Ten games into the season, the Stockton Heat are still setting the pace.
A pair of divisional matchups this past weekend at home resulted in three points being added to the Heat's total - now at 16, the Western Conference's best point percentage.
Stockton played host to San Jose Friday night and won in a shootout, scoring on all three attempts to grab the two points. Special teams was the difference, as the Heat potted a pair of powerplay goals from Byron Froese and Ryan Lomberg, while limiting the Barracuda powerplay to just one goal on nine attempts.
Saturday's tilt was an overtime loss that looked like a win in the final minute. The Roadrunners never trailed in regulation, jumping on top 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, but the Heat appeared to take their first lead of the contest late as Glenn Gawdin muscled a puck into the back of the net, an apparent shorthanded goal. Moments later it was waved off, goalie interference the call, and the Roadrunners scored just 25 seconds into overtime to steal two points at Stockton Arena.
Not a perfect weekend, but darn close.
That seems to be the season in a nutshell thus far for the Flames' AHL affiliate. Some wins have been prettier than others, some coming on the backs of the forwards, others with stout goaltending, still others through sheer grit. The team has amassed a six-game point streak, the third-best active streak in the league.
It's a team that has shown a lot of character and a very short list of weak spots, a recipe that has the Heat at the top of the Pacific Division.
"You can see a lot of pride in the team," said Heat coach Cail MacLean. "That's important. We've managed to come back from behind a couple of times in the third period, squeak out some points. We have good leadership coming from our leadership group. The character and work ethic of the team is solid, that's a good start."
Stockton enters the week ranked second in the AHL in scoring (3.90 goals per game) and is limiting opponents to 2.90 per contest. The Heat boast the league's fourth-best powerplay (26.8%) and 11th-ranked penalty-kill (84.9%).
A balanced offensive attack is led by Froese and Buddy Robinson, each with 10 points, followed by Gawdin's nine and a trio of players with eight. Goalie Jon Gillies is second in the AHL with a 1.58 GAA. Seventeen skaters are in the positives for plus-minus.
"Everyone's doing their part," said Froese. "We're buying in, making sure we're doing the little things right all the time and doing what we can do. We've had a lot of contributors, it's pretty even throughout the lineup. It's fun to see, it's fun to be a part of.
"It's a really good vibe."
- Stockton has registered a special-teams goal in all 10 games this season.
- The last three home games have all gone past regulation, two going to a shootout and Saturday night's to overtime.
- Stockton is in the top three among AHL goalies in GAA (Gillies - 1.58) and wins (Artyom Zagidulin - 5).
- The Heat have registered at least a point in every game that Robinson (6-0-1-0) and Froese (4-0-1-0) have scored in.
- Stockton's .800 point percentage is the best in the Western Conference and tied for second overall in the AHL, trailing only Toronto (.850) and even with Utica.
- The Heat will take their perfect 5-0 road record to Tucson next weekend for a pair of games Friday and Saturday.
THEY SAID IT:
"You've got to get your points in October and November. We want to make sure we gather as many points as possible. Every team is going to have their rough patches, their moments with injuries and things like that. I think regardless of who we have in the lineup, guys are always ready to go and committed to playing the right way." - MacLean on the team's hot start.
"Solid job (on the powerplay), really solid job on the penalty-kill. Too many penalties to kill off, but we got a good contribution from Jon Gillies. Overall we were pretty solid. We had a little luck too, you have to acknowledge that. Bottom line is special teams was the difference tonight." - MacLean on Friday's win.
"(My play) is getting better. An injury is never ideal. It's been nice to just contribute. It's not fun being hurt. It's not fun being on the sideline. I'm starting to feel better, not as rusty, but getting back to where I should be." - Gillies on his play this season.
"It's Jon Gillies. I've seen him (play well) for years, so it's not surprising at all. That's what we expect from him because we know he can do that every night. That's what he'll tell you as well, he expects that from himself. I'm happy for him." - Lomberg on Gillies' play.
"We've been in a lot of different situations already in each game. We've learned a lot about who we are, about our character and the way we have to play. We can look back at these first 10 games and be proud of what we've done, but at the same time we have to keep pushing. Every game's a divisional game, so every game is a four-point game. We just need to keep with it and make sure we're not looking back or looking forward." - Froese on the team's first 10 games.