The Heat have been in another stratosphere lately as they picked up six of a possible eight points this week against two divisional rivals. They have also picked up points in seven their last eight games, which has them sitting atop of the Western Conference standings.
Their success has been in large part due to a scorching display of offence and a defence that has shown new life against some of the league's top scorers.
With four games in just six nights, the Heat started off their busy week in dominating fashion as they knocked off the Charlotte Checkers 7-1 in a game where 14 Heat players recorded a point (seven of whom picked up two points).
The Heat started the game with a bang as they notched four goals in the first period with Josh Jooris, Max Reinhart, Blair Jones and Carter Bancks chipping in early. After a scoreless middle frame, the flood of goals continued for Abbotsford as Markus Granlund netted his twentieth goal of his rookie season. Corban Knight and Ben Street added to the already insurmountable lead late in the third period.
Not lost in all the scoring was net-minder Olivier Roy's outstanding 25-save debut in a Heat uniform. Roy, who allowed just a single goal midway through the third period, went home with first star honours.
The next night was a much tighter match against the Checkers, but the Heat were still able to pull off an impressive 4-3 late-game victory to sweep Charlotte in the midweek set.
Sven Baertschi got the opening goal with his third of the year to give the Heat a 1-0 edge. A few minutes later, Charlotte's Dan Biega picked up his first of the season to tie it up. In the middle frame, Granlund continued his torrid offensive production with his twenty-first goal of the season and his fifth goal in as many games. Late in the second, Zach Boychuk evened the scoring to go into the second intermission.
In the third period, Street, who was named the game's first star, notched his second goal in as many games to give the Heat a 3-2 edge, but Biega, once again, answered with a marker of his own as the two teams continued to exchange scoring. With less than three minutes remaining in the period, the Heat made a monstrous push to take the lead and it was Knight who collected the game winner as he cleaned up a rebound off of Street's shot to seal the victory.
Roy continued his strong play as he thwarted 34 of the 37 shots he faced.
Perhaps one of the biggest measuring sticks of the season for the Heat is when they play the division rival and Western Conference juggernaut Texas Stars. It's a match-up where the Heat won one and lost one on this weekend.
On Saturday evening the scoring chances came in bunches for both teams, but it was the Heat who prevailed 3-2 in the shootout thanks to a game-winning shootout goal from Baertschi.
Texas' Brett Richie opened the scoring midway through the first period to put the Stars up 1-0. Olivier Roy was forced to stand tall in the Heat's crease as he faced an onslaught of shots and missed chances by the Stars. The second period proved to be more fruitful for the Heat as Derek Smith notched his third of the season on the power play from Street to even the scoring.
Less than a minute later, Baertschi and Corey Locke worked magic to find Jooris for the gorgeous one-timer. That was Jooris' fourth goal in five games. Yet, the Heat couldn't hold on to the lead as Hubert Labrie levelled the scoring 2-2 midway through the middle period.
The third period solved nothing as the two offensive dynamos went to overtime. The Heat were forced to kill off a penalty to open the overtime period and were able to escape several prime scoring chances from Texas. In the shootout, Knight, Jones and Baertschi converted on their chances while Roy stopped five of the Stars' seven shooters.
The two teams renewed hostilities on Sunday afternoon. This time the Stars pummeled the Heat 7-2 despite a good first period effort.
The AHL's leading scorer, Colton Sceviour, opened the scoring just 0:53 seconds into the game to give the Stars the early lead. Midway through the first frame, Reinhart found a loose puck laying on the goal line and dashed behind the net to quickly tap it in.
The second period, however, became ugly quickly. After Granlund directed a shot on net, Shane O'Brien tapped in a shorthanded marker just 2:14 into the period. It was all down hill from there as the Stars stormed back with six unanswered goals in a 10:25 window.
Roy allowed four goals on 24 shots, while Ortio allowed three goals on seventeen shots in 29:07 of action.
The Heat head out on the road after a short four day All-Star break and will regroup in Charlotte to face the Checkers on Friday and Sunday.
Joni Ortio's call-up was both expected and unexpected.
Everyone knew Ortio would be the guy to replace the injured Karri Ramo, but no one expected his promotion to come so suddenly. While it gave Ortio the chance of a lifetime to gain invaluable NHL experience, it also opened the door for Olivier Roy to make his mark in the organization - even if it was on short notice.
"[It was] just excitement," said Roy. "To know you'd get a shot to play a game, I've had experience playing in the AHL with Oklahoma City, so I was really excited. At the same time, you're really happy for Orts (Ortio). He's been playing well down here and now he has a shot up there. That gets me a few games and that's a great opportunity for me and I'm really happy with it."
In the four starts with the Heat since Ortio's call-up, the 22-year-old Amqui, Quebec native has posted a 2.78 goals against average and a 0.919 save percentage. The key to Roy's success, according to him, has been the team in front of him.
"It's great. Just looking at the way the guys play defensively, even offensively, they don't panic, they're very poised with the puck, so they make my job a lot easier."
"I'm really happy for him to get the wins and get a fresh start in a new organization where he's been really patient up in Alaska," said Heat head coach Troy G. Ward. "Now he comes down and he gets his moment in the sun. I'm happy for him."
LEARNING THE ROPES
Not only has the addition of Shane O'Brien and Derek Smith enhanced the Heat's blueline depth, they've added a pedagogical element to the lineup, especially for rookies Tyler Wotherspoon and John Ramage.
"It's been huge," explained Ward. "It's probably been one of the biggest things that has turned our team around a little bit of late. I think we've seen Wotherspoon play really well. I think it started with Chris Breen and has kind of just flowed into O'Brien. Ramage is a guy that has always managed a good hockey game. John plays the type of game where if you don't notice him, it's a really good thing and he's been playing that for us."
More than simply their presence on the ice, Ward noted their calming effect on the bench and off the ice.
"Both Smitty (Smith) and Obie (O'Brien) have done a nice job with those two kids and they've given them some confidence. It's not so much the sharing of the puck, it's the play. Where it really comes into play, which is the unknown factor, is when they sit on the bench next to each other. There's just that calming effect. Instead of a young man's brain racing somewhere down the road where it shouldn't be, it's just a hand on the kneecap and, 'hey, we're okay, let's get this done, try and simplify this.' It's these little subtle conversations that are really helping those two guys."
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