The Gulls entered Wednesday night’s game against the Tucson Roadrunners riding a season-best five-game winning streak while looking like one of the best teams in the AHL.
However, that team was missing in action for most of the night and the result was a disjointed 4-1 loss in front of 8,317 at Valley View Casino Center.
Goaltender Reto Berra absorbed the loss for the Gulls (14-12-1-0), who were outshot 34-27 and converted only one of seven power play opportunities.
Tucson (14-9-2-1) bounced back from consecutive losses to Stockton.
“I don’t think we competed hard enough,” said forward Corey Tropp, who scored San Diego’s only goal. “No excuses. We came out sort of sluggish and never really got it going. That is not acceptable.”
Tucson’s Nick Merkley opened scoring at 2:36 of the first period when he beat Berra with a wrister from the slot for a power play goal.
The poor start sapped energy from the crowd and the Gulls appeared to be skating in slush for most of the opening period.
Things got worse at 9:49 when Tucson’s Michael Bunting rebounded a missed shot after a breakaway and shoveled it past Berra to make it 2-0.
Despite enjoying a brief two-man advantage near the end of the first period, the Gulls didn’t manage a shot on goal. They struggled to link passes, didn’t consistently get bodies to the front of the net and seemingly lost every race for loose pucks.
San Diego finally broke through at 7:26 of the second period when Tropp nudged a shot past Hill at the post for a power play score.
Tropp’s fourth goal of the season energized the crowd and briefly did the same to the Gulls but any momentum was lost when defenseman Marcus Pettersson was whistled for holding near the end of the period.
After Tucson’s Ty McGinn scored an even-strength goal just two minutes into the third period, the Gulls struggled to maintain puck possession and create decent scoring chances against goaltender Adin Hill.
By the time Tucson’s Mike Sislo made it 4-1 with a breakaway goal at 7:22 of the third period, the Gulls were well on their way to an ugly loss.
It was the fifth of 12 meetings between San Diego and Tucson and a prime opportunity for the Gulls to snag precious points and continue moving up the Pacific Division standings.
Make that: missed opportunity.
“They had a Christmas break as well,” coach Dallas Eakins said. “I don’t do excuses and I don’t do explanations. Every game in this division is tough so we’ll go back to work at practice (today) and come out with better effort next time out.”
Center Joseph Blandisi missed his second straight game after being injured in Friday’s win over Ontario when he crashed into the boards late in the third period. Blandisi, who was sent down by the Ducks last week, is listed as day-to-day.
Carter is a freelance writer.
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