The Stockton Heat came into the second weekend of play looking for their first victory of the season (0-1-1-0). The weekend consisted of a road game against Ontario for the Reign’s home opener and then the bus ride back to Stockton to face San Jose.
FRIDAY 10/12 – ONTARIO
On Friday, the Heat were in Ontario to face their home opener foe, the Reign. Listening to the game via the Heat app, Stockton struck first with a power play goal from Curtis Lazar. Thirty seconds later Oliver Kylington took a hooking penalty which led to Ontario tying things up. Ontario added two more goals to take a 3-1 lead before Kylington made up for his mistake when he got one past the Reign’s netminder to bring the Heat within a goal at the end of the first period.
No goals were scored in the middle frame. Midway through the third period, Ontario took a 4-2 lead. Things were looking bleak, but Kylington fought back and beat the goalie top shelf to pull back within one. The defenseman was not finished, as he blasted a shot from the blue line that Tyler Graovac tipped on its way to the back of the net to knot the score at four.
Like six days prior but in opposite fashion, the Heat fought back to take the game to overtime, where Graovac took the puck deep in his own zone, skated past the defenders, and buried a wrister 46 seconds into the extra period for the first win of the season.
SATURDAY 10/13 – SAN JOSE
After spending the night in Ontario, Stockton took the six-hour bus ride up Highway 99 to face the hated San Jose Barracuda.
Tyler Parsons got the nod in net, as Jon Gillies notched his first victory of the season the day before. The game got off to a spirited start with some good hits and guys finishing their checks but not many shots on net from either team. San Jose struck twice 40 seconds apart late in the first to take a two-goal lead to the locker room.
The Barracuda struck midway through the second on another blocker side goal. The Heat countered when Graovac found a wide-open Lazar for an easy tap-in on a two-man advantage power play. The Heat were still down by two heading to the third.
The Heat started to press in the third. It looked like the wind was sucked out of their sails when a defensive breakdown led to a partial breakaway and a 4-1 lead just a minute into the period. The Heat continued to battle though and were finally rewarded with a dirty goal by Kerby Rychel. They drew to within one when Rychel struck again with a goal by the side of the net (have I ever mentioned that good things happen when you crash the net??).
The Barracuda pushed their lead back to two with a power play goal. A minute later, Rychel earned his hattie with a greeeeasy goal in front on the power play to bring the good guys back to within a goal. I left Mrs. Finest hanging for the high-five celebration within our section while I “ran” four sections to throw my hat. Sad to say that mine was the first lid to find the ice. After my initial toss, maybe about a dozen more caps found the playing surface.
The Heat kept pressing and found themselves with a power play with 1:41 left. After a timeout, Cail MacLean decided to go for broke and pulled the goalie for a six-on-four power play. To my knowledge, in Heat history, pulling the goalie has only resulted in goals against. For all of the games we have attended, Stockton has never scored with the goalie pulled. Saturday was no exception. After trying to look for the perfect shot, a turnover led to an empty net shorthanded goal and sent the home team to another loss.
On a night when the Heat were buzzing in front of the net, scored three times in the third, and had San Jose on their heels, it was a time to just fire pucks towards the net and see what could happen. Rychel and Spencer Foo both were in front looking for a rebound. I know hindsight is 20/20, but with the momentum that the Heat had, I would have started that power play with Parsons still in net and only pulled him with a minute left.
WEEKEND AFTERTHOUGHTS AND TAKEAWAYS
Amazingly, Friday night was the first multi-goal game in Kylington’s pro career.
Rychel becomes the fifth Heat player with a hat trick, joining Mark Jankowski, Hunter Shinkaruk, Foo, and Brett Pollock.
Defense. What was a strength last year is a huge liability so far this year. I do not know why Matt Taormina nor Marcus Hogstrom have not dressed yet. I heard that Rinat Valiev is having visa issues that is keeping him from joining the team. Hopefully they can come in and take charge of this group. Kylington and Adam Ollas-Mattsson are currently top pair. These two would be better served as middle pair.
Kylington should be better defensively, especially since he is entering his fourth professional year. Offensively, he is fine; maybe the organization should “Brent Burns” him and move him to forward. AOM is steady, but not a top line guy. Andrew O’Brien and Brady Austin as middle pair are okay. Nothing fancy. Probably a good bottom pair. Josh Healey and Cliff Watson should be in the ECHL.
If you take away Friday’s three-point outburst by Kylington, this group has a total of two points (O’Brien goal and Watson assist). The defensive unit is a combined minus six after Saturday’s game. What I would give to have Tyler Wotherspoon, Cody Goloubef, Brett Kulak, or even Dalton Prout down here to solidify this group.
Here are a few pictures that Mrs. Finest took showing some of the traffic Parsons faced in the second period.
Goaltending is still a major concern. Through the first four games, Gillies has a .831 SV% (77 shots / 64 saves) and a 5.06 GAA while Parsons is sporting a disappointing .767 SV% (43/33) and 6.91 GAA. As mentioned above, the defense needs to tighten up and not allow as many odd-man rushes. But these two need to stop more shots. Gillies still has a top-side hole (both glove and stick) that he needs to close and Parsons needs to settle down a bit. He looks jumpy to me.
With both Gillies and Parsons, I wonder if the problem is with them or the system. Both of these goalies came out of the amateur ranks with success and high marks, but they have both floundered so far as professionals. Is that because the system being played limits their natural ability, or is it because their personal styles do not fit the scheme? I do not know the answer to that, but it needs to be addressed.
These show Parsons and his positioning.
Curtis Lazar looks happy and his play reflects that. He has scored two goals and has an assist in three games. He is getting top line minutes and plays on both power plays and penalty kills. He has been teamed with Andrew Mangiapane and they have built some chemistry. Pollock has been their primary right wing, but Buddy Robinson and Rychel have also spent time there. I think they play better with Rychel, as he brings some grit to that line.
Matthew Phillips is a little snake bitten. Saturday night he had a partial breakaway that hit the crossbar. He had four official SOG over the weekend, but he fired more than that. I feel like once he breaks the seal, he won’t look back. He sat for the home opener, but since he was inserted back into the lineup, continues to drive the net looking for that initial tally.
MacLean seems to continue to tinker with lines. I also noticed last night that he shortened his bench. In the third, I did not see much of Pollock, Glenn Gawdin, or Mike McMurtry. He also continued the five-forward power play unit. This week saw the top PP unit as Lazar, Rychel, and Pollock down low with Foo and Mangiapane on the point. That unit was on every power play. I wonder if this is because MacLean doesn’t have a true defensive QB, like Rasmus Andersson last year, on the backend or if he is just trying to generate more shots. Either way I like it.
It is early, but so far I have been disappointed with Robinson. He has two assists through four games. For a guy that had 53 points last year in Manitoba and 31 points between Binghamton and San Jose the year before, he has not been memorable. Maybe a phone call from Johnny Gaudreau will get him started.
The Heat (1-2-1-0) now have the week to get ready for a home-and-home series with these same Barracuda next weekend. Saturday they are home before taking the 90-minute bus ride for a Sunday afternoon tilt at the Tank.
If you are coming to town and need tickets, or have questions that you don’t want to post in the comments, you can contact me at [email protected]. I do not do social media.