Heat Report: 05.12.11
After another successful road swing, the Heat are climbing up the conference standings
The Abbotsford Heat have regained some of their momentum and are now tied – in points – for the Western Conference lead again.
Though they are tied with the Oklahoma City Barons with 33 points, the Edmonton Oilers affiliate has two games in hand so the Heat officially sit in fourth place.
After dropping back-to-back home games to the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers affiliate) the Heat visited the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators affiliate) Tuesday and lost 8-3.
"I don’t think we played a bad game in Milwaukee," said head coach Troy Ward. “There were just too many things that all happened, like goaltending errors and penalties at inopportune times."
Dustin Sylvester and Paul Byron each had a goal and an assist in the loss.
Then the Heat headed to Illinois to take on the Chicago Wolves, the farm club of the Vancouver Canucks, one of the teams’ greatest rivalries, dating back to last season when the affiliate was the Manitoba Moose.
Friday the Wolves jumped out to a 2-0 lead but a two-goal period by the Heat tied it up and in the shootout Krys Kolanos and Byron scored, while Irving allowed just one goal on five attempts to end the losing streak.
On Saturday the Heat defeated the Rockford IceHogs 2-1. Kolanos and Ben Walter had a goal and assist each, including Walter’s winner with less than two minutes remaining. Irving stopped 28 of 29 shots in the win, his AHL-leading 15th of the season.
The road trip – and three games in three nights – finished up with another victory over the Chicago Wolves, this time 3-1.
Heat captain Quintin Laing pitched in with two goals, his third and fourth of the season, including the winner in the first and the insurance marker in the third frame on the power play.
"Quintin is the quintessential captain," said head coach Ward. "He does so many things for your team, like block shots and kill penalties and provide energy, so it’s great when he can pitch in offensively too."
On Friday Abbotsford announced the signing of netminder Danny Taylor to an AHL contract.
Taylor was 5-3-0 for the Springfield Falcons this season while playing on a professional tryout contract (PTO). The 25-year-old former Los Angeles Kings property dressed as the backup on Saturday and got the nod in net on Sunday, making 25 saves in the 3-1 win over the Wolves.
"I think Danny played well yesterday," said coach Ward of his new goaltender. "He plays a very calming style. He’s not flamboyant. He just does the job. He’s got some experience in the league earlier in the year and has had some success. I thought it was a great addition to our team."
The acquisition crowds the crease in Abbotsford. Irving is still expected to be the starting netminder but this will hopefully help lighten his playing schedule, which Ward and the Calgary Flames organization hope will benefit Irving’s development.
"[Irving] showed last year to this organization that he can handle the work load,” said Ward.
That leaves Joni Ortio, the Flames’ sixth-round pick in 2009, as the odd-man-out and though he is still with the club, it is doubtful that the Heat will carry three goalies long-term.
"Where Ortio goes right now is more of a management decision and that’s out of my hands," said Ward.
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond was put on waivers by the Flames last week and when he cleared waivers he joined the Heat on the road and Abbotsford’s head coach couldn’t be happier to have him.
"First and foremost he’s an energy guy so he’s a perfect fit on our fourth line which we’ve tried to improve all year," said Ward. "I thought he had three really good games and for not playing that much this year that’s a tough feat."
Letourneau-Leblond had two fights in only three games played this year with the Flames this season and already has matched that in the weekend in Illinois.
"One of the things that will go unnoticed this weekend is what he meant to our team," said Ward. "Our fourth line greatly improved when we could play [Raitis] Ivanans and Leblond on the fourth line. It gave us size and gave us credibility and I thought that had a lot to do with our success."
Letourneau-Leblond last played in the AHL in 2010-11 with the Albany Devils (New Jersey Devils affiliate) where he amassed 334 PIMs, eight goals and five assists in 64 games.
The Flames’ Brett Carson is on the mend but first he is in Abbotsford for a conditioning stint. With defencemen T.J. Brodie and Joe Piskula currently playing up in Calgary, having a blueliner of Carson’s talent come the other way has helped solidify Abbotsford’s back end for the duration of his stay in the AHL.
"It was good for him to get his game going…just to get his feet wet, so to speak," said Ward of Carson’s first action of the season, playing two of three games on the weekend. "I thought he managed the puck really well."
"He’s not a flashy guy, just a steady calming guy," added Ward. "We’ve already got [Clay] Wilson and [Brendan] Mikkelsson, guys who dart around so it’s nice to have a calming guy back there for a bit while he’s here and gets himself ready to go."
The Heat now host the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens affiliate) and the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche affiliate) for four games beginning Friday, Dec. 9. The much-publicized struggles at home continue to haunt the Heat and they’ll be looking to thwart the Curse of the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
"We’ve tweaked our system a little bit and we play a different style of game on the road so coming home we’ve got to find a blend," said Ward. "Our timeliness of goaltending and goal scoring hasn’t been that good at home."
"We’ll see what happens with wins and losses ... but I like how we’re growing within our system."