Monday Heat Musings: Signs of Life

This
week might’ve been one of the best of the season for the Heat despite losing
two of three. People love to use the cliché “complete game,” but there are few phrases
that can describe what the Heat did this past week as accurately as that.

It
was a week of positives in almost
every aspect of the team, it’s nice to see some change, finally. It hasn’t been
an easy year as Stockton continues to toil in the underbelly of the Pactific
division, so all we can hope for are signs of life.

Here
are some thoughts and observations for your reading enjoyment.

BABY
STEPS FOR THE BIG MAN

It
was a heck of a weekend for the big fellow; his best in a Stockton uniform to
be completely honest. After starting his season with no points in 10 games, Hunter Smith finally got some digits on his stats line. He picked up his first professional
goal in a barn burner on Friday night against Bakersfield, including one
assist. Then on Saturday he showed off some surprisingly nice hands by feeding
Blair Riley a backhand pass from behind the net for his third point of the
season.

It’s
not just the points either. He’s been effective on the fourth line with limited
minutes. No, it’s probably not what you’d want from a former second-rounder,
but it’s what’s working right now. He seems to be in his element using his long
stick to his advantage in cycling. He’s never going to win a foot race, but he
looked decent this weekend. Let’s take the wait and see approach with him.

PRESSING
RESET

Yikes.
What a rough week for our old friend Joni Ortio. He was waived, his future was
uncertain, he cleared, and then he got pulled before the first period was even
finished on Friday night. Ouch.

I’m
not going to mince words: most of those four goals he let in on Friday night
were soft, weak, whatever word you want to use. Sure, the defense was a
steaming pile of hot garbage, but the goals he allowed should have been
saveable.

Regardless,
like Ortio has done in the past time and time again, he left that bad start
behind and had almost a picture perfect game on Saturday against the same team
that embarrassed him the night before. He stopped 30 of 32, including a number
of would-be sure goals on numerous odd-man rushes from the Condors. Let’s hope
that game was an indicator of him settling in, because Jon Gillies and Kevin Poulin won’t
be back for a while.

KYLLING
IT

I’m
willing to admit when I’m wrong. A few weeks ago I wrote about how Oliver Kylington
should’ve been sent to Brandon
, and to be fair, he looked over his head at
that point. But Flames management was patient and waited to see what would
happen. I’m not ready to say he’s a superstar in the making or anything crazy
like that, but boy did he look good this week.

This
kid’s slicker than a greased up pig in silk pyjamas and he’s got Huska’s full
trust it seems. Kylington has been playing a boat load of minutes lately,
especially this week. He’s been up and down the pairings. He’s been with Patrick
Sieloff on the third pairing, he’s been on the second pairing with Aaron
Johnson, and he’s been on the first pairing alongside Jakub Nakladal. That’s
just to mention a few.

He
scored his third goal of the season on Friday, despite having an ugly defensive
game. He looked good on Wednesday and Saturday, however. He wasn’t without his
brain farts and tough learning curves, but that’s expected. The common knock
against Kylington has always been that he’s a tad selfish. While that’s okay
sometimes, he’s got to play it a bit more conservatively. If he can do that,
don’t be surprised to see him in a Flames uniform in the spring.

THE
DREW SHORE SHOW

I
don’t know what has come over Drew Shore the last little while, but outside of Markus Granlund and maybe Derek Grant he’s been the best player for the last month.

He’s
picked up eight points in his last seven games (one goal, seven assists) and
has taken over second line duty now that Granlund is in Calgary. Prior to that
he was playing so well that he forced Bill Arnold to the fourth line – a feat I
didn’t think was possible given how steady Arnold has been this season.

Beyond
the points though, Shore has been generating offense like it’s nobody’s
business. His signature strength as a centerman is his strong cycle game and
deceptively quick feet. He seems to have found a way to create at least a
couple of odd-man rushes each game as well.

MASTERS
OF THE MAN ADVANTAGE

Maybe,
just maybe, Ryan Huska has figured out how to run a power play. I’m cautiously optimistic
given a strong three games on the man advantage this week.

Led
by Drew Shore (who had three points on the power play), the Heat went four for 12,
well above their season average of just 16.4%. Freddie Hamilton, a beneficiary
of Granlund’s recall, added two points on four successful power plays.

Much
of the Heat’s offense on the man advantage is generated from the defense, and
why not? When you’ve got Nakladal, Kylington, Kulak and Johnson as your go-to
guys, it’s not surprising Huska has centralized the offense from the blue line.

Now, if they can just figure out that penalty
kill… woof.

  • everton fc

    Glad the org was patient with Kylington. I’ll say it again, his skating is so elite that sending him back to junior won’t teach him anything as he can just skate his way out of trouble. In the A, he’s being forced to improve his positioning and decision making.

    The same thing I argue for Granlund needs to be done with Shore at the NHL level as well, convert him to wing.

  • KiLLKiND

    Really enjoying these Heat updates especially hearing how good Kyllington is offensively. Worst case scenario if he can’t fix his defensive game throw him on RW and there we go top line finishing right wing to play alongside Gaudreau and Bennett.

    As far as Huska being able to run a powerplay I am from Kelowna and Huska is an amazing coach do you think if Harley goes Huska earns a “call up” to the big leagues. He will know the young players that are in the system already and I think his systems are more suited to today’s puck possession game than Hartley’s punch-counter-punch.

    • piscera.infada

      I do recall there being a certain belief within the organization that the reason they wanted Huska for the AHL was that he has the ability to be an effective NHL coach at some point. That said, I do think (based on nothing but my own speculation) it’s too early for that move.

      Personally though, I hope that should Hartley be relieved of his duty at some point, they look for a younger coach who understands the future of the game as opposed to a “name-brand” coach who has pedigree, but not much else. I would love a coach who ends up being similar to John Cooper–someone who can grow with the team and organization.

      Thanks for the article Mike. Really appreciate these. I’m happy to hear that Kylington is being given every opportunity to prove himself, and that he’s starting to do just that. Hope it continues.

  • Christian Roatis

    But Kylington has attitude issues and stuff!!!

    Serious note: It’s interesting you mention his selfishness, Mike. It makes sense when you look at his stat line: 3 goals and just 1 assist. Hopefully his willingness to distribute the puck improves.

  • The Last Big Bear

    1) Kyllington should get a very long leash. Defence can be taught.

    2) Shore’s bursts of speed and ability to generate separation is surprising even at the NHL level. That and his size were the two reasons I expected him to stick last year.

    3) Joni Ortio seems like a pretty fragile goalie. It’s the only way I can explain a guy who went from a 6-goals-against AHL debut… to starting in the NHL with a 4-0-0 record, 1.23 GAA and .958sv% and saying he felt ready to be an NHL starting goalie… to getting chased from his AHL net after 4 first period goals against in his first game back.

    He has the physical tools, this much is clear. But that’s all that’s clear.