This weekend Stockton Heat played a home-and-home series with the San Jose Barracuda after splitting a pair of games last weekend in Texas. The Heat came into the weekend having slipped to fifth in the ever-tightening Pacific Division, where the distance between second and seventh place is a mere .047%.
FEB. 2 – SAN JOSE (GAME 1)
The only constant with Coach Ryan Huska’s lines is the top defensive pair of Rasmus Andersson and Tyler Wotherspoon. Other than that, I have to wait to see who goes on the ice with whom. Again I list the lines like I would think they would be numbered, especially with Marek Hrivik and Rod Pelley’s lines.
Not much to talk about this game. The team came out flat and stayed there the entire time. San Jose scored first with a rebound shot over the stick of Jon Gillies. In the second, the Barracuda found the top glove side open again and scored in the first minute. About 40 seconds later, on an uncontrolled rebound, a shot over the sprawled-out Gilles ended his night.
Enter Tyler Parsons, who finished the night going a perfect nine for nine in save opportunities. But the damage was done and the Heat could not find an opening in the San Jose netminder and lost 3-0. Stockton outshot the Barracuda 30 to 20, and some of those were prime scoring chances.
FEB. 3 – @ SAN JOSE (GAME 2) ROAD TRIP
Huska once again changed his forward lines while keeping the defense intact. Notably absent from the weekend were Oliver Kylington and Luke Gazdic.
Gazdic was at the rink on Friday signing autographs during periods while Kylington was nowhere to be seen. At the beginning of the year he missed the weekend because he was sick. This time? Hmmm…
The Heat came out noticeably faster and more focused than the night before. I don’t know if that had to do with Parsons in net (the Rittich effect in Calgary) or if they were looser since they weren’t at home.
A spirited opening frame led to a scoreless first period. Both teams had some opportunities but were turned away by the goalies.
Austin Carroll got the Heat on the board first with a very Mark Jankowski deke around the San Jose goalie. With that goal, it became the first time Parsons had played with a lead for the Heat.
That lead lasted just over six minutes when the Barracuda scored on a tip in front on the power play. Parsons had no chance. But just a minute later, Emile Poirier, coming on late after a line change, took a breakaway and had enough power to get the puck past the partially blocked shot and into the net. The Heat took a 2-1 lead into the third period.
The Heat did something I haven’t seen in a long time: they dictated play and went for the kill in the third. They played aggressive but simple hockey. They made north-south passes and kept pressure on San Jose throughout the period.
With about seven minutes to go, Carroll made a nice feed through two Barracuda players to find Morgan Klimchuk open in the crease for a tap in goal for a 3-1 lead. On the play, Carroll hit the boards hard and had to be helped off the ice. He did not return. The highlights show a pretty good angle of it (even though the substitute Heat announcer doesn’t even acknowledge it).
Hrivik added an empty netter to increase the lead to three goals. San Jose converted a late power play that made the final score 4-2 and gave Parsons his first AHL win and second star of the night. Poirier and Hrivik earned first and third stars, respectively, but I thought it should have been Carroll and Klimchuk, who both had two-point nights.
THIS WEEKEND’S THOUGHTS
Parsons was fantastic. He saved 41 of 43 shots in his four+ periods and both of those goals were tipped in front. He plays an aggressive style of net, coming pretty far out of his crease to cut down the angles on approaching players. He does need to work on his rebound control, but so did Rittich when he first got to Stockton. Both of those guys (Parsons and Rittich) are very active and have a similar style and feel to their game. There was one play on Saturday in particular that stood out to me. A San Jose player had the puck and was moving from left to right in front of the net. Parsons tracked him the entire way across the crease and did not allow an open look to the shooter, who never got a shot off.
With 26 games remaining, I could envision Parsons getting 10 starts, maybe more. Huska may have a hard choice ahead of him. Does he go with his normal “ride the hot goalie” or does he toe the company line and get Gillies as many starts as possible? The quick hook on Friday may lend the answer to that one.
I am glad that I have been able to watch Andersson play this long into the season with the Heat. He should, by all rights, be in Calgary. His game has escalated even from the start of the season, as he’s playing deeper on both ends of the ice. I cannot remember a time last year when he would carry the puck deep into the offensive zone, play the offensive corners actively, and get in front of the net that often. It is like he is playing forward recently. I believe his all-star experience, and a 101.5 MPH shot, have empowered him to do more offensively.
Spencer Foo’s game has grown over the past few months. Named the AHL Player of the Week, he is the only one who consistently is parked in front of the net. He led the team with four shots on Friday and seven on Saturday. His defensive play has stepped up as the season progressed. On Saturday, he out-skated a Barracuda player that turned into a breakaway chance. That was the fastest I have seen him skate this year.
Foo is on both the power play and penalty kill. He has a game comparable to what Andrew Mangiapane was last year at this time. I can easily see him competing for a spot on the Flames in camp next season, being sent down to Stockton, and being the first injury call up. He needs to gain a little weight, as he is listed at 6’0” and 190 lbs, but looks smaller than that.
Carroll’s game over the weekend also took a huge step forward. It appears he has regained that fire he had last year. He has been moving up the lines as of late and it has paid off. This weekend he had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick: a fight on Friday, a goal and an assist on Saturday (I know it needs to be all in one game, but help a brother out). I just hope that hit into the boards doesn’t sideline hit too long. He was on the ice for a good four minutes and had to be helped to the locker room by staff.
Lastly, this was Mrs. Finest and my first road trip with the Heat (calling a 90-minute bus trip to San Jose a roadie is a stretch). I know attendance at the Stockton Arena has been a sore point all season, but the Barracuda do not draw as well either. Total attendance on Friday at Stockton was 3,100. On a Saturday, when the Sharks were not playing, they drew 4,600. The entire top bowl was covered and there were lower sections that only had five or six rows open.
Stockton dropped to sixth place in the Pacific with a 21-16-2-3 record as they head to play Grand Rapids next Saturday and Milwaukee on Sunday. They return home on the 16th and 17th for another weekend against San Jose.