HEAT RUN COLD AGAINST HOT 'TENDER
The Abbotsford Heat continued their free fall in the West Division standings, dropping to fourth place after a pair of losses to the Western Conference’s best team, the Oklahoma City Barons.
The Heat have won just two of their past nine games and though they were atop the conference a month ago have now been passed by both the second-place Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild affiliate) and the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers affiliate) and sit seventh in the conference.
Thursday night the AHL version of the Battle of Alberta was played at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary in the annual showdown in Calgary between the AHL affiliates of the Oilers and the Flames.
The Barons won 4-0, including a shutout from Yann Danis, his second-straight goose egg.
On Saturday the two teams met at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre and though the style of the game was different, the end result was still another tally in the ‘L’ column, a 2-1 defeat.
Head coach Troy Ward made some changes to his team’s playbook between games and was positive about a few things after the game.
“We changed our whole systems yesterday (Friday) in how we play and how we handled ourselves in a defensive posture and I think it paid dividends,” said Ward in the post-game press conference Saturday. “For one day of teaching it and a little bit today before they got here I thought they did a good job. We only allowed 21 shots. I give them all the credit in the world, but we’re not one of the best teams in the league right now and if they’re the best and we’re that tight with them then I’m pretty confident we’ll be okay.”
“We’re not where we want to be right now as far as points go,” said Ben Walter after Saturday’s game, at which point they were 14 points behind Oklahoma City. “We’ve been in a bit of a slide and we’re trying to battle our way out of it.”
The Barons won the season series 6-2-0 but most of the games were closely contested and it would make a great playoff match-up.
KOLANOS IN CALGARY
When Krys Kolanos was signed two a two-way contract by the Flames and subsequently called up to the parent club he took his impressive goal total with him and the Heat are having trouble putting pucks in the net.
“It’s got to come from the collective group,” said Ward. “We don’t have one guy who can replace those goals.”
One of the players who may need to step up is alternate captain Ben Walter. Saturday Walter scored on an individual effort in the third period to tie the game 1-1, breaking Yann Danis’ franchise-record shutout streak.
“I had a little speed and caught the puck and had a little step on the D there,” said Walter. “He stepped up on me and I didn’t know if the puck was going to keep going or not. I just kind of chipped it – I tried to get it up.”
It was just the second goal in 25 games for him, and his eighth overall.
“It feels good [to finally score again], said Walter. “Obviously it’s something you think about. You try not to but it’s in your mind. I was more excited about the timing of it, getting back in that game.”
KARLSSON LOOKING FOR FIRST WIN
Two games into his conditioning stint with the Abbotsford Heat, Henrik Karlsson is 0-2-0 with six goals allowed. Thursday’s match was played in the familiar confines of Calgary’s Saddledome but Saturday he was at the AESC in Abbotsford for the first time. He made 19 saves on 21 shots Saturday.
“I don’t know how many people were here but they were pretty loud,” said Karlsson. “It’s a great arena here. I like to play here. It was fun.”
Karlsson said his knee feels fine, showing no effects of the injury that kept him sidelined for a little over two months.
Brian Connolly, acquired by the Calgary Flames in exchange for Brendan Morrison, was supposed to shore-up the Abbotsford blue line after moving from the Rockford Ice Hogs. However he was injured early in the second period of Saturday’s game and did not return. At press time no details were given as to his injury.
ANOTHER BODY DOWN THE MIDDLE
The Heat made a trade with the Grand Rapids Griffins to acquire Adam Estoclet. The centre initially takes the spot of Justin Dowling, who was assigned to the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL.
Estoclet found himself with some power play time and also had a great chance at the side of the net in the final seconds on Saturday.
“I think he has a good stick and I think he’ll score and he’s proven to be a scorer,” said Ward. “But that’s going to take some time – we don’t expect him to score right away. Hopefully he gets a little hot and can help us in the scoring department. When we get bodies back, whether that happens in this week or in March, then he’ll probably have to assume a different role.”
With Paul Byron being recalled by the Flames in light of Mikael Backlund going down with an undisclosed injury on Saturday, Estoclet likely will have even more offensive minutes to work with.
“His role will develop here depending on the bodies that we get back,”said Ward. “We have a revolving door. One of the difficulties in this room is everybody’s changing roles based on call-ups and injuries.”
Estoclet has just two points in 20 career AHL games but was hovering around a point per game in the ECHL this year. He joined the team Friday with less of an introduction to the systems of the team and more team bag skate following the shutout loss Thursday.
“Welcome to the team, here you go,” Ward said lightheartedly Saturday night. “Get on the line and listen for the whistle.”
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Abbotsford next hosts the Houston Aeros Friday and Saturday at the AESC and will be looking to make up some ground in the standings against the West Division foe.
If nothing else, a win or two would go a long way to bring back the swagger that the club had earlier in the year and is lacking right now during the losing skid.
“Confidence is a funny thing, and so is love,” said Ward. “If you don’t have them, it’s tough.”
And the turnaround will need to come sooner than later.
“We can’t be like this in March.”