The Tucson Roadrunners are back on the road this week, which — for them — is a good thing.
The Roadrunners are 8-2-1-1 as visitors this season, the best mark in the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division. Their .750 road winning percentage is fourth-best in the 30-team AHL, behind the Rochester Americans (.806), Toronto Marlies (.789) and Manitoba Moose (.763).
The Roadrunners have played some of their best hockey in opposing arenas and enter this trip having won five of their last six road games. The one loss in that span came Dec. 9, when the Stockton Heat beat Tucson by a score of 5-2. The Roadrunners played that game without star Dylan Strome.
The Roadrunners will spend plenty of time on the team bus this weekend. Tucson will face Stockton on Wednesday before driving down Interstate 5 to face the Ontario Reign on Friday and San Diego Gulls on Saturday. All three games start at 8 p.m. Tucson time.
Special teams deliver
If there’s one area where Tucson holds a significant advantage over Stockton — and most of the American Hockey League, for that matter — it’s special teams play.
The Roadrunners have proven themselves to be one of the most efficient teams in the league at netting power-play goals.
Tucson converts on nearly 21 percent of power play opportunities, tied for fourth in the AHL. Division rival San Diego leads the league with a 28.4 percent power play conversion rate.
“They’re doing a better job and they’re finding ways of scoring,” Roadrunners head coach Mike Van Ryn said over the weekend. “I thought the (penalty kills) look better for us, too. That’s one place where we’ve wanted to try to improve here. I thought we’ve done a pretty job in the face-off circle, so that helps out with a lot of that stuff.”
Through 30 games, Tucson has tallied 155 power play chances. Stockton, by comparison, has played two more games than the Roadrunners but has had 134 chances.
“We’ve been practicing it a lot lately,” Tucson’s Ryan MacInnis said. “But to be honest we’re just blocking shots, doing what we’re told, and it’s working out.”
Tucson has also done a solid job defending the power play. The team killed off a 5-on-3, two-minute power play against Ontario on Saturday. It was the second time at home this season that Tucson killed off a 5-on-3 chance.
Playoff hunt is looking good
There are still three months of regular season hockey to be played, but the Roadrunners should feel good about their position in the standings.
Tucson is 17-10-2-1 this season. The club’s .617 winning percentage tops the Pacific Division, right above Stockton at .607.
The top four teams in each division make the playoffs. Winning percentage is the determining metric.
The AHL’s West Coast teams play fewer regular season games than the rest of the league due to budget limitations. That could give Tucson an advantage down the stretch.