It was a crazy weekend of emotions for Heat fans. Excitement for postseason hockey to return. Disappointment by being shutout in the first game. Happiness after the first period drubbing of San Jose. Sorrow that the four goal lead evaporated to just one in the second. Fired up when time ticked down and the Heat stole home ice advantage from San Jose heading into this weekend’s games on Friday and Sunday at Stockton Arena.
Like I said. A range of emotions.
There were parts of this weekend, in both games in fact, that Stockton did really well. There were other parts that need to be tightened up a bit. All in all, the Heat did what the really needed to do and steal a game in San Jose to put the series in their favor. It doesn’t wrap anything up, but it sure is a big boost to the confidence.
So what were the biggest reasons Stockton came away with the Game 2 win over San Jose? I countdown the top five reasons below:
1. David Rittich
This is a simple one as it ended up being our Chase Chevrolet Big Moment of the Game on Sunday but Stockton’s netminder coming in cold makes an immediate big save on an penalty kill and that’s when you knew he was going to be on his game.
The two-pad-stack, glove get on Buddy Robinson’s clear shot from the far circle was as good as they come folks. For a goaltender who had no time to loosen up and basically saw that as his second or third shot of the game, there’s no reason to expect a goaltender, any goaltender, to get there and make the save.
Then in the third period that shorthanded chance for San Jose that ends up with Danny O’Regan passing it to the back door to get a piece of the streaking Jacob Middleton’s shot on another backdoor chance was another thing of beauty. Based on those big saves, it actually surprised me that Robinson was able to get the best of Rittich on that shorthanded breakaway because those are saves made when a goalie is dialed in.
And that’s not to say Jon Gillies wasn’t. I actually thought in the first period, Gillies was as sharp as he’s been all year. He was seeing through traffic really well and controlled rebounds like a 10-year veteran would. He couldn’t do anything about that first chance at all, but San Jose came at him hard and I think Head Coach Ryan Huska needed to shake something up, so he made the change.
In what was just the third time that David Rittich has been called in to replace Gillies in a game, but Rittich’s performances in net when he replaces Gillies is extra spectacular for whatever reason. Coming in relief, Rittich is 2-0-0, has a 1.20 GAA and a 0.926 SV%. Obviously, not the way you want a game to go, hoping you can dig out of a hole or some adversity by counting on your goaltender, but no question Rittich’s performance on Sunday helped the Heat take home ice advantage.
2. San Jose’s Defensive Lapses
I’ve always thought that Roy Sommer’s system and what he gets from his defense is extremely impressive. It’s a team philosophy to limit shots the way they do. They’re extremely aggressive on the forecheck and are fast. Everyone is. Forwards and defenders.
But during Game 2, their fast defense had their feet moving faster than their brains and it led to a couple tense moments, and certainly some Heat goals.
Jankowski’s goal to open the scoring was a brilliant indicator of that. Cut to the slot in front of two defenders, Tim Heed and Julius Bergman and shot buried past Grosenick. Carroll’s goal is another prime example.
Heed turns the puck over on the wall, Carroll down to Aagaard, right back to Carroll, Joakim Ryan caught watching the puck and boom…Carroll puts the Heat up two.
The fourth goal was in the same vain. Ryan pinched too low and had lost Garnet Hathaway behind him. Pass up the ice from Brett Kulak hits him, Ryan racing to get there (and got pretty close actually to his credit) but there’s Heed watching his defensive partner struggle almost like his Xbox remote died.
The game winner wasn’t as egregious as those above but both Mirco Mueller and Bergman were on top of each other with neither in a position to pick up the streaking Shinkaruk through the near circle.
And look, I don’t think San Jose will be this poor come Game 3 as they are a good team, but their best defenders didn’t come to play on Game 2 and Stockton capitalized. I don’t think Ryan and Heed are the best defenders (certainly excellent power-play quarterbacks and offensively gifted players) but Stockton made them pay for their mistakes and lapses, something they didn’t do in Game 1 because when the lapses came, Grosenick made the saves. Stockton should keep the pressure on the top pairing come Game 3 on Friday night at 7:00 p.m.
3. First Period
This is going to come as a real shock to you all but Stockton’s first period gave them a real good chance to win. Breaking news…I know.
And yes, this does kind of go hand-in-hand with my point above but the Heat got on San Jose and go on them early and that was key to their success. Jankowski’s goal just 1:30 in was key because it not only started things off early but the pressure was off the Heat to get one past Grosenick and they could play freely.
The timing of that goal was huge. Let’s say that goes in five or ten minutes in. Well there’d have been plenty of opportunity for San Jose to take momentum and quell any kind of attack the Heat had. It was critical for the Heat to get off to a good start, and I’m not sure if anyone expected a four-goal first, but getting Stockton on the board extremely early was key to their big period.
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Austin Carroll continues to score big goals for the Heat and he did again on Sunday followed by a patient snipe from Linden Vey (side bar…I want him to shoot so much more. Just look what he can do with the puck) followed by that breakaway finish from Hathaway.
And we know that in the end, the four-goal period was huge because of San Jose’s successful second period, but it was certainly a huge contributing factor, perhaps the largest, in the win.
4. Blocking Shots
This was a crucial part of Stockton’s win because San Jose throws a lot of rubber at the net and any shot the goalie doesn’t get to is a success, but the biggest thing was that everyone was buying into paying a price and everyone made a key defensive play in that game.
Garnet Hathaway does all the time so let’s just get out of the way now that he was a key contributor to the defensive effort so we can move on to a few specific instances that are burned in my mind.
First period, three shots on and Tyler Wotherspoon blocks two (initially I thought three but it was Gillies who got the third one) from Kevin Labanc who was in the slot. The effort and ability to get in front of those was enormous.
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Keith Aulie had quite a few as well in the game as he always does, as did Brandon Bollig, who took one off the foot and limped to the bench (he was fine) and the captain, Mike Angelidis at the end.
That’s the specific one that’s burned in my mind right now.
Layed out for the shot and it got his foot. Couldn’t get up. Crawled to the bench for the change.
That takes guts.
There’s something to be said about your captain doing that too. Don’t get me wrong, if it were anyone else it’d still be a killer blocked shot, but the fact that your captain has the guts to stop that bomb from the point, gets hurt enough to the point he cant skate, and crawls back to the bench, if you’re a young player on said bench and you weren’t buying into the team first, blocking shots mentality, you better be now.
Angelidis has a Calder Cup. He’s had a terrific career where he’s played in the NHL and AHL. Same with both Aulie and Bollig with both having won championships before. Yet there they are, laying out to block a shot at key times.
I said it after the game. There are moments you watch and you say to yourself, mark this down in your memory because if “X” happens, it’s because of this event. Look back in the regular season and Stockton’s come-from-behind win in Texas to start the road trip off with a win. The Heat went 6-0-3-1 after that point, and you knew it was because of that big effort to come back and win that first game on the road.
Well should the Heat go for a run here, I’ll look back at that moment as the moment that changed things for the Heat…for now!
5. My Superstitions
Ok…this one is a bit of a garbage reason but we’re very superstitious around here, me so in particular. I’m keeping track of record in my suits and so far, black checkered suit is 0-1 and brown suit is 1-0.
My new brown shoes are 1-0 while the black shoes are 0-1.
With my intern Wes we are 0-1 and without him we are 1-0…sorry Wes. 🙂
Parking at the SAP Center by the Logan Couture sign we are 0-1. Parking by Brent Burns though… 1-0!
Yes silly but I do believe my parking juju helped the Heat get the win!
Ok maybe not!
I’m closing out all of my blog posts with a jersey or logo in the sports world. I love sports jerseys (I collect them) and I love logos and what goes into making a brand.
A little RIP shoutout to the Alaska Aces. I hated the fact that you had that stupid olympic sized ice as I always though visiting teams were at a huge disadvantage. The Sully may be old and the locker room and broadcast booth may be non-existant but I genuinely feel bad for the good people of Anchorage.
That was my biggest takeaway from going there. The people were always so friendly and I have some good memories from my time there.
Plus the Aces had a great logo. There were a few great logos in the ECHL and this was one of them. The bear is ferocious, the shape of the logo is very cool, the mountains in the back. It was well done.
Brandon Kisker is the Heat’s Director of Broadcast & Media Relations and is in his fourth season as a broadcaster in Stockton and second for the Heat. He yells a lot when excited, but that yelling is genuine, and typically fist pumps when goals are scored or big saves are made. He thinks Rick Jenerette is really top shelf…..and that is where mama hides the cookies. Excited not only for playoffs but for a new car for the family. What will it be??? Follow him on Twitter @kiskerbc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions.