.  Two faceoff wins in a row for the Steelheads ended quickly with shots into Nelson.  Another draw and the Bulls got to the puck first even though the Steelheads won it.  A quick rush up ice was shut down by a blown tire.  The game went to overtime.

Idaho had the advantage in terms of odd-man rushes through overtime, but the Bulls’ defense handled it.  Some lucky breaks and close attention from Nelson held Idaho at bay.  The Idaho crowd erupted late in OT when Idaho put the puck in the net, well after a whistle for offsides.  An icing call with 17 seconds left put the faceoff into the Bulls’ zone.  The Steelheads used their timeout.  The Bulls managed a break out but now it was their turn to be called offsides.  A neutral zone faceoff, won by the Bulls didn’t have time to do anything but a long distance shot that bounced off Robinson’s mask.

One point earned, the teams prepared for the shootout.  The Steelheads had a 2-4 shootout record, the Bulls’ record was a paltry 1-6.

Cameron shot first for the Bulls, making three miniscule gestures from forehand to backhand, and slid the puck by Robinson.

Gron tried to do the same thing, but Nelson was not moved and stopped the shot cleanly.

Dean Ouellet went wide, came in with some speed, faked a forehand shot and then lifted it in with the backhand.

Idaho’s Sam Carrick was forced wide by Nelson, and his shot hit the outside of the net.

Tristan King didn’t use much misdirection at all, just shot it straight through the five hole.

Idaho’s Brett Robinson, with the last chance to extend the shootout, lost the handle on the puck and put it weakly on Nelson’s pads with a backhand.

It was Nelson’s first shootout win in five tries this season, for it to be perfect was perfect.

The win put the Bulls just two points behind the Utah Grizzlies.  Back in California, the Bakersfield Condors lost 4-3 to Ontario, putting them six points behind the Bulls.

===================

Friday’s goals scored by: Brad Ross (Ondrus), Patrick Cullity (PPG, Toews, Towns), Ben Ondrus (PPG, Ross, Gron), Tyler Gron (Ondrus, Robinson). Josh Robinson made 26 saves for the win, Thomas Heemskerk made 12 saves on 14 shots, Taylor Nelson made 23 saves on 25 shots for the Bulls.

Saturday’s SF goals scored by: Simon Danis-Pepin (D. Ouellet, Nelson), Bryan Cameron (PPG, Kwiet, King), Tristan King (Morrison, Ouellet). Taylor Nelson made 40 saves for the win.

Saturday’s Idaho goals scored by: Mike Towns (Toews), Tyler Gron (Robinson), Gron (Blain, Watters). Josh Robinson made 34 saves for the Steelheads.

(Originally published at Inside Hockey)

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