One night after his worst outing as a member of the Abbotsford Heat, goaltender Danny Taylor was back on his game on Saturday evening.
Unfortunately for the Heat, Tom McCollum, Taylor’s counterpart with the Grand Rapids Griffins, was also in fine form.
In a game that featured more scoring chances than the final score indicated – the two teams combined for 75 shots – McCollum emerged victorious in an entertaining goalie duel.
Grand Rapids defenceman Brian Lashoff struck the decisive blow with 1:01 to go in overtime, cramming the puck between Taylor’s pads to lift his team to a 2-1 win before 4,041 spectators at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Taylor has been nothing short of spectacular since joining the Heat in early December, winning seven of his first nine starts. He stumbled for the first time on Friday – he got the hook the 12th minute of the Heat’s 4-3 loss to Grand Rapids – but authored a solid bounce-back effort Saturday.
“He’s the only reason we got to overtime,” Heat defenceman Jordan Henry said of Taylor. “That’s just how it is. We gave up too many chances, and he was there for us. He got us a point tonight, definitely.”
With the weekend sweep in Abbotsford, the Griffins are rolling. After a slow start to the campaign, Grand Rapids (15-13-4-2) has now registered points in 13 of 15 games, and the weekend wins moved them above the .500 mark for the first time this season. Abbotsford fell to 22-10-3-0.
“I’m pretty proud of the guys,” said Griffins captain Garnet Exelby, who accounted for his team’s lone goal in regulation. “Tonight we knew Abbotsford was going to come out a little angry and play a real solid game, which they did. But I think we matched them just like we needed to.”
Akim Aliu, another Heat newcomer who joined the team in late December, got the hosts off to a great start, as he swept home a rebound off a Henry point shot at the 1:25 mark of the first.
Heat sniper Krys Kolanos had some golden opportunities to expand the lead in the second period, but McCollum stopped him twice on breakaways.
Late in the middle frame, Exelby stepped into a slap shot off a feed from Jamie Johnson. The puck may have deflected off a defender after leaving his stick, but it practically left a vapour trail as it scorched over Taylor’s glove hand.
In the extra session, Kolanos and Griffins defenceman Doug Janik took off-setting holding penalties, leading to some wide-open three-on-three hockey. After a Henry rush into the Griffins’ zone, Grand Rapids struck on the counter-attack – Tomas Tatar feathered a pass to Lashoff in front, and he found a puck-sized gap between Taylor’s pads.
Heat head coach Troy Ward had already lost the services of top defencemen Clay Wilson (recalled by Calgary Flames) and Brendan Mikkelson (traded to Tampa Bay Lightning) in the last week, and he saw his lineup further depleted when forward Lance Bouma was recalled by the Flames on Saturday morning.
Bouma did himself proud with the parent club, scoring his first NHL goal in a 3-1 Flames win over the Minnesota Wild – on the same night Jarome Iginla notched his 500th career goal.
But back in Abbotsford, Bouma’s old team missed him – and the other absentees – mightily.
“It was a tough weekend for us, relative to our chemistry,” Ward said. “It was off, it was really off.
“Like I said last night, it’s like a car with new parts, and it just didn’t run that well. We were a little disjointed.”
Heat captain Quintin Laing marked his 600th career AHL game on Friday evening. That leaves him 17th among active players, and among the top 100 all-time.
“You play with a lot of guys and you develop a lot of friendships over that time,” Laing said, reflecting on the milestone. “I think it’s quite an accomplishment – when I started in the (ECHL), I never thought I’d stick in the AHL. To play 600 (AHL) games, and 79 NHL games, it makes you look back a little bit and think about some good times.”
• With Bouma and Ryan Howse (injured on Friday night) out of the lineup, Justin Dowling and Gaelan Patterson drew in for the Heat.
• The Heat now hit the road for a five-games-in-seven-days jaunt, beginning Tuesday at the San Antonio Rampage.
“We seem to play better when we squeeze a lot of games into a short amount of time, so hopefully that continues,” Laing noted.
• Reflecting on the selection of Kolanos and Wilson to the AHL all-star game, Ward expressed disappointment that neither of the Heat’s netminders – Taylor or Leland Irving – were selected for the midseason showcase.
The snub could be attributed to the division of labour – Irving has been up with the Flames for the past month and will likely still be there when the all-star game rolls around in late January, while Taylor only joined the team in early December. Still, Ward felt the fact that his team led the AHL with 22 wins when the all-star selections were announced merited more recognition.
“I feel bad for our goaltenders, and for our team,” he said. “I thought either one of them deserved it. I thought it would have been most appropriate. It would be different if we didn’t lead the league in wins at that particular time. But something’s going on here. Give them the recognition they deserve.”