PREVIEW: Gulls vs. HeatMar 6, 2019
The Gulls and Stockton Heat face off for the third straight game over the past six days tonight at Pechanga Arena San Diego (7 p.m.). The Gulls (30-17-3-3) return home for the first of seven home games this month where the team has matched the best start in club history on home ice through 25 games, posting a 16-7-1-1 record, good for 34 points (also 16-7-1-1 in 2016-17). That record has helped push the team to a second-place tie with San Jose in the Pacific Division, with San Jose playing one fewer game to date.
Stockton (23-26-4-1) currently sits sixth in the division nine points out of playoff spot behind the fourth place Colorado Eagles. Tonight’s contest marks the penultimate contest of an eight-game season series that has seen each team walk away with three wins in the prior six matchups. The results over four seasons worth of games against Stockton have also been fairly even with the Gulls posting a 15-15-3-3 all-time record against the Heat, including a 9-5-2-1 mark at home.
In their back-to-back matchup this past weekend, the Gulls split two vastly different games. In the first of the consecutive games, San Diego got off to an early lead, but was unable to hold on. Stockton took control of the game by netting five consecutive goals while preventing San Diego from scoring after the first period. Kevin Boyle was able to stop 38 shots after being reassigned by Anaheim to San Diego earlier in the day. Boyle stopped 21-of-22 first period shots to tie a personal record for most saves in a single period (also Feb. 17, 2018 vs. Ontario).
“It doesn’t matter what day of the season it is, these games are huge,” said Gulls point-leader Sam Carrick following the loss. “I don’t think we took this game as seriously as we needed to and it showed. Left (Kevin Boyle) out to dry there for sure, but good news is that it’s a quick turnaround. We have another one tomorrow and a little redemption. With the character we have with this group here, there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll come out with a better effort tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.”
Carrick’s words came to fruition as the Gulls came out on the ice looking like a completely new team, giving arguably their best defensive performance all season. After scoring two goals in just 15 seconds to end the first period, San Diego held on to the lead and limited Stockton to just 20 shots on net. San Diego goaltender stopped all 20 shots en route to the Gulls’ first shutout of the season and their first since Mar. 16, 2018 vs. Milwaukee (Reto Berra, 37 saves).
“We just had a good mindset,” said Gulls forward Alex Dostie on the most recent win. “We took away their time and space and we know they can score and they have good players. I think when we do that, we can play against any team. Even though they are a high-scoring team, we can beat them.”
Forward Chase De Leo has been one of the most consistent point producers over the past month, recording points in 11 of his last 13 games while picking up 15 points (8G/7A) with a +13 rating in that span. Over the past several games he has set single-season career-highs in points and assists, and is two goals short of besting his previous 19-goal record set in his rookie season with Manitoba (2015-16). Adam Cracknell has also been leading by example, entering tonight’s game with points in five straight games (3-4=7) in addition to nine goals, 17 points (9-8=17) and a +12 rating his last 12 contests. Cracknell co-leads San Diego with a +17 rating this season and has scored 10-10=20 points in 19 games since being acquired from Toronto on Dec. 10.
On Stockton’s bench sits Jusso Valimaki, a rookie defenseman that spent the majority of the season with the Calgary Flames, the Heat’s NHL affiliate. Valimaki is a defenseman that is on the ice in the game’s most crucial minutes, including the power-play and the penalty kill. Prior to being shutout in their last matchup on Saturday, Mar. 2, Valimaki was riding a career-long four-game point streak (1-3=4).
Leading Stockton up front has been veteran Alan Quine who recorded his team-leading 13th multi-point game with a pair of assists last Friday in Stockton’s 5-2 win. Quine has recorded 18-31=49 points this season.
Stockton’s primary goalie over the course of the season has been Jon Gillies, who has been has found his game over the last seven games. Including two strong performances against the Gulls this past weekend where he stopped 67-of-71 shots, Gillies has won five of his last seven appearances, posting a 2.30 GAA and .930 SV%.
Yesterday the Heat added depth to their blue line with the addition of Michael Stone, assigned to Stockton by the Calgary Flames on a long-term conditioning loan. A veteran of 436 NHL games, the defenseman has appeared in 11 games this season with Calgary having suffered from a blood clot.
The Anaheim Ducks made their own roster moves yesterday, recalling center Sam Steel and defenseman Jacob Larsson from the Gulls. Steel had earned 17-17=34 points in 45 games with San Diego this season. At the time of his recall, he led Gulls rookies in goals, and ranked second in points and assists. Larsson appeared in 19 games with San Diego in 2018-19, recording five assists (0-5=5) with a +3 rating.