While there are often several factors that go into a team winning a hockey game, two tend to make-or-break a team’s chance at winning. Goaltending and special teams battles can change the outcome of any given game. On Wednesday in Stockton, both played their part in defeat, as the hometown Heat beat the Ontario Reign in overtime, 2-1.
With under a minute left in the opening period, Stockton struck first, scoring a powerplay goal with only 40 seconds before the intermission. After Adrian Kempe was whistled for tripping goalie Joni Ortio, Stockton won the ensuing faceoff in the Reign zone. The Heat moved the puck from high to low, where Derek Grant threw a shot on net from around the goal line, beating netminder Peter Budaj and giving his team a 1-0 lead.
Early in the second, rookie Valentin Zykov would knot the game up at one a piece. After the Reign cycled the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, Zykov collected the puck, and proceeded to work his way up-and-down the boards, battling off defenders as he waited for the play to develop. Eventually, Zykov took a step off the boards, towards the net, and fired a puck that slipped under the pads of Ortio.
Later in the period, special teams found a way to yet again hurt the Reign in the game. A quick succession of penalties saw Ontario go on a two-man advantage for nearly two minutes. Midway through the powerplay, the Reign got their best chance off the stick of Nic Dowd, whose shot attempt was blocked away by the diving head of Ortio in an otherwise empty net. The miraculous stop kept the game tied at one, and gave the Heat the momentum needed to kill the rest of the penalties off.
In the dying seconds of regulation, a mistake was made that would ultimately cost the Reign the game. With eight seconds on the clock and in the offensive zone, Justin Auger closed his hand on the puck and was penalized in the process. Shortly into the ensuing overtime period, Grant once again lit the lamp, as he redirected a pass right in front of the net past Budaj, sealing the 2-1 victory for the Heat.
Ontario’s inability to score on the powerplay, paired with Stockton scoring twice with the man advantage, is ultimately what decided the game. Despite a plethora of grade-A scoring chances, the Reign could only best Ortio once all game. The Finnish netminder was spectacular all game, acting as a main reason for his team’s victory.
At the other end of the rink, Budaj also played very well. Though Budaj did not face nearly as many high-quality scoring chances, he once again stopped every shot he needed to, meanwhile giving his team a chance to win the game.
Wednesday was a much better game for Zykov, who was mostly a non-factor on Saturday in San Jose. The Russian youngster demonstrated his tremendous board work, as he possessed the puck for an extended period of time, while fighting off a Heat defenseman, before finding open ice and firing a shot home for the Reign’s lone goal.
Recently in an interview with MayorsManor, Mark Yannetti mentioned how there were four or five players on the Reign who are good enough to play in the NHL currently. It wouldn’t be a shock if one of those players is defenseman Kevin Gravel. The young defender has done nothing but grow and improve in the year-and-a-half that he has played professional hockey. For years, Gravel was compared and contrasted to Derek Forbort as the two were playing college hockey. Debates were made for which was the better prospect, and those debates then extended to Manchester last year. Now, Forbort versus Gravel may be a possible debate again next training camp, as both defenseman may end up fighting for spots on a very competitive Kings blueline.
Credit deserves to be given to coach Mike Stothers for Wednesday’s game. In the opening period, the Reign saw the line centered by Derek Army get beat heavily in time of possession, with the Heat often pinning said line in the Reign zone for sustained periods of time. Stothers’ mid-game adjustments saw the Reign come out for the second period with adjusted lines, and the changes allowed for a much more balanced Reign lineup.
Lines for Wednesday’s game were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Justin Auger
Adrian Kempe – Derek Army – Sean Backman
Jordan Samuels-Thomas – Andrew Crescenzi – Valentin Zykov
Paul Bissonnette – Ryan Horvat – Jonny Brodzinski
Kurtis MacDermid – Vincent LoVerde
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
Jeff Schultz – Zac Leslie
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