Losing hurts and, after losing to the Laval Rocket by a 4-1 score on Sunday, the Stockton Heat have now lost four games in a row.
That’s less than ideal for a team that had previously won eight consecutive games while receiving significant contributions from the majority of the lineup.
The Heat scored 36 goals during their eight-game winning streak. In the four games since it ended, they’ve tallied just nine times and have come away with two out of a possible eight points.
First and foremost, the AHL is a developmental league. In the grand scheme of things, it’s less about winning and more about helping players become better versions of themselves.
Heat forward Martin Pospisil missed nearly three months of playing time last season after sustaining a concussion in a fight with the late Bakersfield Condors forward Colby Cave. He managed to return to the Stockton lineup and play an additional 20 games down the stretch before the AHL’s shutdown due to COVID-19.
Pospisil began this season playing centre on Stockton’s third line and, through various circumstantial changes, worked his way up to the team’s top unit with Matthew Phillips and Adam Ruzicka. He debuted next to that duo on Sunday and looked to add to his total of 11 points in his first 13 games of the season.
He barely got a chance. Rocket forward Yannick Veilleux took Pospisil out of the game with a knee-on-knee hit just 3:06 into the first period. Pospisil, 21, writhed in pain on the ice for nearly a minute while clutching his left leg; he had to be helped off the ice by Ruzicka and a member of Stockton’s training staff.
Warning: the below video features footage that could be distressing to some viewers.
content warning — injury#AHLHeat forward Martin Pospisil had to be helped off the ice after being on the receiving end of a dangerous hit by Yannick Veilleux.
Sunday’s game was the first for Veilleux in this four-game Stockton/Laval series. He missed Thursday and Saturday’s contests while serving a two-game suspension for directing an obscene gesture towards the Toronto Marlies’ bench on Mar. 14.
Veilleux was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his hit on Pospisil and he might soon be in line to receive supplemental discipline from the AHL. Pospisil also missed the rest of Sunday’s game; hopefully, he can return from his injury at some point in the near future.
Michael Stone scored Stockton’s lone goal in the 4-1 loss. Joseph Blandisi and Joel Teasdale both scored twice for the visitors.
Laval got off to a quick start in Sunday’s game, with the duo of Teasdale and Blandisi pouncing on a turnover by Heat blueliner Alexander Yelesin. Even after being tripped, Teasdale was able to swing his stick to get the puck over to a speeding Blandisi. He made no mistake.
The Heat failed to convert on their five-minute power play opportunity after Veilleux’s major penalty, but they still managed to get on the board in the first period. With 1:44 remaining in the opening frame, Michael Stone beat Laval goaltender Cayden Primeau with a long-range one-timer for his second goal in as many games.
The Heat and Rocket traded man-advantage opportunities in the second period but couldn’t capitalize. Laval peppered Stockton goaltender Garret Sparks with 14 shots, but the former Toronto Marlies star was perfect while manning the home crease in the middle 20.
Stockton had multiple chances to take the lead in the third period. Just past the halfway mark, leading scorer Matthew Phillips found Luke Philp with a one-timer in the offensive zone; Primeau managed to get across to make a huge save and preserve the tie.
A few minutes later, Teasdale managed to make the most of a Rob Hamilton defensive-zone turnover. The 23-year-old winger finished off a three-way Laval passing play and gave his team a 2-1 lead with just 5:01 to play.
Moments after Teasdale’s goal, the Heat came within inches of once again bringing the game even. Former Rocket captain and Stockton’s current “C”-bearer Byron Froese picked up the puck to Primeau’s right, spun around, and flung a shot over Primeau’s shoulder… and right off the crossbar.
Blandisi and Teasdale both added empty-net goals with less than two minutes remaining in regulation time to seal a 4-1 victory for the Rocket.
Martin Pospisil – Adam Ruzicka – Matthew Phillips
Giorgio Estephan – Glenn Gawdin – Luke Philp
Justin Kirkland – Byron Froese – Eetu Tuulola
Colton Beck – Mark Simpson – Dmitry Zavgorodniy
Connor Mackey – Michael Stone
Rob Hamilton – Alexander Yelesin
Greg Moro – Zac Leslie
Rafael Harvey-Pinard – Jordan Weal – Jesse Ylönen
Yannick Veilleux – Lukas Vejdemo – Alex Belzile
Joseph Blandisi – Ryan Poehling – Joel Teasdale
Branndon Baddock – Jan Mysak – Arsen Khisamutdinov
Corey Schueneman – Otto Leskinen
Tobie Bisson – Cale Fleury
Guillaume Brisebois – Josh Brook
Why the Heat lost
Losing Pospisil so soon into the game threw Stockton’s line combinations into some considerable turmoil. Their penalty-killing unit was perfect in the game but the Heat also failed to score on any of their three power play opportunities, including their five-minute major advantage.
Both of Laval’s 5-on-5 goals came directly as a result of turnovers by Heat defensemen. Cail MacLean and Matthew Phillips both stressed the importance of “puck management” after the game. The team will surely aim to improve, particularly in that respect, before Tuesday’s contest.
The hottest Heat
After being held off the board on Thursday in his return to the AHL, Michael Stone now has goals in two consecutive games and is becoming a big part of Stockton’s lineup in nearly every situation.
He can still be better and he has yet to match the contributions of Alex Petrovic in that role as the right-handed option on Stockton’s top defensive pairing. That said, he’s getting there.
Stockton will wrap up its four-game series against Laval on Tuesday at 5:00 PM. You can catch the game on AHL TV; I’ll be posting updates on Twitter at @miketgould.