After subjecting yourself to that Carolina game on Sunday, you, trusted Flames Nation Reader, deserve some sort of good news on this Monday morning. Fear not, the Sparks will serve as a palate cleanser from the feces-sandwich that was Sunday’s game.
It was a wild weekend for the Heat as they scratched and clawed their way back to .500 with a pair of extra time victories over the lowly Manitoba Moose and their stupid, stupid, antler-numbered sweaters. There was a lot to be very happy about for the Heat after the pair of victories, including a stellar performance between the pipes from a dark-horse contender for an NHL job
Read all about it after the jump!
WHAT WENT DOWN
The Heat entered play on Friday needing a pair of good results against a Manitoba team with fewer points than them despite the face that they had played five more games. Though the Heat are still a ways from a playoff spot, they had a chance to move out of the Pacific Division’s cellar with a win and some help on the out of town scoreboard.
As you can see from the above highlights, or lack thereof, the game was really close-checking and the Heat generated a ton of shots (50 including OT) on the Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie but were largely unable to finish their chances. The Heat certainly deserved a better fate on Friday, largely dominating play and only surrendering a late goal off of a fortuitous bounce. On the other side, Winnipeg seems to have found another capable goaltender in Comrie. Why does it seem like the Jets have a dozen good goalies, and none of them are named Ondrej Pavalec?
The Heat got a goal from Emile Poirier, just his seventh of the season, on a breakaway after being able to use his speed to separate himself from a defender. I thought Poirier was largely absent from Friday’s game despite his three shots on net. Poirier seemed lost in the offensive zone and, apart from his goal I suppose, was unable to use his speed effectively throughout the game. Perhaps he is simply a victim of raised expectations but I was expecting him to be more of a difference maker throughout the game.
Despite all their chances, this game went to a shootout and Derek Grant went shelf while Kevin Poulin slammed the door. Heat win 2-1.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
- Kevin Poulin – The 25-year-old former New York Islander was very solid, stopping 30 of 31 shots from the Moose and putting some serious pressure on Joni Ortio for the starter’s job in Stockton.
- Nakladal/Wotherspoon Pairing – A very solid night from the two defenders, both of whom looked capable of fitting in at the next level. The pair generated nine shots (Nakladal with a game-high six) between them and logged a ton of minutes.
- Brett Kulak – One of the biggest surprises out of training camp, it was great to see Kulak using his smooth skating in Friday’s game, earning an assist on Poirier’s goal.
After playing exceptionally well against the Moose on Friday, Poulin earned the start the following night as well which raised some eyebrows as many had thought Joni Ortio would get the nod in the back-to-back situation. Fortunately for the Heat, Eric Comrie got the night off. Instead, something called a Jussi Olkinuora played for the Moose, entering the game with a ghastly .762 SV% in two previous games.
Easy win right? The Heat would roast the obviously-fake named keeper and the teddies would be tossed early on. Wrong, boyo. This was another squeaker.
The Heat were able to generate a ton of off chances during this game but were, again, unable to capitalize on the majority of their chances. Olkinuora played very well for the Moose but the Heat were certainly missing the touch of a legitimate goal-scorer on Saturday. The good news is that the Heat received better showings from a collection of forwards in addition to solid play from their back-end. Also, look at those hands on Aaron Johnson?!
Kenny Agostino was an offensive force on Saturday and it’s clear that coach Ryan Huska trusts him a great deal. Over the two games, Agostino continued to generate a ton of shots (10 in total), reinforcing his NCAA reputation as a prodigious producer of pucks. Perhaps more importantly was that Agostino seemed determined to carry the puck over the offensive blue-line, often showing great skill and confidence to do so. Throughout the course of the game, Agostino could have scored at least a hat-trick, but his power-play marker that doubled as the Teddy Bear goal was all he could muster. Still, that was a heck of a shot.
Largely non-existent in Friday’s game, Oliver Kylington had a much better game on Saturday. Kylington’s skating seems as-advertised: shifty, explosive, and eager to join the rush. Though he has been unable to put up many points this season, Kylington looked a lot more comfortable in Saturday’s game and with his quickness and puck skills, I’m sure the points will start to come. Also, being paired with the sluggish and often confused Pat Sieloff didn’t help Kylington much this weekend.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
- Kenny Agostino – The AHL sophomore was a leader all night for the Heat and generated another five shots in Saturday’s game. He also scored a rocket of a teddy-bear goal.
- Derek Grant – Grant was good in both games and it is no surprise that he is the Heat’s leading point-getter. On Saturday, Grant had two assists and four shots on net in addition to putting on a clinic in the circle (just by my eye, the AHL doesn’t record faceoff wins) Plain and simple: Grant looks ready for another shot at the NHL.
- Turner Elson – If pressed, I couldn’t really tell you what it is that Elson does well. It just seems like he’s always there. On Saturday, Elson had six shots on net and probably could have had three goals but finished the night pointless.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
The first thing that jumped out was the play of Poulin, who now has a pretty-respectable .924 SV% in nine games with the Heat. Poulin is an RFA at the end of the season and, if he can keep this up, is a pretty safe bet to be retained by the Flames.
In both games, I was disappointed in the play of the pair of Flames first-rounders from 2013. I wanted more from Poirier who seems to have lost the confidence he was oozing in his rookie campaign and Klimchuk was, for the most part, rather invisible despite playing on the Heat’s top line. I understand this is far from a make-or-break year for the pair, but hopefully they can start to drive the bus a little bit on a Stockton team that is crying out for offense.
Also, in this limited viewing, a theme began to emerge regarding Stockton’s style of play that has similarities to the parent club’s strengths and weaknesses. First of all, Stockton has some very solid, puck-moving defenders who anchor their club’s play in the offensive zone. The pairing of Wotherspoon and Nakladal looked very solid on Friday with each defender complementing the other very nicely.
Nakladal and Wotherspoon combined for nine shots on net in Friday’s game and looked like a top-pairing. As far as Wotherspoon is concerned, I am not how much more he can do at this level as his skill-set doesn’t exact lend itself to putting up big numbers. He has been solid again this season for the Heat, he has looked solid before at the AHL and NHL level, if given an extended look with the Flames I would guess he could be solid as well. The only problem is the fact that there isn’t enough sunlight to reach the forest floor at the moment, with Smid and Engelland (who, to be fair, are having better years this season) making pretty good money to play on the bottom pairing.
Also on the back-end, Brett Kulak was very impressive as well in both games, showing off a quick first-pass and smooth skating. I think many Flames fans were impressed by his brief time this season and I think it won’t be too long before he gets his next chance.
Also, Hunter Smith is tall. That’s about all I saw from him this weekend.