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Photo Credit: Mrs. Finest

Overtime games cool down the Stockton Heat

The Stockton Heat have cooled off a little over the past two weeks. After a blazing 6-1-0-1 start, Stockton has gone 1-1-1-1 over their past four, going to overtime in the first three games, with two of them going to a shootout. Heading into Monday’s matinee, the Heat found themselves third in the division, trailing Tucson by three points and Ontario by a point with games in hand.

(Editor’s note: all of these stats were from prior to Monday’s game.)

Channeling my best Skylardog imitation, here are some relevant team stats through the week ending Nov. 10 (and updating from my last post):

  • The Heat’s power play jumped from 25% to 29.4%, taking the top spot in the league while on the man advantage (15 goals on 51 chances).
  • The penalty kill has slipped from sixth to 11th, dropping from 86.6% to 84.4%, allowing 10 goals on 64 chances. While their 193 penalty minutes rank them 11th in the league in that category, the 64 short-handed opportunities rank second behind only Springfield. Stockton needs to stay out of the box.
  • Stockton dipped a little since the end of October, dropping from a +10 goal differential to a +8, netting 47 goals while allowing 39.
  • While the team has scored two short-handed goals (Buddy Robinson and Dillon Dube), it has surrendered three shorties.
  • The team suffered its first road loss in regulation on Saturday in Tucson. The Heat are now 5-1-0-1 on the road while 2-1-1-1 at home.

Pay it forward

Offensively, scoring has been balanced. The Heat have seven players with at least 10 points, which puts them in the top 50 with scoring in the league. Glenn Gawdin paces the team with 13 points, putting him in the top ten. 21 of the 24 skaters who have laced up for the Heat this year have at least a point. Luke Philp (10 games), Martin Pospisil (6 games), and Jake Christiansen (3 games) are still searching for that initial point. (Editor’s note: Philp got his first points in Monday’s matinee.) Pospisil is still out on concussion protocol.

Robinson still leads the team in goals with eight, followed by captain Byron Froese with six. Gawdin and Justin Kirkland are tied with nine helpers each. Stockton sports five players with a point-a-game average or better, lead by Gawdin’s 1.08. Kirkland is at a point per game. The other three are either in Calgary (Alan Quine – 1.25; Brandon Davidson – 1.0) or just returned from Calgary (Oliver Kylington 1.50). Ryan Lomberg and Robinson are just short of that magic number, both at 0.92. The Heat have 13 players at a half-a-point or greater. Eetu Tuulola leads all rookies on the team with six points and four lamp-lighters, while Adam Ruzicka’s three helpers lead the freshman class.

A fast start for Eetu

The defense rests

The defense is allowing an average of an extra shot a game over these last two games, increasing from just under 26 shots a game to just under 27. With Davidson’s call up, Kylington was paired with Rob Hamilton for the pair of games in Tucson. Andrew Nielsen was paired with Zac Leslie on Friday and did not dress on Saturday, being replaced by Christiansen. The Russian duo of Rinat Valiev and Alexander Yelesin remains intact and are playing well. A quintuplet of defensemen (Davidson, Leslie, Valiev, Hamilton) are tied for second on the team with a +3, with Nielsen and Yelesin close behind at +2. The only defensemen in the minus column are Christensen (-1), Corey Schueneman (-1), and Kylington (-2).

Surfing the net

Goaltending has been solid so far this November, but a seven spot will do damage to anyone’s goals-against average. Jon Gillies is cruising along with a shootout win, a shootout loss, and was saddled with the loss in relief on Saturday. Until allowing four in 44 minutes, he had not surrendered more than two goals in regulation or overtime. His 2.21 GAA jumped from last report but is still good for 15th in the league and his .916 SV% lands him in 19th. He has faced the most shootout attempts (23) and, as one would guess, he has allowed the most shootout goals (8). For reference, he has faced 10 more shootout attempts than any other netminder.

Artyom Zagidulin has played in two games, registering an overtime loss and was replaced in Tucson after allowing three goals on 13 shots in fifteen minutes. He was robbed of a victory against Tucson when a late minute goal by Gawdin was disallowed and not reviewed because the replay iPad was not working (yes, this happens in the AHL). As the season is progressing, his GAA is increasing (3.70) and his SV% is dipping (.874%). Even with those numbers, he is 5-1-1 which is good for sixth in wins.

Butterfly Zags

The eye test – views from section 109

Now that I am done with the numbers, here is the real insight: what do they actually look like on the ice.

  • This team does not quit. After being down three goals in Tucson, the team fought back and outplayed the Roadrunners for the final 35+ minutes, outscoring them 6-4 and outshooting them 30 to 11. They were a redirection and breakaway from taking at least a point.
  • The team still has an obsession with rink-wide, east/west passes, even when they have room to skate it out of their zone or into the offensive zone. Playing army hockey (left, right, left, right) is frustrating, as most of the time it leads to a turnover and a shot on our net.
  • The new wrinkle this season is trying to thread the needle on the homerun pass up the middle. I think that pass has connected once this season with no success. This play usually results in either a turnover in the neutral zone or icing. Trying to hit a streaking player through what appears to be both team’s full rosters, including scratches, is futile.
  • Gillies has been playing more in front of his cage and standing up more. He has been challenging shooters, coming out to cut down on the shooting angle. This is a continuation from last season’s wake up call in February. Since that time, he has gone 12-6-3 with a .915 SV% and 2.50 GAA. His career numbers also reflect the change, as he is 2.94 GAA and .906 SV % while sporting a 55-52-17-7 record.
Gillies controlling the rebound
  • Froese and Lomberg spend a lot of time during stoppages in play to chat up the refs. Last season I saw Curtis Lazar do that a few times, but never more than once a game and usually not in consecutive games. The over/under per game that Froese meets with the refs is three, with an additional two or three times from Lomberg.
Swimming with the fishes
  • The league does not track hits, but this team is more physical than last season. Alex Gallant is not afraid to drop mitts with anyone. Zac Rinaldo packs a punch. Even Buddy Robinson jumped into a fight a few games ago. The one guy who has backed off: Ryan Lomberg. He only has two roughing calls and no major fighting penalties so far this season. Now that he is on the top line, playing both power play and penalty kill, and wearing a letter, he is refining his game to become a more well-rounded player.
Gallant with the fist-a-cuffs

The Heat host San Diego Gulls on Monday afternoon, Veteran’s Day in the United States (a game we can’t attend as Mrs. Finest and I both have to work). The Gulls bring a four-game winning streak into the Arena after dropping their initial six games to start the season. (Editor’s note: The Heat won 6-3.)

Next Friday Tucson comes back to wrap up the 4-in-5 games against the Heat. On Saturday, Stockton welcomes San Jose for the second meeting of the year against the Barracuda. After that, it’s to the bus for the remainder of the month and the Heat’s longest road trip of the season. The five game roadie starts in Bakersfield and continues to San Diego and Ontario before winding up with two against Colorado.