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Photo Credit: Graphic by Mike Gould

HGD 21: Looking to start the final third on the right foot (5:00 pm MT, AHL TV)

The Stockton Heat will be looking to buck a couple of recent trends on Sunday when they take on the Laval Rocket for the second match of a three-game series between the two teams.

The Heat have lost nine of their last 10 games, following an 8-2-0 stretch to begin the season. Five of those losses have come at the hands of the Laval Rocket, the only team Stockton has yet to defeat this year.

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Laval dispatched Stockton by a 3-0 score at Place Bell on Friday, with Brandon Baddock, Yannick Veilleux, and Ryan Poehling all tallying for the home side. Artyom Zagidulin faced 21 shots and made 19 saves in the loss.

Stockton’s forwards failed to muster much of an offensive attack in Friday’s game, only testing Rocket goaltender Cayden Primeau 17 times in 60 minutes and never getting more than six shots in a period. Luke Philp and Emilio Pettersen were the only Heat forwards to record multiple shots.

Dmitry Zavgorodniy was a healthy scratch for the Heat on Friday, sitting out a game for the first time this season. The Russian rookie has no points in 19 games this season.

In a corresponding move, Alex Gallant came off the shelf after spending a month recovering from a lower-body injury. He immediately made his presence known, getting into two fights and earning himself a game misconduct. More on that later.

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Projected lineups

These combinations are based on those used in these teams’ respective previous games.

Stockton

Giorgio Estephan – Adam Ruzicka – Matthew Phillips
Emilio Pettersen – Glenn Gawdin – Luke Philp
Colton Beck – Byron Froese – Eetu Tuulola
Alex Gallant – Mark Simpson – Kris Bennett

Connor Mackey – Greg Moro
CJ Lerby – Zac Leslie
Koletrane Wilson – Alexander Yelesin

Artyom Zagidulin
Garret Sparks

Laval

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Joseph Blandisi – Ryan Poehling – Joel Teasdale
Yannick Veilleux – Jordan Weal – Rafael Harvey-Pinard
Brandon Baddock – Laurent Dauphin – Jake Lucchini
Michael Pezzetta – Cam Hillis – Hayden Verbeek

Otto Leskinen – Corey Schueneman
Tobie Bisson – Cale Fleury
Xavier Ouellet – Josh Brook

Cayden Primeau
Michael McNiven

Scoring leaders

This listing excludes players on NHL call-ups or assignments to various other leagues.

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Stockton — Adam Ruzicka (eight goals, 17 points in 20 games); Luke Philp (eight goals, 16 points in 20 games); Matthew Phillips (six goals, 16 points in 20 games); Connor Mackey (three goals, 12 points in 20 games); Martin Pospisil (five goals, 11 points in 14 games).

Laval — Joseph Blandisi (nine goals, 18 points in 21 games); Ryan Poehling (seven goals, 16 points in 21 games); Jordan Weal (five goals, 15 points in 21 games); Joel Teasdale (six goals, 14 points in 20 games); Otto Leskinen (one goal, 14 points in 21 games).

Players to watch

Stockton — Alex Gallant. The rugged 28-year-old winger almost immediately got into a fight with Laval forward Yannick Veilleux in Friday’s game. Two weeks earlier, Veilleux had injured Heat sophomore Martin Pospisil with a knee-on-knee hit.

Heat coach Cail MacLean recognized his veteran forward for defending his teammate in Friday’s game.

“I wasn’t surprised that was happening,” said MacLean. “These guys are a tight-knit group and they care a lot about their teammates. Martin Pospisil took a pretty bad hit there and, so, you know that guys are gonna be—they’re not gonna forget that any time soon.”

“It means a lot,” added Heat defenseman Zac Leslie. “That one was kind of deserved. We had to get back for the incident in Calgary with Pospy and, so, Gally did a great job with stepping up and kind of defending Pospy. I think that was a long time coming and I think that’s what he brings to the game. He brought energy tonight, you saw it.”

“We know [Gallant]’s going to bring it every single night,” Leslie added. “He doesn’t take a night off. He plays with that intensity, he plays with that fire.”

Laval — Jordan Weal. Having played 218 NHL games and scored 69 points at that level, there’s a legitimate reason to question why Weal is playing in the AHL at all.

The answer: he’s too expensive for the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens are barely under the salary cap and Weal’s $1.4 million NHL salary is simply too rich to fit under the cap.

Weal might be an attractive option for Montreal to recall in the playoffs, when the cap vanishes. Until then, he’ll remain a fixture in Laval’s top-six. The former Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Arizona Coyotes, and Canadiens forward has five goals and 15 points in 21 games for the Rocket this year.

The 5’9″ 28-year-old centre is the second-oldest player to have suited up for at least half of Laval’s games this year, with only Alex Belzile (29) claiming seniority in that regard.

How to watch

This game will be broadcast on AHLTV.com (subscription required), with the opening puck-drop set for 5:00 pm MT. Live game updates can be found on Twitter at @miketgould or online at TheAHL.com.