After a six-game road trip that saw Stockton go 3-2-0-1, with points in the final four games, the Heat returned for their lone December home game against the first place Tucson Roadrunners.
It was Mark Jankowski Bobble Head night, where he sent a video message saying he wished he could be there… yeah right. It was also “Win the Jersey Off the Player’s Back” night. More on that later.
The lineup was based on the first few shifts, as Coach Ryan Huska constantly changed the forwards throughout the game. The only constant was the defense and Jon Gillies in goal. I was surprised to see him in net, but in classic Huska fashion, he wanted to ride the hot goalie, as Gillies was coming off a 25-save shutout of the hated Barracuda in San Jose on Wednesday.
Mrs. Finest and I were in the Cold Zone (season ticket holder lounge) getting our drinks and talking with some regulars. We headed to our seats, sat down, the puck dropped, and boom, Hunter Shinkaruk buried a shot from the right side of net just 12 seconds in. This was the fastest goal in Heat history. Marek Hrivik and Morgan Klimchuk assisted on the goal that put the Heat up 1-0.
After a Roadrunner penalty, it was time for the AHL’s fourth-ranked power play team to go to work. I think the Heat read my report card from last week, as they got players in front of the goalie. Spencer Foo, coming off a hat trick on Wednesday (the third hattie in Heat history), parked in front and tipped a shot home from Cody Goloubef for the second goal of the period. Andrew Mangiapane was credited with the second assist.
Later in the first, on the penalty kill, it was time to light the lamp again. While forechecking, the puck was left alone behind the net and Hrivik found a wide-open Klimchuk in front who buried home the puck in front of a scrambling goaltender. It reminded me of the communication error in the Edmonton game with David Rittich and his defense.
The second period was played a bit tighter. I was concentrating on the defense during the middle frame, as Gillies is on our end of the rink. They were moving players away from the crease allowing Gillies a clear look at everything shot his way, and with another doughnut on the scoreboard for Tucson, it was clear the defense did their job.
The only tally in the second came on the power play, when Oliver Kylington fed the puck for a one-timer from the point from Goloubef. Pencil in Brett Findlay for the secondary assist on the second power play goal of the night.
Tucson came out in the third with more energy than the Heat. They were outplayed to that point and wanted to win the period. This was the time the Heat needed to use the ACME dynamite on the Roadrunners, but they played prevent defense until they killed the fighting major penalties. Tucson ended Gillies’ scoreless streak at 107 minutes with a top shelf shot in the slot.
Just after that goal, it was Saturday Night at the Fights, as the Heat were still upset with the high stick to Klimchuk’s face earlier in the period and the extra hits after the whistle. They had enough. After the puck dropped at 7:01, a donnybrook broke out. It’s expected that the regulars like Ryan Lomberg and Tanner Glass mix it up, but not expected from Foo to throw down with the big boys (Foo Fighter… I couldn’t resist).
The Heat racked up 44 minutes in penalties in this fight alone.
This fight escalated quickly. Boys just protecting the 4-1 lead pic.twitter.com/NdX9cvd60o
— Stockton Heat (@AHLHeat) December 10, 2017
I have never heard of a “continuing altercation” 10-minute penalty, but it was handed down to both Glass and Oleg Yevenko, who absolutely pounded his guy.
The Heat killed the ensuing four-minute penalty to remain perfect on the PK for the night. The Roadrunners scored again when Gillies was out of position (and beat him high… have I mentioned that before?) to make it 4-2 with five minutes left.
The Heat returned to dominate the final five minutes of the game. They iced it with an empty netter from Mangiapane with Findlay and Emile Poirier getting on the score sheet. A cheap point, but a point nevertheless.
I saw so many line combinations last night I could not keep up. I saw Foo with Lomberg, Poirier, Glass, Mangiapane, Findlay, Klimchuk, and Hrivik. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the line combos. I stopped writing down lines midway through the first. The only consistency was Huska being inconsistent.
I liked that Lomberg went back to wing, at least at the start. He had that extra step in his skate and went back to being that pest that gets under the opponent’s skin. When he was in the box after his fighting major, he was egging on the crowd to get louder.
I also liked the Hrivik, Shinkaruk, Klimchuk line. Shinkaruk has been playing better of late. He definitely seemed faster on his skates, but not out of control. He and Klimchuk were linemates last year and clicked well, and with Hrivik setting them up with crisp passes, they appear to have chemistry. But that lasted about a period with the hodgepodge of line combos from Huska.
With four goals in the last two games, Foo seems to have regained the confidence he lost when fighting his shot. As I stated in my report card, he needed to start shooting with purpose, not just fire randomly. He did that last night, only recording two shots while finding the basket once. When he did not have a shot, he passed instead of forcing the shot.
The defense continues to shine. During the second, I really focused on puck movement, checking, and the overall play of this group. Tyler Wotherspoon and Rasmus Andersson were so smooth in transition. They found the open area to dump the puck out of the zone or found the open forward to allow them to break out of the zone. They moved opposing forwards away from the crease. They were active in the O-zone. Even though neither registered a point last night, they generated five shots amongst them. This pair could easily be 5/6 (or 6/7) in Calgary today.
Goloubef was the “muscle” on the second pair, while Kylington was the speedster. Goloubef usually occupied the blue line, which allowed Kylington to pinch and join the rush. Goloubef was more physical than Kylington but also has about 20 pounds on him. In general, Goloubef has a heavy shot, while Kylington is more of a sniper.
Josh Healey and Yevenko made up the bottom pair last night. Both had some good hits. Both were active in their own zone. Healey quietly went about his business, not flashy, but gets the job done. Yevenko is definitely getting more acquainted with the system. He has increased his speed and puck handling skills. He used his size to bully opposing forwards away from the front of the net and even had a shot on goal last night. This was his best game of the year by far.
Ever since Eddie Lack arrived, it seems like Gillies has learned to control the puck more. He did not give up as many rebounds as normal last night and seemed to be in better position. It helped that the defense cleared the shooting lanes and moved players out of the slot. He still got beat top shelf twice. He can get away with that in the A, but until he corrects that flaw, he will never succeed in the NHL.
The Heat took over the top spot in the Pacific with the win in regulation, but Tucson has two games in hand. Stockton takes a five-game point streak on the road for the next seven games: their longest of the season. The upcoming road trip will have a huge influence on what to expect the remainder of the season from this team. They return to play on New Year’s Eve, but Mrs. Finest and I will be watching the Golden Knights take on the Maple Leafs at T-Mobile that day.
Lastly, as stated in the opening, it was “Win the Jersey Off the Players Back” night. Fans were able to purchase raffle tickets for $1 a piece and place them in the stocking of the player of their choice. You know if I am writing about it, I won one. So when Mrs. Finest and I come to Calgary in February, you can look for me wearing a signed #14 Andersson game-worn jersey (it doesn’t say Fat-Ras)!