The Abbotsford Heat will turn to Danny Taylor for Game 4 tonight, as they fight to avoid the dreaded 3-1 series deficit against the Toronto Marlies.
Taylor was between the pipes as the Heat won their first four games of the playoffs, encompassing a three-game sweep of the Milwaukee Admirals in the first round and a 3-1 victory over the Marlies to open the second round.
But after Taylor surrendered four goals in a Game 2 defeat, head coach Troy Ward tapped Leland Irving to start Game 3. Irving, making the first playoff start of his professional career and not having seen game action in three weeks, struggled early en route to a 4-1 loss.
Breaking down the decision to go back to Taylor tonight (7 p.m., Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre), Ward alluded to the fact that Taylor played the bulk of the games late in the season when the Heat turned in their best home-ice performances.
“We’re very comfortable with Danny at home,” Ward noted. “Danny, down the stretch, has been probably our go-to guy.
“But that doesn’t mean anything negative against Leland. Part of the Leland thing (starting Game 3) was just Danny traveling home and being tired. It was Leland’s chance, and he played well in a lot of ways – obviously made some big saves during the game. But we’ll go back with Danny tonight.”
MORE LINEUP CHANGES EXPECTED
Ward said he’ll make other changes to the lineup, but didn’t reveal specifics.
“We’re in the post-season because some players in our locker room put us here, and some of those players haven’t played in this series yet,” he said. “I will always weigh on the fact that those guys who put us in this position will get a chance to answer the bell. That’s the way life should be.”
Regular-season contributors who haven’t suited up in this series include forwards Adam Estoclet, Ryan Howse and Gaelan Patterson, and defenceman James Martin.
Heat captain Quintin Laing is also among that group – he hasn’t played since Game 1 of the Milwaukee series due to injury. Laing took the morning skate, but Ward said he’s not available.
“Obviously in this series, that’s been a huge loss,” Ward said. “He’s a big leader behind the scenes, he’s still addressing the team on a day-to-day basis.”
POWER PLAY LOOKING FOR SPARK
The Heat’s inability to score with the man advantage has emerged as one of the huge storylines in this series, as the Marlies’ top-ranked penalty kill has had its way.
Toronto’s PK was tops in the AHL during the regular season (88.1 per cent), and they’ve continued to clip along in the playoffs, emerging unscathed from all but one of 28 shorthanded situations (96.4 per cent). The Heat are 0-for-16 in the series.
“We’ve watched a lot of video and worked in practice,” Heat centre Ben Walter said. “But it really just comes down to hard work and getting pucks through and getting rebounds, really.
“It’s going to take some dirty goals on the power play, I think. It’s not so much going to be the backdoor tap-ins.”
Ward noted the Heat aren’t losing the special-teams battle by a huge margin – the Marlies are only 1-for-15 on power plays of their own.
“Neither group as been outstanding, but they’ve out-performed us, there’s no question about that,” Ward acknowledged. “But I’m not here to say our power play is absolutely terrible. It’s not. It’s got some work to do, and it would be nice for us to get a goal. But I wouldn’t think it would change their psyche at this point.”
MARLIES’ TOP LINE FLYING HIGH
Toronto’s top trio of Jerry D’Amigo, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin has given the Heat fits in the series – they’ve combined for six goals, or 60 per cent of their team’s offence.
“We could match up tonight a little bit differently than we have,” Ward said. “It’s important that we do the best we can with that.
“We have about a three- or four-man deep rotation on the back side that we feel could work to our advantage if we’re playing well. At the same time, we have a group of forwards that we like to get the match-up.
“But as we’re all accustomed to from covering this game, when good players are playing well, that’s just the reality of our business. You can be really good on them at times, and you give them one little break, and that’s all they need. It seemed like that’s the way that line has operated so far.”