Is this the face of a future 50 goal scorer? Given the recent sample of games, I can only conclude that yes. I’ve checked the math, it’s a near statistical certainty. Only a fool would bet against this.
The Heat had another successful couple of games last week, defeating the Pacific Division-leading Ontario Reign and the farm team of the NHL’s living monument to hockey ineptitude, the Bakersfield Condors. The two games featured great goaltending, strong defense, and opportunistic scoring. Come see how it all went down after the jump!
WHAT WENT DOWN?
Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Ontario Reign were the top team in the Pacific Division and boasted the stingiest defence in the entire American Hockey League. The Reign boasted a roster filled with proven AHL performers like Nic Dowd and Sean Backman but also featured Swedish youngster Adrian Kempe who has had a fantastic rookie season so far. It certainly looked like a stiff test for the Heat.
However, backed by outstanding goaltending from Joni Ortio, strong defence, and well, basically just Derek Grant, the Heat clawed their way to a 2-1 win in overtime, their third-straight extra time victory. After a pair of fantastic starts from Kevin Poulin, the Heat went back to Ortio, who didn’t disappoint. You can get a brief taste of Ortio’s night from the highlight pack above but after allowing a pretty soft first goal, Ortio rallied and was exceptionally strong for the Heat all night.
As for the lines, veteran defender Dustin Stevenson replaced Pat Sieloff and Ryan Lomberg replaced Austin Carroll. The lines looked like this:
- van Brabant-Shore-Smith
On Wednesday, the strongest defence pairing was likely Brett Kulak and Aaron Johnson who both skated extremely well. Kulak has been exceptionally impressive of late for the Heat and despite his minus-one rating, had a very good night against Ontario.Kulak’s ability to accelerate through the neutral zone and establish possession in the offensive zone was on display on Wednesday.
Paired with the more experienced Dustin Stevenson, Oliver Kylington, who had been largely absent from the proceedings in the two previous games, skated very well against Ontario and looked relaxed in his own zone as well. Kylington was also the recipient of bountiful praise from the Heat’s broadcaster who noted that his defensive game had improved in leaps and bounds from his first few games with Stockton.
As was the case in the two previous Heat victories, the Heat defence moved exceptionally well and generally made effective breakout passes. However, I was less impressed with Nakladal’s game against Ontario as he looked hesitant to use his shot and bobbled the puck a few times in his own zone. It seems crazy that despite the number of minutes and his impressive shot that Nakladal only has two goals this season.
Up front Ryan Lomberg, the 21-year-old who impressed many at the Young Stars tournament this season, played in his 15th game for the Heat and was a constant annoyance to the Reign’s defence on the forecheck and was all over the ice all game. Lomberg, listed generously at 5’10, had a strong game playing with fellow forechecking demon Turner Elson on what became a very effective fourth line for the Heat.
The top line of Klimchuk, Grant, and Poirier was relatively quiet this game, with Poirier and Klimchuk turning in listless performances. Neither one even registered a shot and Poirier often tried to make passes through skates and sticks when he probably could have used his speed to drive the puck towards the net. Grant, on the other hand, was effective again in the circle and scored both goals for the Heat, both of which were on the powerplay.
It was a tight-checking, dump-and-chase, gutsy win for the Heat but without strong performances from many of their forwards. However, for the Heat who are attempting to salvage a season and climb back into a playoff race, any win will do, especially ones against the Pacific’s top team.
Also, Hunter Smith was tall.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
- Joni Ortio – Re-asserting himself back into consideration for full-time duty, Ortio recovered from allowing a soft goal and stopped 36 of 37 shots against one of the AHL’s top teams. Perhaps Ortio’s finest moments were holding Ontario scoreless on 1:51 of 5-on-3 time during the second period. With another strong performance, Ortio can finally look to rescue his SV% back to above .900 for the season (.912 in 37gp last season).
- Derek Grant/Kenny Agostino – Okay, it’s cheating, sue me. The two of them drove the puck forward on both of their lines and connected for both of the Heat’s goals on the powerplay. Easily the two best forwards for the Heat on Wednesday.
- Ryan Lomberg – Easily one of the least-heralded Heat players, Lomberg has a unique ability to get himself noticed whenever he plays, a quality that bodes well for a player that is only 21 and playing his first professional season.
After a series of low-scoring, extra-time wins, Saturday’s 4-2 win felt like an offensive explosion for the Heat, even though the offense came from the usual suspects. The Heat bombarded the Condors with 44 shots and generally outplayed them for 60 minutes backed by strong performances from a number of Heat players. Also, the Heat debuted some pretty slick new sweaters – let me know what you thought of them even though the video looks like it was filmed with a digital camera from 2002.
With a shortened schedule this season, there are only so many games to go around so changes are routinely made, even after wins like the ones against Ontario on Wednesday. Kevin Poulin replaced Joni Ortio in net, Austin Carroll replaced Ryan Lomberg, and Kenney Morrison replaced Aaron Johnson. The lines looked like this:
- van Brabant-Shore-Smith
Drew Shore seems to have become a bit of a forgotten man this season in the Flames organization. Though he isn’t playing with the most dynamic offensive talents, Shore should be driving play himself at the AHL level given that many had him pegged to challenge for an NHL roster spot out of camp. With just four goals this season, his scoring touch seems to have completely escaped him and Shore is on pace for one of his poorest seasons as a professional. Perhaps his problems are merely situational, but this year so far has been an utter disaster for the now 25-year-old, who is an RFA at the end of this season.
On defence, Kenney Morrison got a shot on Saturday replacing team Captain Aaron Johnson. Many were very excited about Morrison this season but he has struggled to establish himself as a regular defender on the Heat who, to be fair, are relatively crowded on the back end. Sieloff and Johnson were both sitting out on Saturday despite the fact that both had played well in recent game action. I thought Morrison looked sharp on Saturday, and paired with Kylington, both defenders moved the puck well and both jumped into the play a great deal. Morrison finished the game with three shots.
Perhaps the solution for Morrison is the same solution the Heat chose for Ryan Culkin: the ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder. Morrison is a first-year pro, needs game action more than anything, and has only played 16 games this season and registered just three points. By comparison, Morrison registered six points in just 10 games last season with the then-AHL Adirondack Flames. Surely more game action, even at the ECHL level, is preferable to the press box and long stretches without playing that await teams in the AHL’s Pacific Division.
Additionally, Hunter Smith looked tall. He hit a few guys I suppose but mostly just looked tall. Tall and slow.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
I will never not love this photo. I picture a Tusken Raider sound to accompany it.
- Derek Grant/Kenny Agostino – Honestly, I’m not quite sure what more can be said about Grant this season. He is absolutely on fire and was outstanding again on Saturday. However, I have to stress that Agostino was equally as impressive over the last stretch of games. The two are about all the Heat have going offensively at the moment. While Grant’s prowess in the circle is sorely needed with the big club, Agostino’s ability to generate controlled zone entries is also in short supply at the moment in Calgary. Obvious opinion: both of these players are deserving of another shot at the NHL level.
- Morgan Klimchuk – Easily Klimchuk’s best game in a while, he was very effective as a penalty killer and had a number of scoring chances as well. Hopefully Kilmchuk can start to build off of this strong performance and start to contribute offensively as well.
- Oliver Kylington – The rookie defenceman was very noticeable on Saturday despite being held off the scoresheet and limited to one shot. Kylington’s skating jumps off the screen at you and he seems to be getting more comfortable in his own zone.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, BASIL?
The Heat picked up their seventh-straight home victory on Saturday and are quietly climbing their way up the Pacific division standings. The Heat now sit fourth in the division (based on PT%) and have got themselves right back into the thick of the playoff race.
The Heat, while largely starved for offence, have been riding the play of Derek Grant, Kenny Agostino, and a pair of goaltenders to dig themselves out of their early season hole. Of late, the Heat have been able to take advantage of their mobile defence to generate pressure in the opposing end while generally limiting opposition shots as well. Here’s an interesting look at how it has broken down so far this season for the Heat:
— Sean Tierney (@SeanTierneyTSS) January 30, 2016
The Heat hit the road for three straight games this week with a game Friday against San Diego and then a pair against Bakersfield. All three clubs are exceptionally close in the standings at the moment so these next few games could go a long way to helping Stockton continue their climb.
However, if the Heat are going to be successful, they will need contributions (i.e. goals) from someone not named Derek Grant or Kenny Agostino. While it is great that both players are having a great stretch of games, they won’t score at this pace forever.
The Heat need Emile Poirier, Drew Shore, Garnet Hathaway, and Morgan Klimchuk to start easing the burden on the top players. It isn’t a matter of not getting opportunities (Shore had five shots on Saturday for instance), they just need to start burying some of their chances. With the impending deadline sell-off approaching, now would be an excellent time for some of those players to insist that they be given an NHL shot once some room opens up with the big club.
Speaking of which, Dennis Wideman’s suspension is looming and therefore it is possible that a defenceman will be called up in the coming days. As mentioned on FN frequently, it should be Nakladal who has played exceptionally well for the Heat this season despite only scoring twice. Nakladal’s 28 years old and will be needing a new contract at the end of the year, so summoning him seems like a no-brainer.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, the Adirondack Thunder split a weekend series against Reading and currently sit second in the eastern division. No reports on Scorch’s whereabouts at this time.