Photo Credit: Mrs Finest

Stockton heating up heading into December

As we change the calendar in anticipation of Santa’s visit, here is a look back at the month of November for the Stockton Heat.

Coming off a 6-1-0-1 October, which they were tied for the top spot, Stockton leaves turkey month in a solid second place with a 13-4-1-2. In 12 November games, the Heat went 7-1-0 against their opponents not named Tucson. Against the first place Roadrunners, the Heat went 0-2-1-1.

Moving bodies away from the front of the net

Team stats

  • As of Dec. 1, the Heat rank fifth in the league in points with 29 and winning percentage (.725).
  • The Flames affiliate is third in the league on the power play, clicking at 26.8% (22 goals on 82 opportunities) while allowing four short-handed goals against.
  • The penalty kill ranks fifth, allowing 12 goals on 93 opportunities while netting two shorties of their own.
  • The Men in Red have provided extra hockey six times in 20 games, earning eight points by going 2-1-1-2.
  • Matthew Phillips leads the team in points (21) which ranks him 13th in the league. He also ranks first in assists (14), good for eighth in the league.
  • Buddy Robinson and Ryan Lomberg pace the team in goals with 10 each, putting them in an eight-way tie for 13th in the league.
  • Rob Hamilton takes the top spot in +/- with a +9 which slots him 24th in the league with 10 others.
  • Alan Quine leads the team with a 1.33 PPG and a top 10 slot in the league (sixth amongst those who have played five or more games).
  • Artyom Zagidulin slots in the fourth spot with nine wins on the season.
  • Jon Gillies ranks 22nd league-wide with a 2.68 GAA and 27th with a .903 SV%
  • 24 of the 29 players that have suited up for the Heat this year have at least one point, including netminder Zagidulin, who earned an assist against Ontario.
  • Including the players that are currently in Calgary, 14 different players have lit the lamp for the Heat so far this season.

The Calgary shuttle service

Currently there are two players who started in Stockton and are currently on the Flames roster. Dillon Dube took his 13 Heat points (4-9) in 13 games to Calgary and is solidly planted on the third line, chipping in two goals to date for the Flames. Zac Rinaldo had seven assists for the Heat but has yet to register a point for Calgary in his three games. Alexander Yelesin has yet to make his NHL debut, getting NHL money and practice ice time while eating fresh popcorn on game nights. He was just sent back down on Sunday.

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Oliver Kylington came down for three games, scored a hat trick in the 7-6 loss to Tucson, went -2 in those trio of contests, and was summoned back to Calgary.

Alan Quine went to Calgary for nine games, score a goal, and was sent back down. He has points in seven of the nine games he has suited up for the Heat. Brandon Davidson did not score in the three games he wore the Flamin’ C. He has registered a point in the last two games since his return from the Great White North.

Doctor, doctor

The Heat have played through a few key injuries in November. Eetu Tuulola missed four games with an upper body injury. He returned to the lineup in Ontario for the last three games on the road trip, scoring in all three contests. Captain Byron Froese has missed the last three games. Martin Pospisil is still out with an upper body injury.

The supporting cast

Luke Philp leads the rookie class, finding the back of the net six times while playing bottom six minutes. Adam Ruzicka is getting more comfortable while slowly building his point total (3-5-8). Mason Morelli has four points (2-2) in ten games. Matthew Gaudreau has been noticeable in his four games. While he has not scored on his seven shots, he has played with speed and vigor.

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The main attraction

In order to be a contender, the top players need to lead. This season, the Heat top six are doing just that. The top six scorers for the Heat are Phillips (7-14-21), Lomberg (10-9-19), Glenn Gawdin (7-12-19), Buddy Robinson (10-7-17), Justin Kirkland (3-13-16), and Froese (9-6-15). Kirkland has centered the top line of Lomberg and Phillips during Froese’s injury, registering a goal and assist in three games. Quine (2-10-12) has been floating between the second and third line, playing on Philp’s wing. He had seven points (1-6) on the five-game road trip while helping Philp record five points (3-2) during that timeframe.

Defense wins championships

At one point, the Heat were missing their top two defensemen for a stretch of games with Davidson and Yelesin in Calgary. To fill those spots, Stockton called up Corey Schueneman from Kansas City and signed 20-year old Jake Christiansen to a PTO. Schueneman comes to Stockton after a 4-year college career at Western Michigan. He is signed to a one-year AHL contract. Christiansen played 4 years in the WHL for Everett. He has yet to register a point in his nine games for Stockton, while playing bottom pair minutes.

I got your back, Johnny Hockey’s brother

The Heat were forced to ice an all left-handed defensive squad during Yelesin’s time in Calgary, as he is their only right-handed shot. He has been returned to Stockton to presumably be reunited with Rinat Valiev. Davidson (2-10) and Zac Leslie (4-8) lead the way with 12 points each. Not counting Kylington, only two blueliners are in the negative category: Yelesin at -2 and Christiansen at -4. The defense has concentrated on clearing the puck away from the front of the net and making the smart pass out of the zone. There has been a slight uptick in shots against, now allowing just over 29 shots against a game (581 shots against in 20 games).

Net neutrality

Zagidulin is now 9-1-1 in 12 appearances with a lofty 3.61 GAA and .879 SV%. While leading 8-1, he allowed 4 goals in the last 10 minutes against Ontario. He needs to remain focused for 60 minutes. He reminds me of David Rittich when he first played in Stockton, getting used to the North American ice and play. He comes out to the top of his crease more to challenge shooters. He has an active stick and handles the puck well. He has been given the hook twice this season, both in the first 15 minutes of the game and allowing three or more goals.

Gillies wins (or at least earns a point) when he holds the opposing team to three goals or less. He is playing much better than in the past, as his numbers reflect (2.68 GAA and .903 SV%). He has moved further away from his net and has better rebound control. He has yet to be yanked this season. In my opinion, he plays better with someone pushing him for his cage.

Better positioning for Gillies

Put me in, coach

Cail MacLean keeps pushing the right buttons. He has blended the lineups with both experience and newcomers. He continues to keep Andrew Nielsen with an experienced partner (Davidson, Leslie), puts Philp with Quine, keeps Tuulola with Froese, Kirkland, or Robinson, and rotates the netminders to keep them fresh. When Davidson was called up, he ran out five forwards on power play unit 1 and had Leslie quarterbacking PP2. He doesn’t mix lines in-game that much, although I have witnessed him shortening his bench in tight games. He has rolled out an 11 forward / seven defensemen lineup on a few occasions so far this season. The team has become more disciplined recently, lowering their penalty minutes and ranking 16th in the league in PIM.

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Final thoughts

  • This team is so fun to watch. The comeback win against San Jose, where Kirkland scored with 17 seconds left, was one of the best games I have seen to date.
  • The on-ice leadership this team has in place with Froese as captain and Lomberg and Davidson (Robinson while Davidson was in Calgary) has helped guide this team. I have seen these four direct traffic, chat up referees, and lead by example more than in past years. They appear to have the respect of the team. The past captains have always been on the back end of their career and always in a bottom six role. None were as vocal and present as this group. Good on MacLean to recognize their leadership qualities and put them in positions to not only succeed but assist the future NHLers in their quest for a full-time position in the NHL.
  • Last season, the Heat were 11-10-1-0 through November. December was not friendly, as Stockton only won three times in 10 games in the jolliest of months (3-5-2). The way this team is playing, expectations of a merrier Christmas are in order.

While October was the BoAoC (Bakersfield) Month and November the Tucson Two-Step, December is “Do you know the way to beat San Jose” month, with four games against the hated Barracuda. A Saturday matinee game at the SAP Center for the first of a home-and-home set may be in the works for Mrs. Finest and I. New Year’s will be spent “scouting” the Golden Knights for the Flames: the sacrifices we make for FlamesNation. Remember, February is closing in and our two-game Canada trip in Calgary and Vancouver is just around the corner. We are looking forward to meeting as many of you that can make the Nashville / Calgary game on Thu., Feb. 6 and the Canucks / Flames game in Vancouver on Sat., Feb. 8.