The Abbotsford Heat didn’t so much lose Saturday’s game vs. the Charlotte Checkers, as they had it stolen from them.
The culprit was Charlotte Checkers goalie Justin Peters. The Heat peppered him with 41 shots, but he turned each one aside in a 1-0 victory at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Chris Terry notched the game-winner late in the third period, scoring on the power play with 4:26 remaining.
It marked the seventh straight defeat for the Heat (26-22-8).
“You understand at this level that you’re going to have some ups and downs,” Heat head coach Troy Ward noted afterward.
“In the seven losses, I’d say four for sure we deserved to lose. I think that’s a fair statement. There’s probably three of the seven where I felt we played good enough to win.
“That’s just the way the league works. You understand that when you start the season, and you’re not sure when it’s going to come. You hope to always avoid it, but it’s somewhat inevitable.”
Ward held a meeting with his veterans after Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Checkers, and on Saturday, he had all five of them in the starting lineup – Krys Kolanos, Ben Walter and Blair Jones up front, and Joe Piskula and Joe Callahan on the blueline.
They came out strong and set an aggressive tone which saw the Heat carry the play five-on-five.
The hosts amassed a 41-22 edge in shots on goal, but came up empty due to the flawless play of Peters. One of his best saves of the night came midway through the third period, when he stopped Ben Walter from point-blank range off a rebound.
His Abbotsford counterpart Leland Irving was also excellent – he added to his personal highlight reel in the second period, stoning Zac Dalpe on a shorthanded two-on-one break.
But with Heat defenceman Chris Breen in the box for hooking late in the third, Terry eluded Greg Nemisz at the blue line, cruised into the right faceoff circle and beat Irving with a blocker-side wrist shot.
Afterward, Terry said his team had the sense that with Peters playing lights-out behind them, one goal would be enough.
“He was stellar, and all season he’s been that good,” Terry said of Peters. “He made numerous stops on grade-A scoring chances tonight.
“He was the big reason why we were in that game. All we were saying on the bench was, ‘One shot.’ We had great confidence that he would shut the door the rest of the way.”
The Heat’s Achilles heel on the weekend was their power play. In Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Checkers, they went 0-for-7 with the man advantage while surrendering two shorthanded goals. On Saturday, the power play went 0-for-6.
“You really wouldn’t call it special teams, because they weren’t very special,” Ward cracked. “The group of people that are out there are very capable and have produced this year. They’re just really struggling.
“I think part of the struggles this weekend were a little of the things that they (the Checkers) did. They pressured us at times, and I thought when we got composed, Peters was the difference all weekend.”
Walter said it’s hard to put a finger on what ails the Heat power play.
“It comes with not winning in a while – you get a little frustrated, and we haven’t been able to score too many goals,” he said. “I think maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves on the power play to make a big play at a big time, where a lot of times the best power plays are simple – they get shots on the net and get rebounds.”
Irving, making his second start with the Heat since being sent down by the Calgary Flames earlier this month, was solid between the pipes.
“I thought he looked great,” Heat defenceman Joe Piskula said. “He kept us in the game a few times with some big saves, and you need that down the stretch. You need your goalie to bail you out once in a while.”
• The Heat are coming off the most condensed portion of their schedule, having played 14 games in 24 days. Ward said he’ll give his charges Sunday and Monday off to recuperate.
“Planes, trains and automobiles – wherever we’ve been, it’s been gruelling,” he said.
“Probably the most excited I’ve been about this group this year is based on how hard they competed this weekend. They had every right to cash it in, and they didn’t. They worked really hard. They’re going to take two full days off.”
• The Heat are back in action on home ice next weekend vs. the Houston Aeros (Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. both nights, AESC).