The Heat are in uncharted waters, full steam ahead.
Stockton put a bow on the first half of the season this week, earning three wins: two victories over the San Jose Barracuda, and one shutout along the way.
All in all, a good week to end a great first half.
Stockton's 2-1 win in Game 35 on Sunday got the second half underway in style, but let's summarize the myriad of accomplishments of the Heat over the season's first 34 contests.
Most importantly, they amassed a franchise-record 49 points, topping the previous high of 40. The Heat had never scored more goals, never recorded a wider goal differential, never clicked on special teams like they have this year.
Stockton used its scoring prowess to rack up points early, but more recently has relied on steady defensive play and strong goaltending.
The Heat built their early success on the backs of veterans - hot starts coming from Buddy Robinson, Ryan Lomberg and Byron Froese - but it was the youth that emerged as the season went on, with Glenn Gawdin setting a new franchise high for points through a season's first 34 games, besting the previous high set by Andrew Mangiapane by a pair.
This team has always been dangerous.
Now it's deadly.
Just ask the Bakersfield Condors, who came to Stockton Arena Wednesday ready for a battle and jumped out to a 2-0 lead before watching the Heat rattle off four unanswered en route to a two-goal win on home ice. It was just the latest in Stockton's string of bounce-back wins following regulation defeats on the year, a theme that has threaded its way throughout the front end of the 2019-20 season.
Such is the team's consistency following losses - the mantra 'good teams don't lose two straight' practically embroidered on their sweaters - that the Heat have a 7-0 record in bounceback games, a 34-15 goal differential in those contests, a .926 Save Percentage in finding their way back to the win column, and a remarkable 16-2 edge in the third periods of those games.
Or ask the Barracuda, who were frustrated on home ice by first-year netminder Artyom Zagidulin, who turned away 53 pucks on 54 chances in the weekend sweep of a divisional rival. Even when San Jose did break through, ending a scoring drought of 140 minutes and 59 seconds against Stockton, the Heat countered twice in the following period with Austin Czarnik netting a pair.
Entering this week, the Heat find themselves third in the AHL standings - trailing only Pacific Division foe Tucson by two points, and the Milwaukee Admirals by a razor-thin margin on point percentage.
The first half is in the rearview, the second is underway - and all signs point to the Heat, already at unprecedented heights, just getting started.
- Zagidulin recorded his first AHL shutout on Saturday, stopping all 26 shots faced in a 2-0 win. It was the second shutout of the year, both coming against San Jose.
- Alan Quine is riding a team-best six-game point streak with two goals and six assists in that span.
- Czarnik recorded his first multi-goal effort and fifth multi-point game with Stockton in Sunday's win.
- Luke Philp led all Western Conference rookies in goals over the season's first half with 15.
- Stockton has won the first eight meetings of the season against San Jose, the longest-ever win streak for either team in the all-time series.
THEY SAID IT:
"We've taken good strides over the last month defensively, that's something we're happy with. We like that we're a high-scoring team. Goals are always going to be harder to come by in the second half, so you're going to have to find a way to make sure you're not just relying on offence. The team has done a good job of increasing their defensive detail, and that's something we have to continue to harp on." - Cail MacLean on Stockton's improvement of late defensively
"There are guys that have contributed offensively in a way that's been really positive, but it hasn't been at the detriment to their defensive game. I think guys have done a good job of developing, in terms of the younger players like the (Glenn) Gawdins, (Matthew) Phillips, the Luke Philps and the (Adam) Ruzickas. Those guys have done a good job of chipping in offensively, but they realize they have to play a certain way defensively if they're going to play at the next level. They keep an eye on those details." - MacLean on forward development in the first half
"(Zagidulin) was really good. It was one of those things that the whole team saw coming. He's been playing really well, on the verge of a couple shutouts this year only for us to give up some goals late. (Saturday) you could tell he had that razor focus where he was going to go that extra mile to get the shutout." - Goaltending coach Thomas Speer on Zagidulin's shutout
"We focused on playing better defensively, and we switched our systems a bit. Right now it's working really well. We've been challenged to play better defensively, and I think we're doing that. We just have to keep working hard every single day and good things are going to happen." - Czarnik on Stockton's defensive success
"We're a pretty resilient bunch. Whether we're down or up, I think we like to play the same way. For the most part, most of the games we've put together most of 60 minutes each night. When we don't, the goaltending or penalty kill or power play steps up and we find a way to get it done. It's good experience for everybody to play in different styles of games, and moving forward we'll definitely rely on that experience." - Byron Froese on Stockton's ability to find ways to win