The Heat (4-6-1) returned to Stockton Arena Friday night on a two-game losing streak after dropping a 5-2 decision last Monday in San Jose. So far, this season has not started the way most fans anticipated, so a visit from the lowly Ontario Reign could be the perfect opponent to help right the ship.
Stockton was without the services of their team leader in points and alternate captain Andrew Mangiapane. The Heat released a statement Saturday disclosing a lower body injury that will keep him out a week. While Mangiapane was scratched, the Heat welcomed Alan Quine and Morgan Klimchuk back to the lineup.
With 4,187 in attendance, the Heat got off to a fast start. They shot early and often. Three minutes into the game, Oliver Kylington found Quine in the slot, who buried a wrister past the goalie for an early lead. Later in the period, Matthew Phillips picked up a loose puck and ripped a shot top shelf for his first goal of his pro career (and second point of the night). Stockton held Ontario to only five shots in the period, while peppering Ontario goalie Cal Petersen with 18 shots and a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
In the second, Quine repaid the favor and fed Kylington, whose backhander beat the goalie five-hole for a 3-0 lead. Ontario narrowed the gap with a shorthanded goal that beat Jon Gillies low blocker side. Stockton took a 3-1 lead into the locker room after the second.
The home team kept their foot on the pedal in the third. Like the first two periods, the Heat scored within the first five minutes of the period when Kylington netted his second of the game, this one over a diving netminder. Quine rounded out the scoring with his second of the night, an unassisted goal after a defensive steal. The Heat won by the score of 5-1 and outshot the Reign 46-22.
This was the most complete game I have seen this year. The Heat played well offensively, defensively, and on the penalty kill. The only downside was they went 0-4 on the power play.
Gillies is improving. After giving up four goals (two in a 17-second span) in San Jose Monday, he came back strong. On Friday, he was swallowing pucks and not allowing too many rebounds. The goal he gave up was a defensive breakdown that created a 2-on-1 rush. Instead of playing the shooter or the trailer, Kylington tried to do both, but did neither. I always thought in this situation, the lone defender takes away the passing lane to allow the goalie to focus on the player with the puck.
Phillips finally broke through to pot the first of his pro career. He continues to play bottom six minutes but I noticed him on the ice more each game. He spent time on the second power play unit and has seen time on the penalty kill. If he continues with his aggressive style of play, his TOI will increase.
Quine, formerly of the Stockton Thunder, looked like he hasn’t missed a beat after missing the last eight games with an injury. I like his chemistry with Kerby Rychel and Spencer Foo. Those three are not afraid of the front of the net, like to shoot, and are defensively sound. I hope Cail MacLean keeps this line together, which would put Klimchuk with Tyler Graovac and Phillips and leave Glenn Gawdin to center Ryan Lomberg and Brett Pollock.
Like last year’s defensive group, this team finally looks like it has a clear top five backend. Adam Ollas-Mattsson and Kylington are a solid team. Like the top line, Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev are an offensive/defensive minded pair. Josh Healey is penciled in on that bottom line with the sixth spot rotating between Michael Paliotta and Andrew O’Brien. As discussed at last week’s Coach’s Chalk Talk, Marcus Hogstrom won’t return until sometime late December.
WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT
The Heat hit the road for the next three games, starting Sunday to wrap up the home-and-home with Ontario before visiting Colorado for games on Tuesday and Wednesday. With back-to-back games in Loveland, CO, I think Nick Schneider will be in net for a game for the first time this year for Stockton. It would be interesting to see if Stockton has a backup that can spell Gillies for a game until Tyler Parsons returns. They return home Friday to host the Tucson Roadrunners.
You have questions; I have answers (I hope). I will be doing a “Stockton Heat Mailbag” to be published around American Thanksgiving (Nov. 22). You can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry, I do not do Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any type of social media. Remember that getting injury updates, player movements, and team information in the AHL is tough, so I will do my best to get answers on those topics.
Lastly, our February trip is now all set. Our tickets for the Flames/Sharks game on Feb. 7 are in Section 213. And yes, Mrs. Finest will be sporting her first season Sharks jersey for that game. For Saturday’s Flames/Canucks game in Vancouver, we are in Section 110. In Calgary, we are planning to pre-game at Naina’s Kitchen and possibly Trolley 5 after the game. In Vancouver, plans are to visit The Devil’s Elbow Ale and Smokehouse prior to puck drop. We are still looking for a post-game spot to celebrate a Flames win. Mrs. Finest and I hope to meet as many of you as possible.
[ed. note – Stockton’s Finest mentioned this to me and I just had to include it. On Oct. 6, 2017, he wrote his first post for this site. The very first picture he used? Him and Mrs. Finest with two NHLers, including a certain somebody who now has a big league shutout to his name. That’s awesome.]