Right at home on the road.
The AHL's best road squad took another pair of divisional wins in opponents' barns, the latest steps in the Heat's torrid autumn run.
Some staggering stats through 17 games in the league-wide rankings: Stockton is first in offence, first in road-point percentage, third on the powerplay, fifth in overall point percentage.
It's no longer a hot start.
This team is for real.
In the 5-1-0-1 road start prior to this week's pair of victories, Stockton had only one achievement left to get on road ice - comeback wins. Granted, the Heat had rarely trailed on the road, but the ability to overcome in-game adversity in hostile arenas is something that could prove valuable down the road.
This week they got not one, but two.
A Thursday tilt with Bakersfield in front of 7,000-plus schoolkids got the road trip started, and things got rough early. The Condors struck not once, but twice in the game's first five minutes - forcing the Heat to take a timeout and a breath.
Whatever was said in the huddle worked.
Ryan Lomberg got Stockton on the board midway through the opening frame. Luke Philp followed suit shortly after. Before the break, it was a tie game, the fast start by the opposition canceled and the momentum back with the road team.
After a scoreless second, Lomberg struck again early in the third, a marker that was matched by the Condors late in the frame, pushing the game to overtime - where Alan Quine quickly ended the contest just 1:16 into the 3-on-3 set for a 4-3 victory.
Two days later the show headed to San Diego, a place Stockton has found consistent success - a run of now six-straight wins that dates back to Dec. 16, 2017. The Heat started strong, hemming the home team into its defensive zone for large portions of the opening frame but trailed 1-0 into the first intermission.
The Gulls had been 5-0 on the year when leading after 20 minutes, but thanks to a four-goal second by Stockton, they're now 5-1.
Mason Morelli scored less than three minutes into the second stanza, taking advantage of some nifty stick work and a nice feed from Adam Ruzicka, then Byron Froese put Stockton ahead just 1:08 later. Zac Leslie found the back of the net from the blueline with 7:22 left in the second, and then Glenn Gawdin punctuated the onslaught with a tap-in from right in front of the blue paint on the powerplay, producing the 4-1 final.
Three games remain on the season-long five-game road swing against divisional opponents, including the first meeting of the season with Ontario and two in Colorado against the Eagles.
As the tests stack up, at least so far, the Heat have had all the right answers.
- Lomberg recorded his team-best fifth and sixth multi-point games of the season in the first two games of the road swing. He is on pace for a career season currently with 17 points (8g,9a) in 17 games.
- Stockton has not allowed a powerplay goal in five games, successfully killing 15 penalties in that span.
- Morelli has a point in each game of the road swing. Both of his goals this season have come against San Diego.
- Stockton's four-goal outburst in the second period matched its best offensive period of the season, previously netting four in the second period against Tucson on Nov. 9.
- Stockton is now 7-1 on the year when outscoring opponents on special teams.
THEY SAID IT:
"Huge momentum shift. We got a bit of a bounce with a puck going off the crossbar then we go the other way (and score). Byron Froese makes a really strong play to drive the middle and get a quick backhand off, that was a big difference in the game. We went from a one-goal deficit to a 2-1 lead in a short span." - MacLean on Stockton's quick two goals in the second on Saturday.
"We felt like we did a lot of good things in the first period. We thought we could manage pucks a little better. That's what in the second, we really took the positives of the first. We really did feel like we had a lot of good in-zone time, we felt like we did a lot of good things in the first period other than we mismanaged the puck a few times. We made it a point to manage pucks the right way, and at the end of the day it paid off." - Zac Leslie on the team's second period Saturday.
"I didn't see a shot on the 5-on-3 until the very end. We had a block by (Byron Froese), a block by (Rinat Valiev), and one other, I'm not sure, but there wasn't much for me to do there. The one save I had to make was on a blocked pass. It was a really good team effort on that front, we had a couple of good clears and were able to kill some time that way. That's big on the 5-on-3." - Jon Gillies on Stockton's big penalty kill in the second when down two men Saturday.
"I'm playing with good linemates. I've been playing with (Froese) all year, he's a guy who's been around. He's a true pro. He's always in the right spots. It's pretty cliché but I'm trying to be in the right spots at the right times, attention to detail, and playing with guys like that, they'll find you and you'll get your chances." - Lomberg on his offensive start to the season.
"Every time you can chip in offensively it helps and it adds to your confidence level. Today, it was nice to get one, kind of a timely one to tie the game. It was a nice play by my linemates, nice pass from (Mason) Morelli to get it across and I just had to tap it in." - Philp on his scoring of late following Thursday's win.