Road trip welcomed by Heat as home woes continue
The Abbotsford Heat returned home from a 3-1-0-0 road trip only to continue their home-ice struggles this week. The team is only too happy to now be embarking on a seven-game road trip, their longest of the season, beginning Thursday, Nov. 10 against the Houston Aeros.
On the road Abbotsford is 5-1-0-0 this year. Unfortunately for them their record at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre is a less impressive 2-3-1-0.
"We've been a much harder team on the road,” said head coach Troy Ward after Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Oklahoma City Barons. “We [haven't] played as crisp and as hard at home to this point. That's why our record is what it is at home."
The following game Saturday night they lost again, this time in overtime, 4-3. The game was a penalty-fill affair that was won by Gilbert Brule on the power play in OT.
“We’re trying to figure...out [how to win at home],” said Heat forward Gaelen Patterson. “We’ve got to work hard. Obviously when we’re on the road we don’t have to worry about the things at home that we have to take care of. We just have to put that aside for game day.”
Patterson and his linemates John Armstrong and Mitch Wahl played a great fourth-line game on Saturday, though they weren’t able to get the goal that eluded the entire Heat team when the game was on the line.
“We didn’t get a lot of ice time in the first period because of all the penalties,” said Patterson. “In the third we really were getting better and had a lot of opportunities. We can build on that.”
Coach Ward hopes to see more offence from everyone, including his bottom six.
“The realization is that if [they don’t start scoring], in this business, is that they won’t play here,” said Ward matter-of-factly. “They’re good guys but it’s the nature of the business. Some guys are checker and some guys are scorers and sometimes at the American Hockey League level you need them to do both. [Saturday] they pushed hard. We did some great things. I was way happier in a lot of ways than I was on Thursday. And I thought Thursday we played well in a lot of ways. It’s just that our moments of truth aren’t great moments right now. You have to execute and score that key goal and the key time and that’s what separates the men from the boys.”
“One of the things that’s tough for our team right now at this point in the season is we don’t score a lot of goals,” added Ward. “You can dominate and push and push and push the puck as hard as we pushed the puck into their end but when we don’t score a lot of goals very easily.”
The Heat are in the bottom third in the league in goals for.
Heat’s PK cools off
Abbotsford’s penalty killing was tops in the AHL heading into the two-game set with Oklahoma City but fell on hard times at home, allowing three goals on seven chances.
“We’ve given up four goals in three games now on the PK,” said Ward. “But it is very cyclical. I’ve been in this business a long time. You get really good for a while, you kind of ride that wave and no matter how good you are at times it’s just the hockey gods putting pucks in the cage. Obviously with the four talented guys that they’re going to put on the ice [they are a threat to score]. They’ve go t some talent but I thought we managed it well but obviously we don’t want to put ourselves in that position. I felt bad for our penalty killers but at the same time I still like a lot of the things we did.”
Ortio starts first game
Leland Irving had started every game for the Heat this year but on Saturday, Joni Ortio got a chance to show his stuff. Ortio had relieved Irving twice this year – once because of a poor outing by the latter and once because Irving was ejected for a fight against Joey MacDonald. However, this was Ortio’s first start since his first AHL start during the final game of the 2010-11 season versus Toronto.
Ortio allowed four goals in 62:53 of time between the pipes on 25 shots. The one that hurt the most was the overtime winner.
“There were a lot of bodies in front and I tried to find the puck and I missed the pass, I lost the puck," said Ortio. "The next time I saw it, their guy was winding up. I've got to do a better job of finding the puck. I was way too late on that play and . . . I'm not happy about that."
“He’s played in relief twice so he’s been coming out of the dugout in a way,” said coach Ward. “A lot of coaches [subscribe to] the philosophical approach that you start young goalies on the road. I’m just the opposite – you start them at home and see what they’ve got. When put in front of their home crowd, see how they respond to that. He deserved it.”
Wahl called up from ECHL
Mitch Wahl made his season debut with the Heat Thursday after being recalled from the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL.
He had five goals and two assists in five games with the Grizzlies, and had a couple decent scoring chances in the third period of Saturday’s loss. He took a spot with John Armstrong and Gaelen Patterson on the Heat’s fourth line.
Secondary scoring needed
The line of Ben Walter, John Rheault and reigning AHL player-of-the-week Krys Kolanos had carried much of the offensive load on the road but in the last couple games the second unit began to contribute, including Greg Nemisz with three goals in the home-stand versus Oklahoma City.
“I feel pretty good,” said Nemisz after the loss Saturday. “It was two really fortunate bounces tonight and it’s about being in the right spot.”
“We’ve got [Paul] Byron and Sly (Dustin Sylvester) out there [with me],” he said. “[The top line] has been great, drawing a lot of attention so the second and third lines, we need to start scoring and helping out.”
Joe Piskula left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury and did not return.