The Stockton Heat continue to roll, picking up back-to-back wins over divisional rivals in a home-and-away set this past week.
On Friday, they defeated the Ontario Reign 2-1 in overtime at the Stockton Arena and on Saturday, they picked up a 2-0 win over the Condors in Bakersfield.
"Our schedule the last 24 hours was a great test for our guys and I thought our leadership group did a really good job of preparing our team to play," head coach Ryan Huska said in his post-game media address on Saturday.
"They're the voices in the dressing room when our coaching staff isn't in the room and (captain) Mike Angelidis does an excellent job with this group. Tyler Wotherspoon and Matt Frattin have each done a great job as well."
With the victories, the Heat now have an 8-3-1 record and 17 points on the year. That record ranks them second in winning percentage (.708 percent) the American Hockey League's Pacific Division. They have outscored their opponents 45-29 and their plus-16 goal differential is tops in the Western Conference.
Secondary scoring played a key role in Friday's overtime win, with Brandon Bollig scoring his third goal of the season and Matt Bailey netting the game-winner at the 1:02 mark of the extra frame.
"It's a big win for us," Huska said afterwards. "We tried to prepare our guys that they may have to win this one 2-1 because these games against Ontario are hard. They're a tight-checking team and it was good we found the way to win tonight."
After the Reign jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 14:50 of the first period, Bollig was able to pot the equalizer just a few moments later. Ryan Lomberg grabbed the puck out of the corner and tossed it to Bollig, who was perched in the high slot. He snapped a wrist over Ontario goaltender Jack Campbell with just five seconds remaining in the opening stanza.
"It was a fortunate circumstance for me just being in the right spot and then my two linemates were absolutely buzzing in on the forecheck," Bollig said. "Lomberg made a great pass to the middle and I had enough space to let one go. It was probably a little bit of luck, but it's nice to get the guys going at the end of the first there."
The game remain deadlocked for the final 40 minutes, David Rittich and Campbell battling it out in net. Rittich made 17 stops and Campbell denied 25 shots in the final two periods.
In overtime, Morgan Klimchuk's breakaway sealed the game for the Heat. While Campbell was able to deny Klimchuk's shot, he couldn't get to Bailey's rebound shot. The game-winning tally was Bailey's first goal of the season.
"[Morgan Klimchuk] is a real fast skater and took off, I passed one right to him and he made a nice move on the goalie, but just couldn't quite get it past his pad. I came in and was lucky enough to get a stick on it and it went up and over. It was good to see it go in," Bailey explained.
On Saturday, Rittich put on a show in Bakersfield, collecting his second shutout with the Heat. The 2-0 win saw the Czech netminder make 30 saves and earn first star honours.
"The win means more to me than the shutout. I feel good because my team played really well in front of me tonight. The guys made it simple for me and allowed me to see the puck all night," Rittich said.
Rittch was particularly strong in the first period, when the Heat were outshot 13-7 and allowed a handful of quality scoring chances.
"In the first period [David Rittich] was the difference," Huska said. "[Bakersfield] had a lot of pressure on us and we expected that to happen, but our goaltender came to play tonight. That was the real big key for us tonight."
Defenceman Oliver Kylington opened up the scoring with his second goal of the season at 9:57 of the second stanza. His shot from the point got through traffic in front of the net and slipped past Bakersfield goaltender Laurent Brossoit.
In the third period, Daniel Pribyl added the insurance marker for the Heat with his third goal of the year. Lomberg redirected a point shot towards the net and Pribyl was able to whack the puck into the back of the net at 11:06.
"I'm not sure how [Ryan Lomberg] got the puck through to me, but it came to me in front there and I just tried to put it on net. Fortunately, it went in," Pribyl noted.
The Stockton Heat continue their road trip on Wednesday when they take on the Ontario Reign. They will close out the week with back-to-back games against the Tuscson Roadrunners in Arizona.