AGD: Heat Take on the Wolves

Time: 8:00pm MST

Location: Abbotsford

Broadcast: Sportsnet Fan960 (radio), (listen live stream)

The Heat and Chicago Wolves are a couple of undefeated teams through the first few of games of the AHL season. To get a clearer perspective on both clubs, I talked to the Heat’s PbP man Ryan Pinder about the pending back-to-back series this weekend:

Top Players and Healthy Scratches…

1.) Nice start for the Heat. Obviously Baertschi and Brodie had a good first two games. Who else stood out for you?

Ben Street, Danny Taylor, Steve McCarthy and Dustin Sylvester all made significant impacts in the wins. Street is a really talented distributor and finisher. Also much more physically engaged than I expected for a guy who looks up at more players than he looks down on in the AHL. Taylor was mostly superb (more on him later).

McCarthy has the look of a player that could eat huge minutes this season for a team that is pretty big, strong, mean, but isn’t overwhelming on the blue line skill-wise (Ward called the group ‘Ham & Eggers’ aside from Brodie in a recent press conference). Finally, Sylvester just continues to have the look of a sniper at this level despite being one of the shortest and lightest players in the league.

The group played some sound hockey. 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill… they dominated all facets of the games, and played with a poise you might not expect in week 1 from a team that didn’t play any exhibition games (read: Troy G. Ward is good).

2.) Why is Michael Ferland not playing?

He’s one of the youngest three players on the team, didn’t have a superb camp, and was singled out with (Ryan) Howse for not being in as good of shape as some had expected. All that aside he’s still a huge asset, it’s just that the meritocracy has deemed it isn’t his time yet. If you want Ferland to play in the top nine, he has to supplant one of the following players (once Byron and Nemisz get healthy): Baertschi, Kolanos, Walter, Street, Sylvester, Nemisz, Byron, Reinhart, Horak… and others. It’s a very deep team up front (note 10 goals through 2 games) right now, and he’s a rookie. Patience.

3.) Ditto Leland Irving…

MERITOCRACY. Am I getting predictable with the answers yet? Taylor earned the starters job last Spring, won 9 straight starts down the stretch and in the playoffs, and Irving couldn’t win the job back in a few opportunities to do so. He also was dealing with the birth of his daughter and yo-yo like transactions between Calgary and Abbotsford to back-up Kiprusoff.

Taylor may not be the big minute goalie this season, but he’s earned that for now, and hasn’t done anything to hurt his cause yet – allowing just three goals and posting a .933 S% over two games. Oh, and Barry Brust won a Calder Cup two years ago…so it’s a three horse race.

4.) What lines/defense pairings can we expect to see?

Lots of mixing and matching from Troy G. Ward this past weekend, but Baertschi-Walter-Sylvester seemed to get some traction as time passed, while Kolanos and Street looked sharp together over a short stint. Byron and Nemisz’s return from injury will make things even tougher to project whenever that occurs.

Brodie and Piskula are back where they were a year ago, playing as the top paring for the club. Steve McCarthy has played a bunch too, but was shuffled between partners with regularity. The Heat have six veterans (Callahan, Kolanos, Laing, McCarthy, Piskula, Walter) and only five can dress per night, which is another variable at play. Bottom line…lots of moving parts here.

5.) The Wolves are the Vancouver Canucks affiliate. Who are their notable players?

Canucks fans will be familiar with Connauton, Kassian, Lack, Schroeder and Tanev; but their best AHL players would also include older vets: Darren Haydar, Steve Pinizzotto, and Brett Sterling.

Chicago is an immensely independent club with significant resources and a burning desire to win. Meaning, player development is just one part of what they do. They drew 15,000+ to their home opener last Saturday night and are owned by Don Levin – google his name + Seattle if you want to see how deep his pockets are.

The Lineup

I can only guess at the line-up for the Heat at this time – given the amount of unkonwns, it’s hard to nail down what the combinations will be. Here’s my educated stab in the dark:

  • Baertschi – Walter – Sylvester
  • Street – Kolanos – Ruegsegger/Nemisz/Byron (?)
  • Horak – Reinhart – Bancks
  • Bouma – Laing – Aliu
  • Brodie – Piskula
  • McCarthy – Breen
  • Lamb – McKelvie
  • Taylor

As Ryan mentioned, there’s lot of competition for ice time up front and things will get even more crowded once Nemisz and Byron are back in rotation. The back-end is less complicated, with the log-jam more at the bottom-end than the top (kind of like the Flames themselves).

The Opponent

I can’t find the Wolves lineup from games 1-3, but their current top scorers are:

  • Brett Sterling (1-2-3, +3)
  • Nathan Longpre (0-2-2, +2)
  • Zack Kassian (1-1-2, +2)

The club also boasts sometimes NHLer Andrew Ebbett, former first rounder Jordan Schroeder, AHL scoring threat Darren Haydar and former Flame/Heat Guillaume Desbiens. Kevin Connauton and Chris Tanev will likely be the first pairing on the back-end while Eddie Lack (whom many consider ready to make the leap to the NHL) will probably be in net.

Sum It Up

The Wolves are a strong organization with good players at every position. Unlike many AHL franchises, the Wolves play to win rather than simply act as a feeder team for their parent club. The Heat have an unprecendented amount of depth up front thanks to graduations of guys like Baertschi and Reinhart (plus the lock-out) and they’re going to need that added depth to extend their winning streak versus Chicago this weekend.

  • thymebalm

    It looks like the Flames have mis-managed another first rounder which they obviously cannot afford to do given there weak drafting record. Leland Irving’s long development with the Flames will now benefit another organization.

  • Gotta ride the hot hand. Taylor should start until he stops performing well and/or Brust or Irving play better than he does.

    I like the meritocracy approach. Gotta keep guys like Baertschi, Reinhart, Bouma, Brodie, Horak, et al hungry, and nothing keeps you hungry like knowing somebody’s out to take your spot.

  • thymebalm

    I don’t understand why people are upset about Irving not getting the royal treatment. We may have found a capable ‘tender in Taylor, and that’s the avenue we should be exploring. He was great last year.

  • SmellOfVictory

    my feeling on the Taylor/Irving subject (not that anyone anywhere has ever asked me):

    Irving has not improved enough in the one area he needed to improve the most: consistency. He has improved his overall game since his draft year, but he still goes through lengthy (VERY lengthy) stretches where he would have a difficult time preventing a beach ball from falling into a thimble. He has done nothing whatsoever to make anyone confident enough in his long-term abilities for them to trust him to work through a slump. They have a more consistent AHL goalie (Taylor) who gives them a chance to win every night. they’re using him. End of story.

    Taylor will never play in the NHL (my opinion). He is a fine minor league goalie. Nothing more. As much as Irving’s inconsistency annoys me, he is a more talented goalie (when he’s on his game) than Taylor. As are Joni Ortio, Karri Ramo, Laurent Brossoit and, presumably, Jon Gillies.