Slow starts on home ice have been a season-long epidemic for the Abbotsford Heat, and the issue reared its head again on Friday evening against the Peoria Rivermen.
The Heat spotted the Rivermen a 2-0 lead in the first period, as the visitors posted an 11-7 edge in shots in the frame.
Abbotsford out-shot Peoria 33-17 from that point, but nevertheless fell 4-1 before 2,893 fans at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“We just didn’t start very well, and that’s kind of been the M.O. of this team all year at home,” noted Heat head coach Troy Ward, whose charges are a mediocre 12-13-3-1 at the AESC.
“We’ve probably tried every way known possible to man (to address it). We switched it up again today – how we approached our morning skate, how we did our business today. This particular group of people is just having a hard time doing it at home.”
Patrick O’Sullivan and Anthony Nigro tallied in the opening frame for the Rivermen, and O’Sullivan made it 3-0 with a power-play goal just 21 seconds before the second intermission.
Joe Piskula got the Heat on the board at 2:02 of the third, hammering home a shot from the point, but Adam Cracknell put the finishing touches on the Peoria win by scoring into an empty net in the waning seconds.
Abbotsford goalie Leland Irving stopped 24 of 27 shots, while, his Rivermen counterpart Jake Allen turned aside 39 of 40 pucks he faced.
The Heat (32-22-3-3, 70 points) remained in fourth in the AHL’s Western Conference, one point up on the sixth-place Rivermen (33-26-2-1).
The two teams tangle again on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the AESC. That game marks the Heat’s first annual Pink in the Rink event, with $5 from every ticket sold going to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s Run for the Cure.
As far as the slow starts at home are concerned, Ward said his staff has done enough coaching. Now it’s up to the players look internally and sort things out.
“They’re good people, and they’ll find a way,” he said. “I’m confident of that.”
Peoria Rivermen goalie Jake Allen stops the Heat’s Hugh Jessiman from point-blank range. (Amy Williams Photography)