December 14 2012 05:15PM
Location: Abbotsford Sport and Entertainment Centre
Tonight the Heat are back at home in Abbotsford where they'll play the first of two games in two nights against the Texas Stars. The Heat remain the best team in the Western Conference despite losing four of their last five games. The Stars, in contrast, have steadily moved up the standings over the last month or so, collecting six wins and two OT losses in their last 10 games. They currently sit tied for 5th in the West with 27 points, seven back of Abbotsford.
Although the Heat's luck has flipped a bit this month - injuries, goaltending and goal scoring have all played a part in their recent losing streak - they are still managing to grab point here and there. Two of their most recent losses were in extra time and they've been outshooting the bad guys more often than not to boot.
It's possible the team will start getting some bodies back this weekend as well. The Heat sent Adam Estoclet, Micheal Ferland and David Eddy down to the ECHL today, while Troy Ward has recently suggested Sven Baertschi is nearing a return to action. Abbotsford's goal scoring and PP in particular has been lackluster during their cold stretch, so getting Sven back sooner rather than later would be a big boost.
The Heat's recent struggles have coincided with Ben Street's first sustained cold streak of the year. He has just once assist so far this month, although he's still firing four shots on net per game.
- Walter - Reinhart - Horak
- Sylvester - Byron - Street
- Bancks - Olson - Nemisz
- Ruesegger - Laing - Kolanos
- Brodie - Piskula
- Breen - McCarthy
- McKelvie - Lamb
This is an assumed line-up given the personnel available, although if Baertschi is healthy expect him to get inserted into the top of the rotation somewhere. Brust lost the last game, so I expect Ward to go back to Taylor tonight.
Another guy who was supposed to be fighting for an NHL job this year is Paul Byron. The 23 year old has apparently looked good in a number of games since returning from injury, but the results just aren't there yet (seven points in 15 games, 16 shots on net). At just 5'9" and 165 pounds and nearing his mid-20's, Byron is a dude who has to rip the cover off the ball in order to convince the team he's anything more than an injury call-up. There' still time for that to happen, but I'd say a guy like Street, despite the recent cold snap, has jumped ahead of him in line.
The Stars are paced by former Washington draft pick and Max Reinhart teammate Cody Eakin (15 points). He has been one of the hotter Stars of late, scoring eight points in their last five games. AHL veteran Travis Morin is second on the team with 15 points.
- Fraser - Eakin - Sceviour
- Roussel - Morin - Vincour
- Chiasson - Wathier - Smith
- Heddon - Peterson - Gazdic
- Oleksiak - Fortunas
- Benn - Barker
- Nemeth - Dillon
Jamie Oleksiak and Jordie Benn (brother to Jamie Benn) are the big names on the back-end. And Cam Barker, I guess.
Jack Campbell is merely the back-up to Christopher Nilstorp at this point. His .883 SV% in 10 starts is good for 46th best in the league (or 4th worst), which is, uh, not ideal when it comes to former first round picks. Looks like the Stars will have to hope Campbell turns out to be one of those guys who spends a long time in the minors and then figures things out in his mid-20's.
Sum it Up
Regression has seemingly kicked in for the Heat, but they aren't playing bad hockey overall and still remain on top of the Western standings. They will need to start finding the back of the net bit more regularly going forward, however, if they are to avoid an unfortunate Wild-like plunge down the standings as things proceed here.