The Heat came into this weekend with a critical home-and-home series against the hated San Jose Barracuda needing to either sweep or get three points to remain alive in the playoff race.
They had mostly followed the path that I laid out a few weeks ago:
- Get two out of four points in Manitoba – complete.
- Get a win against the last place Cleveland Monsters – FAIL (blown out 6-0 on home ice).
- Get four out of six points on the Texas road trip – complete (albeit an overtime point to Texas wasn’t on the list).
Over 5,200 fans showed up on Friday to help push their team towards the Calder Cup playoffs. What they witnessed was a team that did not play with the urgency required to accomplish the task at hand. San Jose took a 1-0 lead into the locker room after the first period. Stockton outshot the Barracuda eight to five, but most of those eight shots were from the point.
The second period was more of the same. San Jose netted two more goals, both on rebounds, before Mike McMurtry tickled the twine with a rebound goal of his own. After two, the home team was down 3-1 and looked defeated.
Less than a minute into the third, San Jose increased their lead back to three with a wicked slap shot from the circle. The Barracuda’s fifth goal sent about a third of the crowd home early with over seven minutes to play. Ryan Lomberg managed to score with just over three minutes left to provide a glimmer of hope, but the often tried, never successful, pulled goalie six-on-five attack resulted (again) in an empty net goal for San Jose. The Heat were outshot, outworked, and outplayed.
The only good news about Friday was that San Diego had lost (four points behind) and Texas lost in a shootout. Now the Heat needed six of the final eight points to even have a chance.
Saturday’s quick turnaround (an afternoon game) meant the Heat did not have time to dwell on their poor performance the night before. A San Jose goal that went off a Heat skate into the net was quickly answered when Oliver Kylington found the promised land to tie things up. Emile Poirier would light the lamp with five minutes remaining in the period and the Heat had a 2-1 lead after the first period. Even though Stockton was outshot 12-4, a lead is a lead.
Two goals in two minutes by the Barracuda midway through the second had them up after two periods. Colin Smith wristed a shot past the blocker to tie things up with 15 minutes left in the game. Three minutes later, San Jose started to seal the fate of the Heat’s playoff hopes with four unanswered goals. A slap shot that beat David Rittich blocker side, a two-on-one back side goal, another failed six-on-five empty net goal, and a forehand deke to cap off the afternoon sent Stockton home with thoughts of what could have been. San Jose outscored Stockton 13-5 in the two most important games of the season.
The Heat are still mathematically alive, needing to win all three of their remaining games: a home-and home against Ontario (a team they have not beaten this year) and another home game against San Jose. San Diego has to go without a point in their three games, all against league-leading Tucson, who has already clinched the top spot and will have a few players returning from the Coyotes, most notably Dylan Strome.
But based on this past weekend’s performances, the Heat will be playing out the string and making offseason plans.
Dillon Dube looked good, having some impact without scoring in Friday’s game. He missed a sure goal where he was parked in front, tipping a pass just wide of an open net. He was buzzing around the net looking for rebounds and making some good tape-to-tape passes. On Saturday, he recorded his first points: two assists, on the Kylington and Smith goals. I am looking forward to watching his last two home games to see what impact he can bring and what I can look forward to next year. In my opinion, he will need to start the season in Stockton to get acquainted with a faster and heavier game than the WHL. Once he has shown his skill set and sets the league on fire, he will be ready for a top six spot in Calgary, whether that is mid-season or as the first or second injury call up. With the way Calgary has handled past rookies, I doubt he will start the year with the Flames.
David Rittich is either hurt, trying a different style or method, or in his own head. He does not look like the same goalie that went 5-1-0 before his call up. Granted the team in front of him is a shell of what it once was, but he is still not as sharp as before. He’s 2-4-0-0 since his “demotion” allowing 24 goals on 145 shots for a .834 save percentage. I do not understand why Ryan Huska trotted him out so many times when there’s a goalie on the roster who has gone 4-1-0 in six games with a 1.55 GAA and a .949 save percentage (Ryan Faragher). Rittich needs to be shut down for the remainder of the year, get back mentally where he was before, come to camp in shape and ready to claim the backup role. Ideally, it would be nice for Rittich to play between 20 and 25 games next season, going 10-7-1-2 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.50 GAA.
Morgan Klimchuk did not play on Wednesday or Friday, but suited up on Saturday, recording an assist on Smith’s goal. I am not sure of the reason, as the AHL does not disclose the reason for the scratch.
The defense has been shaky ever since Rasmus Andersson has been called up. What was once the backbone of the team is now a soft spot. This group is having difficulties in clearing the zone, moving players away from the crease, finishing their checks, and cleaning up rebounds. Along with Andersson’s departure, injuries to Cody Goloubef and Dalton Prout, and Kylington’s recall, has left the lineup to field mostly bottom pair players for the past few weeks.
Tyler Wotherspoon has been the only constant, being paired with Oleg Yevenko for a few games and most recently Colby Robak. Yevenko is a disaster and should not see the ice for the remainder of the year. Robak has been a decent fit but the timing has been off a little. Kylington and Prout returned on Wednesday to help and Kayle Doetzel was recalled from Kansas City and provided decent minutes. Josh Healy has played a few games with nothing spectacular to report. Goloubef remains out and probably is done for the year.
Spencer Foo, Jon Gillies, and Andersson were sent down on Sunday. It will be nice to see these players again, as it may be their last time on the ice wearing Stockton Heat sweaters. Two of them should make the opening day roster for the Flames, while another one may be included in an offseason trade.
It was nice to see so many Stockton players in Calgary this season. Mark Jankowski looked to cement his role as a second line center, Brett Kulak a solid 4-6 defenseman, and Garnet Hathaway a good fourth line RW and PK forward. Call ups this season also included Andrew Mangiapane, Rittich, Lomberg, Klimchuk, Andersson, Foo, Gillies, and Kylington.
I plan on writing a Season in Review next week to provide my overall thoughts on the season, highlights and lowlights, player assessments, and who should be re-signed and who should fill out a change of address card for next season.