The Stockton Heat have now lost eight of their last nine games. Seven of those losses have come in regulation time.
In short: things aren’t going so well for Cail MacLean’s squad at the moment.
Wednesday’s game, against the Toronto Marlies, offered some early hope. The Heat managed to get out of the first period unscathed, outshooting Toronto by a 12-11 margin in the scoreless first 20 minutes.
In the second, Luke Philp got the Heat on the board after an unfortunate miscue by Marlies goaltender Joseph Woll. Stockton’s one-goal cushion would not last, however, with Kalle Kossila tying it up late in the period and Tyler Gaudet scoring the go-ahead goal for his Marlies team early in the final frame.
Despite Emilio Pettersen’s quick answer to make it a 2-2 game, the Heat allowed three more goals and ultimately fell by a 5-2 score. With the loss, the Heat (9-9-1) now sit in third place in the AHL’s Canadian Division; Toronto (10-8-1), meanwhile, has overtaken the second spot.
Coming off an electric debut performance, Marlies forward Semyon Der-Arguchintsev was flying from Wednesday’s opening puck-drop. He showed much of the same skill and speed that made him the Toronto “player to watch” for this game, although, at times, he made some questionable decisions with the puck.
With his team on the power play early in the first period, Der-Arguchintsev split the Heat defense and had an uncontested path towards Stockton goaltender Garret Sparks. Instead, he opted to pass the puck and the Marlies failed to get a shot on goal.
Heat defenseman Noah King made his professional debut in Wednesday’s game. With King on the ice, just over six minutes into the first period, the Heat managed to sustain some offensive pressure and forced Woll to make multiple impressive stops. Glenn Gawdin and Rob Hamilton mustered the best looks for the visitors on the shift.
Stockton’s best chance of the opening frame came in the dying minutes. With under six minutes to play, Adam Ruzicka made a nice toe-drag move to get around Scott Pooley before directing a pass towards the front of the net.
Matthew Phillips got his stick on the puck but it somehow skittered through the crease without entering Woll’s goal.
Ruzicka makes an incredible move to get around Scott Pooley before sending a pass to Phillips, who somehow doesn't score.
Nevertheless, the Heat managed to open the scoring in Wednesday’s game. With the game clock nearing the midway mark of the second period, Marlies defenseman Joseph Duszak sent a pass back to Woll. The goaltender attempted to play the puck back into Duszak’s corner but he fanned on the attempt, leaving the puck in the crease for Luke Philp to collect.
The 25-year-old forward made no mistake, pouncing on the loose biscuit and putting it upstairs past the vulnerable goaltender. With eight goals on the year, Philp now sits in a tie with Adam Ruzicka for the team lead.
Philp gets his #AHLHeat-leading eighth goal of the season in… interesting fashion.
Toronto managed to even the score late in the second period. With Emilio Pettersen in the penalty box, Der-Arguchinstev set up shop on the left-side boards in Stockton’s zone. He received the puck off a ricochet and sent it in front of the net, where Kalle Kossila was waiting to deflect it past Sparks.
Joey Anderson picked up the second assist on Kossila’s second goal of the season.
AHL sophomore Eetu Tuulola had two great opportunities to give his Heat squad another one-goal lead in the third period. Entering the Marlies’ zone on an odd-man rush, Tuulola first one-timed a pass by Giorgio Estephan on goal before driving to the net and shoveling the rebound of a Byron Froese shot underneath the pads of a sprawling Woll.
Toronto’s goaltender somehow managed to prevent the puck from crossing the all-important goal line.
Joseph Woll stops Tuulola once and then does it again — take a look at his sneaky little push to get out of his own net 👀 pic.twitter.com/Y9mlTqp2ok
Less than a minute later, the Marlies seized their first lead of the game. After Connor Mackey jumped in on the rush, centre Glenn Gawdin initially covered for him at the left defense position but eventually overcommitted when trying to pinch for a loose puck.
With both Mackey and Gawdin caught in Toronto’s end, the Marlies skated down on a clear-cut two-on-one rush. Tyler Gaudet carried the puck the entire way and beat Sparks low on the blocker-side to make it 2-1.
The Heat managed to draw even shortly after the clock ticked past the 10-minute mark of the final frame. Stockton defenseman Zac Leslie managed to spring Pettersen for a breakaway with a tremendous stretch pass. The Norwegian rookie skated in all by himself against Woll, eventually tucking the puck between the goaltender’s legs with a backhand move.
Mackey picked up the secondary assist on the goal, giving him points in five of his last six games.
E M I L I O O O O O
Emilio Pettersen gets his fifth of the year on a breakaway. Zac Leslie and Connor Mackey pick up the helpers.
Heat coach Cail MacLean routinely stresses the importance of “puck management” in post-game interviews. Defenseman Rob Hamilton did not manage the puck very well on Toronto’s third goal, giving it away at his own blue line and allowing the Marlies to skate in with numbers.
Der-Arguchintsev fought off Colton Beck for the puck and sprung Nick Robertson on a short two-on-one break in the offensive zone. Robertson kept the puck and beat Sparks with a low shot for the eventual game-winning goal.
The Heat took yet another penalty with just 6:05 remaining in the game. With Matthew Phillips in the box for tripping, Marlies forward (and former Calgary Flame) Kenny Agostino scored off a broken play to give his team a 4-2 lead. Nic Petan and Calle Rosén picked up the helpers.
Petan eventually added an empty-net goal and the Marlies took this one by a 5-2 score. They outshot the Heat by a count of 31-24.
Kris Bennett – Adam Ruzicka – Matthew Phillips
Emilio Pettersen – Glenn Gawdin – Luke Philp
Colton Beck – Byron Froese – Eetu Tuulola
Giorgio Estephan – Mark Simpson – Dmitry Zavgorodniy
Connor Mackey – Alexander Yelesin
CJ Lerby – Zac Leslie
Noah King – Rob Hamilton
Nic Petan – Kalle Kossila – Kenny Agostino
Nick Robertson – Semyon Der-Arguchintsev – Joey Anderson
Rourke Chartier – Tyler Gaudet – Jeremy McKenna
Rich Clune – Hudson Elynuik – Scott Pooley
Noel Hoefenmayer – Joseph Duszak
Sergei Sapego – Calle Rosén
Kristians Rubins – Mac Hollowell
Why the Heat lost
The Marlies had three full power play opportunities and scored on two of them. Stockton, meanwhile, only had nine seconds of time with the man-advantage. Coupled with Monday’s game, where Stockton had zero power plays and Toronto had four, and a demoralizing trend becomes apparent.
It has to be difficult for any team to generate momentum when it frequently plays from a disadvantageous position, whether that be on the scoreboard or in the penalty box.
Stockton’s game-losing goal came directly off an inexcusable turnover at its own defensive blue line. The Heat have to be more cognizant of their puck management to break out of this current slump.
The hottest Heat
Along with Connor Mackey, Luke Philp has been one of the lone bright spots for the Heat during this extended slide. He’s now gone 16 games without being held off the score sheet in back-to-back contests, amassing seven goals and 15 points during that span.
Despite his team having lost eight of nine, Philp has scored five goals and nine points in his last nine games. He’s been a model of consistency for his teammates to look up to and emulate.
The Heat will head to Laval for their next three games, beginning with a match-up on Friday, Apr. 2 at 5:00 pm MT. You can catch that game on AHL TV; I’ll be posting updates on Twitter at @miketgould.