The Stockton Heat are good.
Seventeen-wins-in-25 games good.
Top-ranked powerplay and second-ranked penalty-kill good.
Best offence, best road record, winners of four straight and eight of their last 10 good.
That's all good news.
The great news: they seem to be getting better.
"We've just realized we're a good hockey team," said Heat forward Matthew Phillips, who returned to terrorizing AHL defences late in the week after a brief stint with the Flames. "There are certain things that make us a good hockey team. If we can do those, keep pushing with those, we're going to have success."
A perfect three-for-three on the week, Stockton notched a pair of 3-2 road wins with victories in Ontario and San Jose before completing the weekend home-and-home sweep of the Barracuda with a 5-2 win Sunday at Stockton Arena.
The Heat now have a nine-point cushion on the third-place Reign, even with two games tucked away in the back pocket.
This is a Stockton team that is playing arguably its best hockey of the season, answering divisional foe after divisional foe with a steady recipe of timely goals, strong special teams and an ability to overwhelm opponents when given the chance.
The familiar themes persisted from last week, Luke Philp continuing to build on his explosive month - his five-game goal-scoring streak coming to a close on Sunday but he remains the AHL's leading goal producer since notching his first pro marker on Nov. 11. Phillips was recalled to Calgary then re-assigned to Stockton and did not miss a beat, scoring three goals in two games as he pushed his scoring streak to seven contests, fourth-best in the league entering the week. He has scored a goal in four-straight and has lit the lamp in six of his last seven games played.
What stands out about this club is the depth. A solidly-built team that can hit opponents in waves: Stockton boasts four players past the 20-point mark, four in double-digit goals and six with 10 or more assists. Without team captain Byron Froese and spark plug Ryan Lomberg for a stretch, the Heat kept churning out wins. Without Phillips for Wednesday's win, Stockton found a way - the OT winner courtesy of Austin Czarnik.
The team also has established a variety of routes to win. As good as the offence has been - the only squad in the AHL averaging north of four goals per game on the year - the magic number has been three: the Heat are 17-1-1-0 when scoring three goals. The penalty-kill came up big in both games this weekend while facing a strong powerplay unit, having to withstand a late 5-on-3 kill in each win over San Jose. The play between the pipes was solid all week, highlighted by a 47-save flurry from Jon Gillies on Sunday.
It seems nearly every game, any situation, the Heat have an answer.
Up next is the team's first test outside of divisional play this season, facing an Iowa team that limps into the game just 3-7 in its last 10, in the Heat's final home game until New Year's Eve.
- Gillies' 47-save performance on Sunday was one stop shy of his career high of 48, set Dec. 16, 2017 against San Diego in a 3-1 win.
- Artyom Zagidulin's last six decisions between the pipes have all been wins. He is tied for third in the AHL with 11 wins on the season.
- Phillips has scored at least one goal in his last four games played, tied for the longest active streak in the AHL with Milwaukee's Yakov Trenin.
- Phillips and Glenn Gawdin each have yet to go back-to-back games without a point this season.
- Justin Kirkland has scored in four-straight games, a season-best stretch.
- Stockton scored first in all three games last week, and the Heat are 10-0-0-2 on the year when jumping out to a 1-0 lead.
- Stockton has won all four meetings this season with San Jose, the longest win streak ever for the Heat over the Barracuda.
THEY SAID IT:
"I feel like we have a pretty good spread of offense out front. To see a guy like Alex Gallant get on the scoreboard, which he has a few times now in three games, it helps. You want guys to be able to contribute on both ends of the ice, and you want guys to be able to contribute all the way through your lineup. That's coming." - Head coach Cail MacLean on Stockton's scoring depth
"(Jon Gillies was) solid. He kept us in it in the first period. He was very good there. Way too many shots against. I thought we settled down in the second, but then Jon came up big again in the third. He was good. When you give up goals back and forth, it makes it a tough game to win. Jon did a good job of settling it down, getting us into the third period and making the big saves." - MacLean on Gillies' 47-save effort Sunday
"You just grow a lot as the years go by. Especially first year to second year, a lot of guys are going to see a big jump in confidence and understanding how the league works, the little things that can make you successful. We've all been playing well, and as the team plays well that adds to individual success." - Phillips on his confidence in year two as a pro
"It was exciting. It was a really fun three days. I got to be around for two games and see how (the Flames) prepare for big games, and they're playing really well right now. I think I took a lot in in those three days, and I tried to bring that back here." - Phillips on what he took away from his first NHL recall
"We're having fun. I think that's what it is. Everyone gets along so great in this group. For it being so early in the season, we just started clicking right away. We're having such a great time, and winning is a big part of that. Guys want to win, just because we're enjoying it. Everyone's buying in." - Alex Gallant on the atmosphere in the locker room with the team's recent run of success