The early portion of Saturday’s clash between the Abbotsford Heat and Utica Comets was defined by players snapping lengthy scoring droughts.
But when it came down to crunch time, it was the two teams’ offensive leaders, Ben Street and Pascal Pelletier, taking over the game.
Street had goal and an assist, both of the highlight-reel variety, in the third period to help the Heat erase a pair of one-goal deficits and force overtime.
But in the extra session it was Comets top scorer Pelletier ending matters – he ripped a one-timer off a slick feed from Colin Stuart past Heat goalie Joey MacDonald to give his team a 4-3 win and a sweep of the weekend set at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
It marked the second straight night the Heat suffered a loss after building a decisive edge in the shots-on-goal department. They fell 3-2 in regulation on Friday after out-shooting the Vancouver Canucks affiliate 37-17, and they had a 36-27 advantage on Saturday.
“I thought we had a hard time attaching ourself emotionally to this game,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said. “But in general, I had no complaints. Our structure was good, and we had almost 40 shots again, with brand new team in a lot of ways – a lot of different parts moving in and moving out. To play that well both games (and lose) . . . that’s hockey.”
The Heat’s first two goals on Saturday came from Turner Elson and Josh Jooris, who snapped scoring droughts of 10 and 20 games, respectively. Elson opened the scoring at 10:37 of the first, whacking a rebound past Comets goalie Joe Cannata.
Jooris hadn’t bulged the twine since the Heat’s season opener on Oct. 4, but he got the monkey off his back in aesthetically pleasing fashion at 3:51 of the third. Michael Ferland got the play started, steaming through the neutral zone and finding Street on the right wing. Street whipped a cross-ice pass that found Jooris to Cannata’s right, and he roofed a one-timer before the Utica goalie could get across.
“If anybody needed a goal on our team, it was probably Josh Jooris in a lot of ways,” said Ward, who has had to move the rookie winger up the depth chart as the club weathers a rash of injuries and recalls. “I think his compete has been way higher of late, and he’s got a bit of mojo playing with Ben Street.”
In between Elson and Jooris’s slump-busting tallies, the Comets responded with a pair of goals from an unlikely source of their own – defensive-minded rookie centre Kellan Lain, who notched his first two goals as a pro after going scoreless in the first 32 games of his AHL career.
The towering (6’6″, 222 pounds) forward got his milestone marker late in the first, as Yannick Weber’s point shot through a crowd hit him on its way to the back of the net.
For an encore, Lain gave the Comets their first lead of the night at 16:24 of the second, knocking in a rebound off Alex Biega’s initial shot.
“It’s definitely exciting,” said Lain, who signed with the Canucks last spring after three years at Lake Superior State University. “I’ve been working hard for it, and I had a lot of chances the first 20 or so games. But you just can’t get down on yourself – you’ve got to keep going, and I got some good bounces.”
Less than three minutes after Jooris’s goal drew the Heat level at 2-2, Stuart restored Utica’s lead, walking out of the corner and backhanding a shot over MacDonald.
Street knotted it up once again on a Heat power play, racing down the left wing on the rush and beating Cannata cleanly with a slap shot from the circle.
“We hadn’t had a whole lot of success setting up (in the offensive zone), so I figured I’d try and score off the rush,” he said. “I’d been seeing short side a little bit this weekend on him, and just went back to the well.”
Pelletier, who had an assist on Stuart’s third-period goal, was the finisher in OT.
“I went down the middle and tried to hold on to it as much as I could to see what was going to happen,” recounted Pelletier, who leads the Comets with 15 points in 14 games. “Stuart was flying on the wall, and I passed it to him behind their D and he passed it back to me for a one-timer tap-in.”
The Heat (17-6-2, 35 points) still lead the AHL in points, though their points percentage is now fourth-best in the league after losing two to Utica. The Comets (6-11-2, 14 points) have moved from last overall to 29th out of 30.
“We’re playing really good hockey right now,” Lain said, alluding to the fact that Utica has won six of its last nine games.
“We were off to a tough start at the beginning of the year – a lot of new guys coming in and out, and we had to find good chemistry within ourselves. We’ve just got to keep focusing on the little things and keep going.”
• Heat defenceman Drew MacKenzie took a puck to the throat after sliding to block a shot in the third period. He skated off on his own power, but did not return. Ward had no official update on his status post-game.
• The Heat got centre Markus Granlund back in the lineup Saturday after he missed the previous game due to illness. The Finnish rookie picked up an assist on Street’s goal.
• Saturday’s attendance was 4,984.
• The Heat are back in action on home ice next weekend, when they host the San Antonio Rampage in a Friday-Saturday set (7 p.m. both nights, AESC).