The Stockton Heat continued to show their strength in comeback games after winning Saturday night’s game 6-5 in a shootout against the Ontario Reign. They have gone the whole season without losing back to back games and this has been the case for 12 straight games following losses no matter the opponent. The second game of their weekend series was a competitive back and forth game, but it was ultimately the Heat that were able to set the pace and hold it together until the end.
Keeping Scoring Pace
On Friday night, the Heat were not nearly as successful in keeping up with the high amount of scoring the Reign brought to them. On Saturday’s game, this was no issue. The Heat were able to create scoring chances all across their lineup as scoring came from five different forwards. Kicking things off in the scoring category was Justin Kirkland just shy of the midway mark in the first period.
Jakob Pelletier and Johannes Kinnvall picked up assists on Kirkland’s 11th goal of the season and they were big helpers too. Kinnvall passed the puck up about halfway up the ice and Pelletier redirected it to ensure it ended up on Kirkland’s stick. Kirkland danced around a couple of Reign defenders and came up with the goal-scoring shot.
Just about a minute and a half later, Mark Simpson snapped his scoring drought and netted the Heat’s second goal of the night with assists going to Connor Zary and Colton Poolman. This was only Simpson’s second goal of the season, with his first coming back in late October.
Stockton was sitting pretty comfortably towards the end of the period but the Reign were not too fond of the idea of leaving a zero on their side of the board. They scored on the power play with just 3.5 seconds to go in the first period and closed the gap going into the first intermission.
In the second period, the Heat continued their effort to pull ahead of their opponents with a goal by Luke Philp at the 5:29 mark. Philp took a shot that rebounded right back to him and found the back of the net the second time around. The lone assist on Stockton’s third goal of the night went to Justin Kirkland.
The Reign answered back about three minutes later with another goal on the power play off the stick of Gabriel Vilardi, who also scored this first one in this game. Just over a minute later, they struck again with an even-strength goal and this game quickly went from 3-1 Stockton to a 3-3 tie.
The rolling scoring in the second would continue as Byron Froese scored much later in the period with his second goal in as many nights. He found himself right on the Reign’s doorstep and chipped in the puck to earn the Heat’s lead back. Walker Duehr picked up the assist on Froese’s 12th goal of the season.
Ontario snuck in one more goal in the second period and they went into the third once again tied up at four goals a side. Scoring slowed down a bit in the last period of regulation, but Emilio Pettersen still added a tally to the Heat’s side off a rebound shot at the 8:30 mark. Assists went to Mark Simpson and Connor Mackey.
The Heat were almost able to finish the game just relying on that, but the Reign did not even need to try to pull their goaltender as they scored one more time with 2:30 to go in regulation. By the end of 60 minutes, both teams were tied at five and the Heat held a 48-31 shot advantage.
They played all five minutes of overtime with only two shots registered for the Heat and three registered for the Reign. Both sides had their opportunities but nothing was looking too high danger overall. This game would not get solved in overtime and they forced a shootout.
The first shooter was Justin Kirkland, who came in quick and released the puck off his stick even quicker. He scored on Reign goaltender, Matthew Villalta and maintains a perfect four for four on shootout attempts on the season.
The Reign also scored on their first shootout attempt and things rolled over into round two. Matthew Phillips was the second shooter for the Heat and scored in a similar fashion to Kirkland. Both came at the goaltender fast with little time for him to react to their quick release. The Reign did not score on their second attempt.
Connor Zary was the third shooter for the Heat and was unsuccessful. The game could have been ended with a save by Dustin Wolf, but he got beat by the third Reign shooter. This game finally came to a close in the fourth round of the shootout where Martin Pospisil scored with a patient well-placed shot and Wolf stopped the last Reign shooter. You’ve got to see his celebration on this one.
Wolf played the whole game after being pulled after the second period on Friday night. He stopped 29/34 shots and proved he was still the best option in net against this tough opponent. The Heat walk away from the weekend with a split and maintain their title of leader of the Pacific Division.
The Heat have had quite a strong penalty kill this season. However, in this game, it was not as sharp as it has been for them previously. Three of the five Ontario goals were power play goals, giving them a 60% power play percentage on the night. Another part of their game it appears their opponents prepared for and cracked open during this competition.
The good news is the damage to their overall special teams statistics was quite minimal. The Heat still hold the best penalty kill percentage in the league with an even 88% on the season. Below them are the Iowa Wild with an 86.3% PK percentage and the Providence Bruins with an 85.5% PK percentage.
Glenn Gawdin was absent from this game due to concussion protocol. This caused some minor shuffling in the roster to fill his spot centering the top line. Sliding into his spot was Martin Pospisil.
Jakob Pelletier was still in the lineup for this game after finding himself on the wrong side of a shot on Friday’s game. He was in front of the Reign’s net and was hit with a bit of friendly fire after taking a shot up high from one of his teammates. He left the game and was attended to and was back the following night. He was wearing a full face mask on his helmet on Saturday to prevent any further injury.
The Heat’s spread out schedule continues with their next game not coming until Sat., Feb. 19. They will play a weekend series against the Bakersfield Condors next week, kicking things off on the road on Saturday then hosting the Condors for their Sunday game. They will have to continue the week-long preparation for games for a few weeks as they do not play a midweek game until Mar. 9. Puck drop for their next game on Saturday will be at 8:00 p.m. MT.
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