The NHL season is slipping away from the Calgary Flames, so it is only natural that some attention will start to shift to players on the farm. In Stockton, Derek Grant, the no-brainer choice for a call-up, is probably getting good use out of straws following a broken jaw suffered in a freaking practice drill. Who was responsible? Orr? Was it Colton Orr? I suspect Colton Orr. It was totally Colton Orr wasn’t it? Life without Grant began this past week for the Stockton Heat and the results were… surprisingly positive.
This team is really hard to read. One week, they look like first practice Mighty Ducks, the next you cannot understand why they aren’t leading their division. The Heat posted back-to-back wins this weekend, beating the Pacific Division-leading Ontario Reign and handily beating the cellar-dwelling San Antonio Rampage. Read all about it after the jump!
WHAT WENT DOWN
Simply put, the Heat are a vastly different team on home ice compared to the road. More specifically, the Heat’s goaltenders are vastly different at home. With Joni Ortio called up to the big club, Kevin Poulin assumed the role of number one for the Heat and was fantastic for them on Saturday night. In the first period, the Reign had several good chances that Poulin calmly turned aside, showing off a steady glove hand on more than one occasion. The Heat won their eighth straight game on home ice and broke their four-game losing streak.
As you can glean from the highlight pack above, Mason Raymond scored a very, very nice goal to open the scoring for the Heat. Raymond’s ability to use his speed to get himself in high-danger areas was sorely missing from his game when he was with the Flames so it is nice to see him showing off in Stockton. That goal was the lone even-strength goal for the Heat and it was all they needed on Saturday.
The game was largely the Kevin Poulin show as he stopped all 36 of Ontario’s shots (Stockton won the game 3-0 with only 19 shots). For the most part, the Heat did a fairly good job limiting Ontario’s quality scoring chances but Poulin was rock solid when called upon.
It was a quiet game for Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk, Garnet Hathaway, and Kenny Agostino, all of whom combined for one shot. Klimchuk seemed engaged physically throughout the evening but looked uncomfortable with the puck on his stick. As has been the case lately, Poirier has shown bursts of speed and good vision at times, but has been unable to produce offence consistently. Playing two strong games in a row has been a struggle for Klimchuk and Poirier so far this season, though their play on Saturday was fine, if not memorable.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
- Kevin Poulin – The number one in Stockton for the foreseeable future, Poulin looked calm, confident, and athletic in net for the Heat, earning his second shutout of the season.
- Mason Raymond – Perhaps it should be expected, but Raymond was unquestionably the Heat’s strongest forward throughout the game on Saturday. Raymond finished with a goal and four shots, remarkably one of only three Heat forwards to register more than one shot.
- Kenney Morrison – Paired with captain Aaron Johnson, Morrison skated exceptionally well all night for the Heat and performed well in all three zones. Between call-ups and injuries, there is a good chance that Morrison will be seeing regular ice time now for the Heat and made the best of it on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Heat absolutely dominated the worst club in the Pacific Division: the San Antonio Rampage. While it may appear easy to dismiss this performance against inferior opposition, entering the weekend the Heat were in danger of falling into the last spot themselves. The gap between the last and third place clubs in the Pacific is negligible.
In any event, the Heat fired 55 (!) shots at San Antonio on Sunday and cruised for a 5-1 victory. Already missing Jakub Nakladal and Olivier Kylington, the Heat lost another defenceman on Saturday, Dustin Stevenson, which meant that recent call-up Ryan Culkin drew into Sunday’s game. Here’s how the lines looked:
- Agostino – Hamilton – Hathaway
- Klimchuk – Elson – Poirier
- Raymond – Shore – Carroll
- van Brabant – Heard – Riley
- Johnson – Kulak
- Wotherspoon – Morrison
- Culkin – Sieloff
There were a ton of good performances from Sunday night for the Heat as they jumped all over the Rampage from the opening face-off. Freddie Hamilton, who had been seriously snake-bitten for the past 10 games or so, broke out with a pair of goals and a helper, playing on the Heat’s most effective line with Agostino and Hathaway. When Grant went down, Turner Elson was arguably the biggest beneficiary by taking his spot centering Klimchuk and Poirier and all three of them played exceptionally well.
Somehow, after being head and shoulders the best Heat Forward a night earlier, Raymond had a fairly quiet night on Sunday. Despite an assist, Raymond was the only Heat forward without a shot on net which, frankly, I was surprised to read after watching the game. Conversely, Klimchuk and Poirier were a force to be reckoned with on Sunday after a quiet Saturday. Despite not registering a point, the pair generated a ton of chances and combined for 10 shots on net.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
- The Agostino-Hamilton-Hathaway Line – These three exploded on Sunday night, scoring four goals and combining for 15 shots on net (five each). Frankly, they could have been 1,2,3 on this coveted list. With Grant out of the lineup, there will be a lot of pressure on Freddie Hamilton to produce for the Heat so Sunday’s results are encouraging.
- Emile Poirier – A great game for Poirier but I believe I speak for most Flames fans when I say: “Shots are great but please score more.” That being said, it was a game-high six shots on net and a strong game for Poirier.
- The Wotherspoon – Morrison Pair – This pairing was a pleasant surprise for me, as the two looked confident and poised in their own end and were able to move the puck out of their own end well. With Stevenson and Kylington out, I would be interested to see if this pairing is repeated moving forward as the two defenders fit nicely together.
The Heat are by no means out of playoff action and are in action tomorrow night on the road against the Ontario Reign. It is conceivable that the Heat could finish as high as third and as low as last in the Pacific but if the Heat are going to make a late season run, they will have to figure out a way to replicate their play on home ice once they hit the road.