Make all the excuses you want – and there are some valid ones – but the Reign lost a game they needed to win Sunday.
Alex Bourret, Kyle Kraemer and Jordan Hill scored goals, and Mike Zacharias stopped 34 of 38 in his third start in as many nights. The Reign looked drained, and so did the Thunder, but the Reign couldn’t bury the equalizer after Hill’s power-play goal at 5:24 of the third period.
The standings picture is looking even more dire after the Reign gained only one of a possible six points this weekend. Mathematics dictates it’s too soon to write an epitaph, but … if it was going to take a miracle for the Reign to make the playoffs after their month of November (4-6-0), December (3-9-0), or January (4-8-2), they’ll need something more than that following a 6-6-3 February.
Realistically, they will need healthy returns from David Walker, Shawn Collymore, Justin Taylor and Chad Starling in March. Aside from the fact that all four are veteran leaders, that’s two of the team’s top three scorers (Walker and Collymore), the top-line left wing (Taylor) and one of two shutdown defensemen (Starling).
Collymore can be activated before the Reign’s next game, Friday in Utah, but I don’t know how serious his “lower-body injury” is. Walker has tried to fight through a host of injuries already, and probably will again. So has Taylor. Starling is expected to be back by the third week of March.
In the meantime, they’ll need to bring in some quality reinforcements.
“We’re trying,” head coach Karl Taylor said. “We’re looking at different options. We have a lot of injuries right now. It’s not good timing, but it’s part of the game, part of the sport. It’s my job to find people to replace them.”
More from Taylor, as well as Zacharias, in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.
Here are a few notes that won’t make the paper:
• Hill finished with a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to four games. With Walker’s injury, Hill is getting more power-play time than he’s seen since his junior days, and seems to be taking advantage of it.
• Tough to believe that there were no fighting majors assessed in the game. Punches were thrown at various points, and scrums ensued at others, but there were no actual 1-on-1 fights. Dan Ringwald and Bourret each collected 10-minute misconducts for their roles in a first-period donnybrook that started with a boarding penalty charged to Bourret. The two teams won’t play again this season, so perhaps it was a good time to get it out of their system.
• The Reign went 2-for-9 on the power play and killed six of seven Stockton penalties. There’s no question the special teams have improved, but in a must-win game the Reign needed more than two power-play goals given nine chances.
• Brett O’Malley re-entered the lineup after a four-game absence due to a lower-body injury. He went minus-1 and collected a holding penalty in the first period.
• Everyone I spoke to after the game mentioned the impact of having so little practice time this month, when Reign played 11 games in a stretch of 17 days. “We’re like a baseball team right now,” Karl Taylor said.
• Winning goaltender Dan Tormey was an emergency backup playing only because of an injury to starter Zane Kalemba, who was on the bench for Stockton. The former Minnesota State-Mankato netminder made 26 saves — on his 26th birthday, no less — and didn’t look out of place between the pipes in his first professional appearance.
• Finally, our thoughts and prayers go out to trainer Bobby Walls, who was still hospitalized at the time of Sunday’s game. I’m planning to get more details about what happened to him in the parking lot at
Boston’s BJ’s — I wasn’t there Saturday night and haven’t spoken to anyone who was. I have been told that he is expected to be OK.