There was a lot of optimism surrounding this road trip after the Heat had strung together seven straight home wins, including a win against Pacific Division-leading Ontario. However, the Heat came out flat in both games this weekend, dropping a pair of games against teams near them in the standings.
Again, the Heat struggled to generate offence with one exception: Derek Grant, who is almost certainly the greatest goal scorer since Mike Bossy. In both games this weekend, Grant scored flukey goals because he cannot stop scoring. It may be a medical condition…
Come and read about the weekend after the jump!
WHAT WENT DOWN
The Heat began their weekend road trip with a game against San Diego at the Valley View Casino Centre. There does not seem to be a reliable highlight pack out there, so this is as good as it will get:
Great quality, but very little substance in this. Also, Nick Ritchie looks like a muppet. I am glad the Flames didn’t draft him for this reason.
Despite the fact that the Heat were riding a winning streak, they made some changes in order to continue their rotation of their bottom pairing defenders and fourth line forwards. Also, there was a new face in the Heat lineup: Mason Raymond, playing his first game for the Heat and starting on the top line. Here are how the lines looked to start the game:
- Poirier – Grant – Raymond
- Agostino – Hamilton – Hathaway
- van Brabant – Shore – Klimchuk
- Riley – Elson – Smith
- Kulak – Johnson
- Wotherspoon – Sieloff
- Kylington – Stevenson
With Nakladal being called up to conduct important popcorn research, the Heat cycled Pat Sieloff back into the lineup after being sat out of the last two games. Raymond’s addition also disrupted the Poirier-Grant-Klimchuk line that had been rolling quite well for the Heat in their last four games. However, on paper it looked as though Raymond’s addition would create a blazing fast top-line, adding to the recent AHL All-Star Game’s fastest skater Derek Grant and ol’Rocketboots McPoirier.
However, the Heat simply came out flatter than a Saskatchewan highway and the Gulls were up 2-0 before the 10 minute mark of the first period. Two dreadful defensive zone breakdowns led to the Gulls markers, particularly on their first goal which victimized Kulak and Johnson. Ortio made several nice saves late in the period to keep the Heat in it but the first was largely a disaster for Stockton.
The Heat got one back in the second, coming off of a flukey deflection from a Derek Grant pass in front of the Gulls net. What can I say? The guy can’t miss right now. He scores without even trying. The Heat headed into the third only down one but in the third, but the Gulls pulled away.
Shane O’Brien (yes, the same Shane O’Brien you’re thinking of) ripped a point shot past Ortio to restore the two-goal lead for San Diego. Later in the period, Turner Elson tapped home a feed from Freddie Hamilton to pull the Heat back to within one but it wasn’t to be. An empty-netter made it 4-2 for the Gulls.
The score largely flattered Stockton who were completely unable to generate offense on Friday and had maybe six high-quality scoring chances the whole game. The Heat finished the game with 18 shots and spent the majority of the game trying to bust through the hefty neutral zone trap prepared by San Diego. As has been the case far too often of late, the Heat got very little from Derek Grant’s supporting cast.
Mason Raymond (though he picked up a secondary assist on Grant’s goal), Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk, Freddie Hamilton, and Kenny Agostino combined for zero shots. That is … horrid. I will say that Agostino was able to gain entry into the San Diego zone more frequently than most of his teammates but was otherwise unable to generate scoring chances.
All in all, it was a lousy game for the Heat who were generally listless for the majority of the game. Oh, Hunter Smith played as well. Generally poorly (-2, and a tripping penalty), though I did notice that he was higher than other players when standing.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
- Derek Grant – Yawn. I know you’re all tired of hearing it, but he was Stockton’s best player again on Friday. Scoring a goal and providing 22% of his team’s shots on net, Grant was a lone bright spot on offence for the Heat.
- Brett Kulak – Kulak has had a very good stretch of games for the Heat over the past month or so and skated very well against the Gulls on Friday. With Nakladal out, it is fair to say that Kulak becomes one of the Heat’s premier defencemen and cannot be far down the list of callups, should the Flames require them.
- Bryce van Brabant – He isn’t going to light the world on fire offensively but BvB played a strong game on Friday and has been generally strong for the Heat of late as well. Van Brabant plays well along the wall and, when he’s most effective, he’s bullying his way to the front of the net.
This game was played in a rink that dims the lights every time the Condors score just like the Konami Blades of Steel ’98 game I had for N64.
After Friday night, the Heat made more changes and swapped in another new defender, Kenney Morrison, who had played well in his last outing a week ago. Later in the game Heat coach Ryan Huska mixed the lines up a bit but these were the lines that started the game for the Heat:
- Agostino – Hamilton – Hathaway
- van Brabant – Shore – Klimchuk
- Carroll – Elson – Orr/Smith
- Wotherspoon – Stevenson
- Morrison – Kulak
Orr’s (albeit scarce) presence was probably due to the fact that the Condors dressed heavyweights Luke Gadzic and Kale Kessy (the guy the Oilers traded for actually good hockey player Tobias Rieder). Orr barely played and was entirely ineffective. As was Hunter Smith who I had to keep checking the bench to see if he was still in the game. The Heat were also facing former Flame prospect Laurent Brossoit who was sent to Edmonton in the Ladislav Smid deal. That deal seems so strange now…
Distressingly, the Heat were again brutally outplayed in the first half of this game. The Heat were fortunate to only be down 1-0 after the first and surrendered three second-period goals to be down 4-0 heading into the final frame. Another fortuitous bounce for Grant put the Heat on the board for his AHL leading 23rd goal of the season.
Just for some perspective on Grant, he has played five fewer games than second-place Scott Wilson and 15 fewer (!) than third-place Chris Bourque. So, it’s safe to say that Grant is having a good stretch.
Perhaps the product of score effects, but the Heat were able to control play in the third period and mounted a furious comeback that fell one goal short. You can’t go down four-love in any league and expect to get it all back in one period.
Despite being a minus-three, I thought Kenney Morrison showed some flashes of strong play, especially in the third period for the Heat. Morrison is a really strong skater and was hung out to dry on a bad Dustin Stevenson pinch on the Luke Gadzic goal. Morrison gathered an assist on Grant’s power-play goal and looked like a guy who deserves a longer look at the AHL level.
After an invisible Friday night, the Heat got a strong game out of Emile Poirier who scored a nice goal in the third. As you can see in the highlight pack above, Poirier used his strong skating to generate some space for himself and beat Brossoit cleanly. Hopefully Poirier can start to string some goals together in the upcoming days. The Heat desperately could use the offence.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
- Emile Poirier – Though he did not carry play for the entire game, Poirier showed good flashes on Saturday, had three shots, and scored a very nice goal. The Heat need Poirier to take pressure off of Derek Grant (who was also very strong again on Saturday but, for the purposes of these recaps, just assume that Grant is awesome).
- Kenny Agostino – Throughout the game, Agostino fired pucks towards the Condors net and pushed the play forward. Agostino finished with five shots and two assists, another strong game for one of Stockton’s few consistent offensive contributors.
- Brett Kulak – Shouldering an increased burden, Kulak was very strong again for the Heat. Kulak drove the puck consistently through the neutral zone using his impressive skating and even had four shots on net, the most for any Heat defender in either game.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, BASIL?
The Heat have one more game on the road against Bakersfield tomorrow before returning home for a pair of games on the weekend against the Ontario Reign and San Antonio Rampage. The two games this weekend were a squandered opportunity for the Heat to establish themselves as contenders for a top three spot in the Pacific division and now sit in sixth place out of seven teams. The Heat need to try and salvage a win tomorrow because they find themselves on the precipice of last place in the Pacific division once again after making a great deal of progress in the past few weeks. In a tightly packed schedule based on pt%, that can happen in a hurry.
After two really solid games, Morgan Klimchuk was effectively a no-show this weekend which is a little disheartening. While it is true that he was moved off of the top line with Grant and Poirier, Klimchuk just seemed to be missing that spring in his stride that he displayed last weekend where he was a factor all over the ice.
As I have said many times before, the lack of scoring from the Heat’s supporting cast is a nagging concern at this point with all the Heat offence flowing through Derek Grant at the moment. Poirier potted a nice goal on Saturday but aside from that there was little else. Freddie Hamilton and Drew Shore have gone liquid nitrogen and Mason Raymond, while showing off his speed well in both games, is still getting acclimatized to the AHL game.
There was a bit of news over the weekend as well, the Heat recalled Ryan Culkin on Sunday, taking the spot of the recalled Jakub Nakladal. The situation on the blue line is already pretty crowded (Sieloff, Johnson, Morrison all regularly fight for the sixth defenceman role) in Stockton so it isn’t a given that Culkin will slot back into the lineup. Culkin was one of the Flames most promising defensive prospects coming into this season and likely would have been recalled at the end of last year had he not been injured. Hopefully Culkin gets an opportunity to play his way into a regular role soon.