A foggy day… in Stockton Town,
Time to focus… and buckle down.
Emile Poirier, Austin Carroll, and the Manitoba Moose made their only visit to Stockton this season to take on the 11-11-1 Heat for a pair of weekend games. The Moose are also hovering around the .500 mark, so every point is vital in the playoff race for both clubs.
FRIDAY, 12/7 – MANITOBA
On Friday, with Alan Quine as a scratch (due to an impending recall up to the Flames), the Heat iced a lineup featuring 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the first time I can remember. Jon Gillies was in net. Because the lines were in constant flux, here are the players as they hit the ice.
Dillon Dube saw some ice time at center during the game while Mike McMurtry spent a few shifts on the wing. Time for Cail MacLean to use Bill Peters’ blender.
The Heat got down early when Dube took a penalty 30 seconds into the contest. The Heat went down two men a minute later when Josh Healey went Moose hunting and laid a vicious elbow as Manitoba gained the zone. That cost the Heat a goal as, while they killed off Dube’s penalty, they could not clear the zone and the Moose struck for an early lead. Manitoba scored again with less than a minute left in the period when a turnover led to an odd-man rush and an open net goal.
For the third game in a row, the Heat were down after the first period. This is a trend they need to break.
This was one of the most uninspired, lackluster periods I have seen the Heat play to date. They were missing passes, skating slow, and were not in sync. On the two power plays they had in the period, I counted five times they were offsides. There was one power play where Manitoba had more offensive time in the Heat zone and generated more shots on goal. The difference between Mrs. Finest and I and the Heat: we showed up for the first period.
While the second period netted zero goals, the pace of play increased. Manitoba did its best to let the Heat back in the game but Stockton could not capitalize. They had over a minute on a 5 on 3 power play but could not beat Moose goalie Eric Comrie. Twice during the period the Heat went on the power play only to take a penalty themselves and neutralize their man advantage.
The third period saw the Heat finally break through, as Kerby Rychel continued his stellar play with a goal while trolling the front. Stockton appeared to tie things up about 30 seconds later when Spencer Foo went top shelf over Eric Comrie, but the whistle had blown a fraction of a second before for a Rychel hooking call. The Heat continued to press but could not find that elusive tying goal and the Herbivores skated away with two points.
Although Stockton outshot the Moose 42-16, they only generated a handful of high danger chances.
Buddy Robinson’s post-game quotes can be found here.
SATURDAY, 12/8 – MANITOBA
It was Military Appreciation night in Stockton. The Heat wore specialty jerseys in honor of those who served and are serving in the armed forces. While most of these jerseys were available by silent auction at the arena, there are a handful that are currently up for bid on eBay.
The Heat went back to a traditional 12/6 set up on Saturday, but MacLean jumbled the lines in the third period. To start the game, the lines looked like this:
Stockton came out faster than the night before. They generated more chances while defending better. They doubled up the shots in the first (14-7) but could not push one past the netminder.
The Heat drew first blood when Curtis Lazar, while on the penalty kill, took a Robinson pass, streaked down the left side, drove through the crease, and put the biscuit in the basket for his team-leading third shorthanded goal of the season. The Moose countered when Gillies kicked a shot to the faceoff circle and Manitoba buried the rebound far-side post to tie things up.
Stockton restored their one-goal advantage when Tyler Graovac intercepted a Moose clearing attempt and fed it to Glenn Gawdin. He skated towards the slot and found a wide open Rychel, who buried a one-timer where mom hides the cookies. Again, Manitoba answered on the power play. While on a five-minute power play courtesy of a Josh Healey elbow (two in two games? You are not in the WWE), a Moose shot from the point was kicked by Gillies directly to a waiting Moose player who deposited the puck in the open cage. The Heat managed to kill off the remaining penalty with no additional damage and headed to the dressing room tied at two.
With a close game, MacLean shortened his bench and brought out the blender in the third period:
Lazar played on every one of these lines. Scott Sabourin had a few shifts (and a penalty) while Jordan Ernst did not see the ice at all during the third. The period had a nervous feel to it by both teams. Play was calculated with very little risks taken. There were only a handful of shots from close range and both goalies made routine saves. Gillies made a nice save on a driving Moose just before Robinson took a late penalty for boarding. Stockton killed off the infraction and the teams skated to overtime with at least a point, giving the 4,100 in attendance some free hockey!
There was the usual back-and-forth play at the start of overtime. Midway through the extra session, Gillies gloved a snipe and, before the whistle could blow, he dropped it off to his defense and play continued. Because play was not stopped, it caught the Moose grazing with too many men on the ice and an overtime penalty ensued. Stockton took full advantage of the extra attacker when Dube found a wide open Andrew Nielsen, who blasted a one-timer from the top of the circle that bounced off the goalie and right to Lazar for the game winner with 17 seconds left.
I know I cannot control it, but the new way highlights and interviews are done is embarrassing. Missing Manitoba’s second goal on Saturday, plus the entire first and most of the third is inexcusable. This isn’t the first time goals were missed. Earlier in the year, there was a Rychel go-ahead goal that was not included on the highlights. I don’t know if this is controlled by the teams or the AHL in general. If the Heat have any input to this, someone in Calgary needs to get on the phone with Stockton management and demand better coverage, because messages from the fans are falling on deaf ears here.
Collectively, Stockton outshot Manitoba 88-45 over the weekend. Most of these shots were not high danger shots. The Moose goalies did a nice job of eating the puck and not allowing rebounds most of the time. Their defense also did a nice job of boxing out players like Rychel, Foo, and Matthew Philips.
My first impression of Andrew Nielsen was not favorable. On Friday, he looked slow and out of place. His defense was serviceable while his offense was invisible. He recorded a shot on goal, but I do not remember it. That changed in the second period on Saturday. He uncorked a bomb from the point that got through and knocked the goalie down as he made the save. He will get more ice time to develop his game.
Once the Flames get everyone back and decisions are made on who is sent to Stockton (my thought is Juuso Valimaki and Dalton Prout), the defense should become a playoff caliber unit. MacLean will have a tough choice on which of the eight defensemen he will use on a given night: Valimaki, Prout, Nielsen, Healey, Matt Taormina, Rinat Valiev, Adam Ollas-Mattsson, and Rob Hamilton. This doesn’t include Marcus Hogstrom, who has been on IR since the beginning of camp. If this collection of players are all on the Heat by the start of January, the playoffs are in reach.
Look who is returning next week? I spoke with Tyler Parsons in between periods on Friday night and asked him when he was returning. He said next week. Hopefully he can get more than seven games in this year.
With just over a third of the season completed, the Heat technically are in fourth place in the division, but they have played the most games of anyone in the Pacific. To compare, San Jose leads the west with 31 points while playing five fewer games than the Heat. Percentage-wise, they are tied for fifth with Ontario, who have three games in hand. Last year, San Jose claimed the final spot with 76 points. Stockton has 43 games left on their schedule. To get to 76 points, they would need 51 points out of a possible 86. They need to play .605 hockey the rest of the way to reach this mark (25-17-1). With two more games left on this home stand, at least three points is a must to start the push to the postseason.
Lastly, it is just under two months before Mrs. Finest and I invade Calgary and Vancouver (Feb. 7 vs. San Jose and Feb. 9 at Vancouver) to see the Heat, errrr, Flames play two. We are looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible before and after the games. In Calgary, we are planning to pre-game at Naina’s Kitchen for some stuffed burgers and poutine and gather afterwards at Jamison Pub on 17th. In Vancouver, we are meeting at Devil’s Elbow a few hours prior to puck drop and still open after the game (Yaletown Brewing???).