The Stockton Heat have now lost 14 of their last 16 games, falling most recently by a 5-2 score against the Manitoba Moose on Thursday evening.
Heat goaltender Tyler Parsons returned to game action after missing the last 13 months for a combination of pandemic- and injury-related reasons. Parsons allowed five goals on 25 shots in the game, four of which came within 2:02 of the start of a period.
Johnathan Kovacevik, Jeff Malott, David Gustafsson, Cole Perfetti, and Kristian Reichel all solved Parsons in the win, which saw the Moose improve to 12-11-2 on the season. Moose netminder Mikhail Berdin made 15 saves on 17 shots.
Matthew Phillips and Glenn Gawdin tallied for the last-place Heat. With a .404 points percentage and a 10-5-1 record, Stockton has suffered through the most grievous season of any Canadian Division team and now ranks as the fifth-worst team in the entire American Hockey League.
Thursday’s game served as the start of a five-game series between Manitoba and Stockton. These two teams will meet again on Saturday afternoon before facing off on Apr. 26, 27, and 29 to conclude the season.
Stockton played the vast majority of Thursday’s game from behind. Tyler Parsons allowed a goal on just the second shot he faced in his return, letting Johnathan Kovacevik’s long-range wrister past him 45 seconds into the first period.
Nathan Todd and Jeff Malott picked up the helpers on Kovacevik’s first goal of the season.
Parsons settled down as the period progressed and ultimately made 11 saves on 12 shots. His best stop came off a partial breakaway for Cole Maier, who attempted to slide the puck through Parsons’ five-hole but found no success.
Just over a minute later, Heat enforcer Alex Gallant squared off with Moose forward Joona Luoto near the Manitoba blue line. Gallant dropped the gloves as a response to a low hit attempted (and missed) by Luoto against only just moments before.
David Gustafsson scored the eventual game-winner just 27 seconds after Malott’s goal. He streaked in past Connor Mackey down the right side and fired a quick shot that appeared to beat Parsons through his five-hole.
David Gustafsson beats Parsons with a nice shot. The #AHLHeat goaltender has allowed two goals on two shots to begin the middle frame.
Correspondingly, Stockton started to put far more pressure on the Moose in the dying minutes of the middle frame.
With the shot count listed as 20-5 in Manitoba’s favour with three minutes remaining, Stockton managed to test Berdin three more times before the buzzer sounded. Two of those attempts came from Connor Mackey.
Manitoba started the third period with yet another early goal. This time, blue-chip prospect Cole Perfetti dipsy-doodled around the entire contingent of Heat skaters before making Parsons look silly with a nifty backhand-to-forehand move.
Stockton managed to get one back with 15:19 remaining in regulation time, although—for the fifth time in the game—the goal came directly off a Moose player’s stick.
On a truncated two-on-one rush with Matthew Phillips, Glenn Gawdin carried the puck on the left side of the offensive zone before sending a pass toward his teammate on the opposite side.
The puck did not reach its intended recipient but it still found its way into the net. Moose defenseman Leon Gawanke inadvertently swatted the puck over the outstretched arm of his goaltender, resulting in Gawdin’s fourth goal of the season.
Moose defenseman Leon Gawanke deflects the puck into his own net. Glenn Gawdin gets credit for the goal — looks like Connor Mackey should pick up an assist. #AHLHeat trail 4-1. pic.twitter.com/axlHbuR78X
Manitoba added to its lead with a power play goal late in the third period. With Alex Petrovic in the box, Moose forward Kristian Reichel redirected a pass by Todd past a defenseless Parsons and into the yawning cage.
Stockton outshot Manitoba by a 9-5 margin in the third period but was bested 25-17 over the full game.
Dmitry Zavgorodniy – Adam Ruzicka – Matthew Phillips
Emilio Pettersen – Glenn Gawdin – Luke Philp
Colton Beck – Byron Froese – Walker Duehr
Alex Gallant – Giorgio Estephan – Eetu Tuulola
Connor Mackey – Alex Petrovic
Yan Kuznetsov – Zac Leslie
Colton Poolman – Alexander Yelesin
Jeff Malott – David Gustafsson – Nathan Todd
Joona Luoto – Dominic Toninato – Kristian Reichel
Peter Krieger – Cole Perfetti – Skyler McKenzie
Bobby Lynch – Cole Maier – Nick Jones
Dylan Samberg – Johnathan Kovacevik
Hayden Shaw – Nelson Nogier
Adam Brubacher – Leon Gawanke
Why the Heat lost
Stockton failed to capitalize on any of its four power play opportunities. Parsons put forth an uneven effort in his return, making some impressive saves but also allowing early goals in all three periods.
The Heat had no answer to Manitoba’s dynamic duo of Jeff Malott and Nathan Todd. Malott scored a goal, added an assist, and fired three shots against Parsons; Todd posted three helpers.
The hottest Heat
Matthew Phillips put forth a decent little effort, potting his eighth goal of the season and moving atop the team leaderboard with 20 points in 26 games.
He recorded two shots on goal and was one of just three Heat skaters to register a “plus” rating on the day. Phillips, who just turned 23 earlier this month, should be among the Calgary Flames’ top choices to recall when the time comes.
The Heat will continue their season-ending five-game series against Manitoba on Saturday at 12:00 pm MT. You can catch that game on AHL TV; I’ll be posting updates on Twitter at @miketgould.