December 20 2012 11:34AM
When I previously wrote about the Abbotsford Heat's uncanny success through the early going, the team had suffered just one regulation loss through it's first 10 games and was a league leader in just about every category. Much of that success carried through the month of November, which is why they remain on top of the Western Conference standings with 36 points.
Unfortunately, the Heat have hit the inevitable wall in December, having managed just two wins in their last eight contests and just nine goals over that span. So what happened?
Revenge of the Shooting Percentage
After the first few weeks, Abbotsford was second in the AHL in terms of shooting percentage. With 32 goals in just 9 games (!) guys like Roman Horak and Sven Baertschi were scoring on 30% of their shots and the team was putting pucks in the net like it was on the PP all the time. Their 13.5% goal rate was only lower than Portland's 14.23% and well clear of the league average (9.48%).
Since then, the Heat have scored 34 goals on 504 shots, for a below average shooting percentage of 6.7%. Their struggles have been particlarly pronounced through December, with just 9 goals on 222 shots (4.1%). Thanks to those wild swings, the Heat have settled into completely average territory through 27 games, with 66 goals on 741 shots (8.9%).
Just like in October when they were scoring goals at will, the current dry spell probably isn't indicative of the club's actual skill level. Missing Baertschi has probably hurt some, but no AHL club is truly a 4.1% shooting team (or even a 6.7% one for that matter). At some point, the Heat will start scoring more as a matter of chance.
The SH% is the main culprit, but other things have come back down to earth for Abbotsford as well: the goaltending has been a big plus so far overall, but even so in December Brust/Taylor/Irving combined for a just okay .910 SV%. The previously lethal powerplay, which was hovering above 30% when we wrote about it last, is at 18.9% currently (which is still good, but a big step away from amazing). The PK is remains tops in the league at 91.3% (still really good), but not at the 97.5% they were managing through October.
The Good and Bad News
The Good news is the Heat won't be ice cold forever and the goal spout is bound to turn back on at some point (though not at the level it was in October obviously). In addition, the club is the best in the third best in AHL at preventing shots on net (720 or 26.67/game), speaking to their strong defense and systems play.
On the other end, Abbotsford remains lousy at generating shots of their own. In October, the Heat were 28th in the league in terms of shots per game. They remain 28th in the league today (27.44/game). It's true they have missed Sven Baertschi for the last few weeks, but their injury woes are likely no worse now than they were through the first 4 or 5 weeks when they were missing guys like Greg Nemisz and Pual Byron.
Even though their shot differential is now slightly positive, the Heat's inability to consistently put more than 27 shots on net per game means there is a very thin margin for error on any given night. If Brust and Taylor can continue to be one of the leagues leading goaltending duos through the rest of the season, then the club will certainly win many more games than they lose once they start scoring again. However, if the goaltending falls to just average for any length of time, Abbotsford will be in tough to manage anything better than a .500 record over the rest of the season.