The San Francisco Bulls finished their season-opening road trip with a 2-0 loss to the Ontario Reign. The two goals were scored by rookie Zach O’Brien and Dan DaSilva, previously of the Worcester Sharks. It was O’Brien’s first pro goal and DaSilva’s was into an empty net.
Ironically, the Wednesday game was one of the Bulls’ better showings of the season. From what Bulls Alternate Captain Jordan Morrison said during the intermission report, the team was probably up for a game against a team they never beat on the road last season:
It’s a new season, first game against these guys this year, obviously we both have new squads. I think we’re going to just go out there and test the waters tonight, see what each team is about, and hopefully start the year off on the right foot. I know it was difficult here last year, they had a great season, great team last year, but like I said it’s a new year.
It was a frustrating game. The Bulls’ power play went 0-4, including a brief 5 on 3. After a tentative first period, the Bulls looked like they could turn it around. They had many good chances and sustained good offensive pressure. They showed a competitive edge that was not evident in Colorado. They were not grossly outshot (24-21), they minimized penalties, and they had numerous 2-on-1 chances.
Wednesday was J.P. Anderson’s second start in goal for the Bulls. He turned in a very good performance despite the goal against. It was not a bad goal, Zach O’Brien came in very fast and Anderson had little choice but to skate out to challenge him. The Bulls’ goaltender could not get back quickly enough to stop the late backhand shot. In all, he made 23 saves on 24 shots.
Defenseman Collin Bowman and forward Riley Brace were on the ice for their first game with the Bulls. Bowman was assigned by the AHL Worcester Sharks on Tuesday, Brace on Wednesday. Brace was involved in several good scoring chances, impressive for never having practiced with the team. It is clear that he could be a great addition.
Bowman and Dale Mitchell led the team with four shots on net, though they were also on the ice for both goals against. Mark Lee was there for both as well. The team has some wrinkles to iron out.
They were not exactly firing at will in Ontario, but the Bulls did get the puck to the net. It was an achievement to spend most of the game only down by one against a team that is undefeated in regulation this season. The Bulls only allowed one breakaway, which resulted in the first Ontario goal. While breakaways have been a chance for goaltender Tyler Beskorowany to showcase his skills in earlier games, their frequency during the trip was alarming.
The team showed improving discipline over the eight game road trip. They were shorthanded 23 times in their first four games, twice taking eight penalties in a game. In the second four games, they had to kill 16 penalties, seven of those in one game. In Ontario they only took one. It is a small sample size, against too many teams to be an accurate measurement. Still, it could be a positive sign.
The Bulls’ only two wins so far were the very bizarre debut in Alaska where they won 2-1 despite being outshot 45-19, and a 3-2 shootout win in Utah on October 25. Their losses were generally not so close as the game in Ontario: 5-0 to Alaska, 6-2 and 4-1 twice to Colorado. In three of those losses, the Bulls were outshot by at least 13. In their win in Utah, they outshot the Grizzlies by just four. It isn’t rocket science: the Bulls need to shoot more quickly and more in general.
The Bulls are fine in net, what they need is more offensive coordination. That could be close. Demoralizing as so many losses must be, the failed opportunities against Ontario were still opportunities. To have mustered so many against a good team should give the team confidence. They won’t have time for much practice before their Friday home opener, but coming home could be the boost they need.
Chris Crane scored his first professional goal on this road trip, in the October 23 game against the Idaho Steelheads. He commented on the value of starting the season on the road:
It’s a good team bonding experience but I think we’re all excited to get home.
During the November 6 intermission report, Morrison echoed that sentiment with a nod to Bulls fans:
Can’t wait to get back to see our fans cheering for us… after we score a goal finally.
The team’s scoring leaders so far are Mark Lee with two goals and five assists, Dale Mitchell with three goals and three assists, and Morrison with two goals. Keep an eye on Chris Crane. He has the third most shots with 19.
The Bulls could be without Ryan McDonough on Friday, who will leave a hole on offense. McDonaugh was hit high at the beginning of the third period in Ontario and did not return to the game.