Eagles set for weekend showdown with Ontario Reign

Ryan Loberger

With only 16 games remaining in the regular season, the Colorado Eagles have emerged at second place in the Pacific Division after splitting their series with the Milwaukee Admirals. Though the Eagles currently hold second place, there is little breathing room.

With only four spots up for grabs in the postseason, seeding is tight within the division, as six points separate the first place Tucson Roadrunners (69 points) and the fifth place San Diego Gulls (63 points).

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Ontario is right there with us in the standings. these next four games we’re at home, and we’re definitely going to take advantage of that.” -Eagles forward Ryan Wagner

While there is a big drop-off after the Gulls, every game matters, and the Eagles host the Ontario Reign for a two-game series this weekend. The Eagles and the Reign are separated by just two points, and the Eagles are continuing their homestand. Here are three things the Eagles need to do to come away with two victories this weekend.

Clean out the house

Last week, Milwaukee jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period thanks to three goals from the slot in an eventual 4-2 win. Colorado is 7-3-0 in their last 10 contests. One of those three losses came at the hands of the Reign back on Feb. 16 in a 6-3 defeat at Toyota Arena. In that loss, the Eagles also surrendered three goals from inside the slot and two from just inside the left face-off circle.

It’s important to note that the Eagles were on the second game of a back-to-back when they played Ontario, having beaten Bakersfield in a shootout less than 24 hours earlier. However, the following week the Eagles defeated the Reign by a score of 2-1 in overtime.

Eagles captain Mark Alt has stated before how the Reign are an efficient team, and they come in waves and are very opportunistic in their attacks.

The Colorado Eagles celebrate after scoring a goal Feb. 29. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles)

Moral of the story, the Eagles struggle to win games where they don’t clear the center of the ice. This isn’t exclusive to their team, but keeping the Reign to the perimeter and outside of the slot will allow the Eagles to create tighter defensive zone coverage and make life easier for their goalies. 

Playing with a lead vs. playing behind 

When taking a lead into the first intermission, Colorado owns a record of 20-4-1. When trailing after the opening frame, the Eagles hold a 3-11 record. Playing with a lead helps build confidence, and the Eagles have been somewhat better when trailing. They came back against Bakersfield twice, rallying from a 2-0 and 3-0 deficit to win both games 5-4 in a shootout and overtime.

Colorado owns a 3-2 record against Ontario this season, with two of those games going into OT.

Playing at home, the Eagles will need to get the crowd into it early. Colorado has an extremely passionate fan base, and if they can get up against the Reign early, the noise serves as a catalyst, energizing the home team. 

Special teams keep clicking 

Hosting the Admirals last weekend gave the Eagles the chance to match up with the AHL’s top power play and fourth-ranked penalty kill team, and they stacked up well. Colorado went two for 10 on the power play and held the Admirals’ deadly power play scoreless on seven attempts. 

The Eagles have also tallied a power play goal in seven of their last 10 games and have seen their percentage rise to 25%, scoring 13 goals on 52 attempts. On the other side, Colorado has held a penalty kill percentage of 81.25% in that span. This will need to continue for Colorado to shore up a high seed in the 2020 Calder Cup Playoffs.

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Like Colorado, the Reign have been hot lately, posting a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games. The Eagles can add to their lead in second place and pull closer to Tucson for first in the Pacific, but a slip-up could result in them dropping to fifth place, looking in from the outside on the playoff picture. 

Ryan Loberger can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @LobergerRyan.