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Stockton Heat lose weekend set to Ontario Reign

The Heat returned to the Stockton Arena for their last two home games of January. Heading into the weekend series with the Ontario Reign, the Heat were 2-2-0-1 in their own barn. Stockton has failed to beat the Reign this year, going 0-2-1, all on the road.

It was also Teddy Bear Toss on Saturday.

The Heat were coming into Friday’s tilt on the heels of back-to-back shutouts by Jon Gillies. On Wednesday, Andrew Mangiapane and Marek Hrivik made their one-game return to help the good guys beat the San Jose Barracuda 2-0. Mangiapane scored both goals (the last one an empty netter) while Hrivik led the team with three shots on goal. After that game, it was back to Calgary for them, while Ryan Lomberg, who was called up last Saturday, remained in town. With Wednesday’s win, Stockton remained in second place in a very tight Pacific Division.

JAN. 19: ONTARIO (GAME 1)

Everyone knew Gillies was going to be in net, but what would Ryan Huska do with the lines? He has changed them every game for the past month, trying to find chemistry between linemates. Here is what he sent out on Friday:

Lomberg Findlay Foo
Poirier McMurtry Klimchuk
Shinkaruk Pelley Cramarossa
Gazdic Nowick Carroll
Wotherspoon Andersson
Kylington Goloubef
Prout Robak
Gillies

The Heat scored first when the puck went off Lomberg’s skate in the crease and bounced past the goalie. The helpers went to Spencer Foo and Rasmus Andersson. That was the bright spot for the night. The Reign tied it up with less than two minutes left in the first when the Heat turned the puck over in their own zone and Ontario followed up a shot with a rebound goal, putting an end to Gillies’ shutout streak at 154:50.

In the second, Stockton was outworked and outplayed. They gave up two power play goals on 18 shots. The first one was a nice shot low to the far post, but Gillies was partially screened when Colby Robak pushed his man through the crease. Gillies was not happy with him, as can be seen on the highlights after the goal is scored. The second goal went off of Robak’s skate and redirected into the net.

Two five-on-three goals in the first three minutes of the third chased Gillies from the net. Enter Tyler Parsons, who steadied the ship the remainder of the game. However, he wasn’t tested that much, only facing five shots. The damage had been done.

A late goal by Hunter Shinkaruk made the final 5-2. Ontario outshot Stockton 39-25. The Reign went four-of-five on the power play while the Heat failed to capitalize on four man advantage opportunities. I will talk about the horrible officiating in my Weekend Thoughts, as the same crew worked both games and were awful.

JAN 20: ONTARTIO (GAME 2)

When Gillies got pulled early in the third period of Friday’s game, everyone knew he would be back in net on Saturday. Huska also made a few adjustments, sitting Robak and Darrin Nowick, and inserting Josh Healey and Brett Pollock into the lineup.

Lomberg Findlay Foo
Poirier McMurtry Klimchuk
Gazdic Pollock Shinkaruk
Carroll Pelley Cramarossa
Wotherspoon Andersson
Kylington Goloubef
Prout Healey
Gillies

It was the annual Teddy Bear Toss on Saturday. The game had “bearly” started when the “reign” of stuffed animals found their way to the ice. Brett Findlay scored on a rebound from Foo 19 seconds into the game. It was the fastest goal for a Teddy Bear Toss in Stockton history (Heat and Thunder).

Two minutes later (of game time), ex-Heat forward Jamie Devane beat Gillies stick side high (my computer’s keys are getting worn out by typing “beat high side” every update) to tie it up.

The Heat had a golden opportunity to retake the lead when they had a five-on-three of their own, but a phantom interference call on Foo reduced that to a four-on-three a minute into the penalties. Shots were primarily taken from beyond the dots with little or no presence in front. The Heat did play their best period in recent weeks, outshooting Ontario 19-10, but were outshot 8-2 in the final four minutes.

In the second, the Heat reverted back to their recent past, allowing a goal (high glove side) and being outshot again 16-8. Their lone power play effort of the period was wiped out 40 seconds into the man advantage.

In the third, Ontario cashed in on their fifth power play attempt of the night when a rebound was put back into an empty net, making it 3-1 bad guys. Stockton got their second five-on-three chance in the game, but did not score as they continued to play the “Umbrella” power play and passes were mostly across the top, looking for that one golden opening which never came. Later in the period, Cody Goloubef blasted a shot from the point that beat the goalie low glove side to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Reign responded less than two minutes later on the power play after Oliver Kylington shot the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. Ninety seconds later, Foo got a rebound on a blocked Kylington shot to close the gap once again to a single goal. But that was all of the scoring for the night as the Heat bowed to the Reign 4-3 and get swept on home ice. Stockton fell to fourth place in the Pacific, just .002 points ahead of the Reign, with a game in hand.

THIS WEEK’S THOUGHTS

When you watch the highlights, pay attention to the front of the net and where the shots are being generated. Ontario lived in front of the net on the power plays while you could hardly locate a Stockton player anywhere near the blue paint. This is exactly why I posed the question to Cail MacLean (I corrected it…) during last week’s Chalk Talk.

The Heat went 0-for the weekend on the power play. Even with two five-on-three opportunities, they could not get one past Ontario’s net minders. In nine games in 2018, Stockton has scored twice in 30 power play attempts while giving up nine goals in 33 attempts. They rank 21st in the AHL in power play percentage at 16% and 24th in penalty kill at 80.2% for the year. That will not win very many games. Here’s an idea, start parking players in front, screen the goalie, and take target practice. Just like the first goal of Saturday’s game, rebounds make easy goals (can you tell I am frustrated???).

Can you take a guess where Gillies was beat the most this weekend? Yup, top side. I had two season ticket holders in my section, along with Mrs. Finest, look at me and say “high side” after three of the four goals on Saturday. More and more people are noticing that about Gillies. If I am noticing that from eight rows up in the stands, you know the word is out there in every scouting report. That is the main area he needs to fix before he ever gets another shot in Calgary, or the NHL in general. There are many of us who want this kid to succeed.

In the last two games he was in, Robak was by far the worst defender on the team. He continued his shaky play with not boxing out, being in the wrong position, and failing to clear pucks from the zone. When Goloubef goes to the Olympics, I wonder if Huska will continue to play him or if Adam Ollas-Mattsson will be reinserted in the lineup. I believe that Huska will team Healey with Kylington for the second pair and it will be a crapshoot for the third defensive pairing.

Foo and Lomberg were the best players for the home team this weekend. Both brought energy, played with purpose, and worked both ends of the ice. Both scored while Foo added two assists for a three-point weekend. Foo is now fourth on the team (active roster) in points while Lomberg has increased his point total since moving back to wing a month ago.

I will get a lot of comments on this, but I believe Kylington has regressed this year from last year. Even though he has 19 points (2-17) to date, his shooting percentage is 4% and he has no power play goals. His defense has not improved from last year, as he continues to make ill-advised passes which lead to odd-man rushes for the other team. Although he only has 12 penalty minutes, I would say most of Goloubef’s 50 minutes of box time are a direct effect from Kylington’s miscues. He is a +5, which is the lowest of the top four defensemen. His regular partner Goloubef is a +9, while Wotherspoon leads the defense with a +21 and Andersson is a +15.

I know fans blame the officiating when their team loses, but some of the calls this weekend were outrageous and put the Heat at a disadvantage. Examples of some bad calls:

  • Foo starts to skate up the middle of the ice where he gets bumped and goes down. So what was the call? An interference call on Ontario and a “diving/embellishment” call on Foo. Hmmm, you get knocked off your skates and then sent to the box.
  • Lomberg goes behind the net and gets a stick in the face right in front of the zebra and no call. There was another non-call when an Ontario player was holding his stick for what seemed to be about 10 seconds behind the net, again in front of the blind mice.
  • Shinkaruk cuts across the middle of the ice and hits a Reign player. Legal hit. But two minutes later (I do not exaggerate here), he gets a four-minute high stick call.

The Heat are off to Austin to face the Texas Stars for a pair next weekend. Let’s hope they stay perfect on the road in January (1-0-0-0) to offset the 2-4-0-1 January home record.

The Heat return home on Feb. 2 for a home-and-home series against the Barracuda. Mrs. Finest and I will be attending both of those games, as a group is planning a roadie to invade the Shark Tank.