Fights! Hunter Smith goals! Leland Irvings! Yes, the last three games for the Stockton Heat certainly had some excitement. Except, well, forget about last night’s lethargic 3-0 loss at the hands of the lowly Manitoba Moose.
In the previous two games, the Heat scored 11 times, which is crazy given that the Heat are one of the lowest scoring teams in the Pacific Division. But that doesn’t matter now because the one man highlight reel himself, the not-really-all-that-exciting-but-very-very-good-and-dependable-offensive-producer Derek Grant returned to the lineup, and he was taking no prisoners.
The Heat are currently on an absolutely excruciating six games in nine days stretch, so let’s see how that first bit went after the jump.
WHAT WENT DOWN
Here are the highlights from Friday’s 5-1 win over the Iowa Wild.
In their three games in four nights stretch beginning last Friday, the Stockton Heat captured four out of a possible six points. That’s pretty good given the frequency of games and the amount of travel involved in those three games. This stretch also saw the Heat get some pretty important pieces back including Grant and Oliver Kylington, both of which made immediate impacts upon return to the lineup.
On Friday, the Heat pummelled Iowa 5-1, outshooting them 36-21. They were generally a vastly superior squad. The Heat completely ran the Wild out of the rink from the opening faceoff and the score could have been about 5-0 by the end of the first frame.
The Heat rolled four lines effectively all game and were backstopped by steady goaltending from Kevin Poulin (who looked a little shaky in the opening frame but it was likely due to inaction as Iowa only registered four shots) and strong play from the backend. Also, the goaltender for Iowa that was subjected to this barrage? Former Flames first-rounder Leland Irving. Yikes. Poor dude.
Saturday’s game was insane. A 6-5 overtime win with fights, terrible defense, poor goaltending, and a million goals. If the Heat are going to make a late-season miracle run at the playoffs, they will have to catch Bakersfield and while I am sure they were pleased to get the OT win, they blew a late lead that forced the game into overtime and allowed their division rivals to gain a point as well.
Then Monday rolled around in Manitoba and it sure seemed as though the Heat had absolutely nothing left in the tank, understandable given the geographic distance covered and the number of games played. The Heat came out strong in the early minutes but were unable to beat Connor Hellebuyck and only registered 13 shots over the final two periods.
Mason Raymond, who played very well in Friday’s game against Iowa, was injured in that game and did not play on Saturday or Monday.
WHO LOOKED GOOD
- Derek Grant – I really hope that Grant gets some time up with the Flames before the season’s end because he certainly deserves it. Some absolutely wretched luck led Grant to miss a large chunk of the season right as he was a lock for the next call-up. Grant scored three times and had two assists in the three game stretch and garnered 16(!) shots. Playing on a line with Poirier and Shinkaruk, Grant was the fulcrum of the Heat’s offense in all three games.
- Drew Shore – A player thought to challenge for a roster spot on the Flames this season, it’s been no secret that Shore has had a fairly disappointing season for Stockton. Though he has put up fairly respectable numbers (31 points in 50 games) his production seems to have plateaued this season and was passed over for promotion by both Grant (same age) and Freddie Hamilton (one year younger than Shore). However, Shore was very good over the weekend, scoring twice and adding an assist and performing pretty well in the circle as well.
- Hunter Shinkaruk – Flames fans have been waiting with bated breath for Shinkaruk to display some of his goal-scoring touch and he certainly did in Saturday’s 6-5 OT win over Bakersfield. Though neither one of his goals displayed his purportedly lethal shot, they were both what I suppose one could call “goal scorer’s goals”. One was a rebound stuffed in for the OT winner and the other the completion of a nice passing play with Poirier but in any event, Shinkaruk was dangerous on Friday and Saturday (and fairly invisible on Monday). Shinkaruk is a sneaky player because he can go large stretches of games without being noticed at all and then strike when you had essentially forgotten about him.
I have rolled all three games into one five player list in order to include all of the relevant performances though the Heat did have quite a few good ones over the past three games. Again, Morgan Klimchuk had a quiet weekend, registering four shots and no points over the three games.
Though it was clear that he was being used in a defensive role, Klimchuk, and his centre for all three games Bill Arnold for that matter, was unable to generate much offense and rarely had possession in the offensive zone. That being said, Klimchuk and Arnold both played fine, if not entirely unremarkable, games over the weekend, which has been the defining feature of Klimchuk’s play this season.
I thought Kenney Morrison also continued to look strong for the Heat in all three games. He scored a goal and added an assist over the three games while registering six shots but generally skated very well, especially while moving the puck out of his own zone. It’s certainly been an uneven season for Morrison who turned 24 in February. Hopefully he is able to take a large step forward next season, or else he risks being lost in the shuffle.
It almost goes without saying that Kenny Agostino was solid for the Heat, as he has been all season. But it seems noteworthy that Agostino wasn’t overtly pouting about his recent demotion from Calgary following the end of his emergency recall. As has been the case all season, Agostino carried the puck effectively across the opposition blue line, a skill in short supply with the Flames at the moment, and produced a goal, three assists, and seven shots over the three games.
Emile Poirier had a fairly strong three game stretch as well, registering three assists and seven shots. Playing on a line with Shinkaruk and Grant, Poirier is going to be counted on to produce offensively down the stretch as it appears, at least for now, that the Heat are loading all their eggs in one basket.
Oh, and I almost forgot, HUNTER SMITH SCORED! Praise Oliwa. Smith scored on a fairly nice wrister past Leland Irving and even added an assist as well, to accompany his 24 penalty minutes over three games. Yes indeed, he was noticeable!
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, BASIL?
As you can see, it going to be tight for the Heat to catch San Jose but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. The Heat have three more games in four nights on this murderous road trip. Tomorrow night, the Heat play in Manitoba again before hauling their way back to the west coast for back-to-back games against the division-leading Ontario Reign.
Tomorrow’s opponent, the Manitoba Moose, currently sit in last place in the Central division, so if the Heat are going to make a serious run in their remaining 12 games it is a must-win game. In this stretch, it’s possible that the Heat will debut a new goalie as well, Mark Owuya, who was signed to a PTO earlier last week. Owuya has played all over the place in his career, despite the fact that he is only 26. Most recently, Owuya posted a .914SV% over 11 games with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL.
Barring another injury, it seems likely that the Heat will be getting Freddie Hamilton back unless the Flames decide to burn one of their final post-deadline recalls on him. That will be a huge boost to the Heat who can use Hamilton on the wing or down the middle now that Grant has returned and Shore’s play has picked up.
Hopefully the Heat will be able to salvage at least four points from their upcoming three games in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.