The Heat scraped out an ugly win yesterday night, defeating the San Diego Gulls 4-3 in a shootout in Hunter Shinkaruk’s Stockton Heat debut. The line of Kenny Agostino, Freddie Hamilton, and Garnet Hathaway continued their strong play and provided two of the three goals for Stockton.
As for SHINKWATCH 2016: he was held off the scoresheet, playing on a line with Drew Shore and Emile Poirier. Let’s get into how his debut went after the jump!
Shinkaruk played on a line with centre Drew Shore and Emile Poirier (who played RW last night, which was an interesting decision). It wasn’t exactly an ideal beginning for Shinkaruk, who finished the night a minus-two with two shots on net.
In his post game comments, Heat head coach Ryan Huska had this to say about Shinkaruk’s debut:
I thought he looked ok. His line wasn’t our best line tonight, but it’s tough for a guy coming from the east coast with the time change and all the different things that have gone on in the last day and a half for him. I thought he looked fine tonight for his first game and I see him getting better and better every game he plays here.
I had suspected that Shinkaruk would play with Shore but I had though they would keep Poirier on LW, his natural position, and play Mason Raymond on that line instead. However, Raymond was scratched from last night’s game with an apparent injury so the Heat dressed Hunter Smith and Colton Orr, presumably to counter the Gulls’ Brian McGrattan, who had two points and no fights last night. Goal: …achieved?
I wonder if, given last night’s relative struggles, Huska decides to make an adjustment to Shinkaruk’s line for next game, though the thought of Shinkaruk and Poirier playing together is rather tantalizing. Perhaps Raymond’s absence is what necessitated Poirier’s move to the right side, or maybe Huska is trying to light a fire under Poirier, who has stalled this season. Either way, the experiment didn’t exactly work last night but it was only the first game for Shinkaruk so I wouldn’t read too much into it.
I will use this picture forever. This will be Agostino’s HHOF plaque.
As for the game that occurred outside of Shinkaruk’s stat line, the Heat’s most consistent line over the past five games or so came through big again for them. The line of Kenny Agostino, Freddie Hamilton, and Garnet Hathaway were dynamic all night for the Heat, combining for five points and eight shots.
With his two helpers last night, Agostino leapfrogged the injured Derek Grant for top spot in team scoring with 39 points in 45 games (though it should be noted that Agostino has played 15 more games than Grant, further underscoring the kind of season Grant was having prior to injury).
This season has already seen a new career high in goals for Agostino with 17, and he is only four points away from matching last season’s point total in 22 fewer games. Agostino’s consistent production likely makes him the most deserving candidate of the next Flames forward call-up. In a season marked by disappointing counting numbers from a number of the Flames’ high-end prospects, Agostino’s production has to be a pleasant surprise for Flames fans.
Kevin Poulin stole the show last night though, recovering from a shaky start in his last game. The Gulls fired 50 shots at him between regulation and overtime and Poulin stopped 47 of them, and then stopped every Gulls shooter in the shootout. Quite a night for Poulin who, in the absence of Joni Ortio, is the Heat’s unquestioned number one goaltender for the remainder of the season.
With the shootout win, the Heat crawled back out of last spot in the Pacific (which are determined by pts% due to the unbalanced AHL schedule). As you can see, the middle of the division is still entirely up for grabs and if the Heat can string some wins together, the playoffs are still within their grasp.
Also, I noticed yesterday that there was some talk in the comments section about the Heat’s defence being poor this season. I would have to vehemently disagree with that as the defence has been easily the strongest part of the Heat’s game all season. They have continued to maintain somewhat strong play despite losing their top pair (Nakladal and Wotherspoon) to call-ups and Stevenson and Kylington to injury. There has been a lot to criticize about the Heat’s play this season (lack of production from Poirier, Klimchuk, and Shore, uneven goaltending, etc.) but defence surely has not been a negative factor.