On Saturday, they looked rather toothless – the Monsters limited them to just 24 shots, and the hosts’ lone goal of the evening came on a shot from behind the goal line that banked in off Lake Erie netminder Calvin Pickard.
The Monsters, meanwhile, scored twice in a span of 1:08 in the second period and won 3-1 to salvage a split of the two-game weekend set at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“We have a ton of skill in that dressing room,” Heat forward Carter Bancks observed, “but skill’s nothing if you’re never in the offensive zone.
“Throughout the whole game, I don’t know if we were hungry enough. We were trying to stretch them out a bit, but we weren’t getting touches (on the puck) – a lot of icings. I think we need to be more ready to play as a whole group. I don’t think we were as ready right off the hop.”
The Heat, though, did manage to draw first blood, as Corban Knight notched his third goal of the year on the power play at 9:46 of the first period.
The rookie centre collected the rebound off Ben Street’s initial shot, and with a Monsters defenceman pushing him south of the goal line, flipped the puck back towards the net. It banked in off Pickard’s pad.
“The goalie was kind of cheating off his post,” Knight recounted. “I thought I’d try to bank it off him, and it was kind of lucky it worked out.”
But that was the lone offensive highlight for the Heat, who were out of sync and easily smothered by the Monsters.
Michael Sgarbossa got the equalizer at 3:48 of the second, ripping a one-timer on the power play past Heat goalie Reto Berra. Joey Hishon gave Lake Erie the lead just over a minute later, finishing off a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play with linemates Guillaume Desbiens and Mark Olver.
Desbiens, who played for the Heat in 2011-12, inserted the dagger at 4:55 of the third, roofing a glove-side wrist shot on a partial breakaway.
“It’s always fun coming back – I loved my time out here,” Desbiens said. “I have nothing but good things to say about Abbotsford. Obviously there’s not that many guys left from my time here but there but there are still a few familiar faces and any time you get a goal against your old team it’s fun to put it in their face a little bit. But the biggest thing is that we got the win are back to .500.”
Heat head coach Troy Ward felt his charges were galvanized mentally for Friday night’s game, after giving up six third-period goals in a 9-3 road loss to the Texas Stars the previous Sunday. But having proven their point in the opener of the weekend set vs. Lake Erie, the Heat were mentally lethargic for the rematch.
“We got a win and we felt pretty good,” Ward analyzed. “We didn’t put in any mental work prior to getting here, from the time we left last night. We were a step behind the whole night, just because of our mental abilities to get ready.
“Tonight, everything kind of caught us off guard.”
• Veteran defenceman Derek Smith, who was outstanding in his Heat debut on Friday, was recalled by the Calgary Flames on Saturday morning.
• With Smith no longer at their service, the Heat made three other lineup changes for Saturday. Forwards Josh Jooris and Michael Ferland and defenceman John Ramage were healthy scratches, while forwards Turner Elson and Brett Olson and blueliners Tyler Wotherspoon and Zach McKelvie were inserted.
“We’re just trying to get some guys in the lineup and figure out what we have,” Ward explained. “We have to be prepared here for injuries up top . . . We want to get as many guys going as we can, especially when we only play two games in a weekend.”
• The Heat (4-4-1) hit the road for a trio of games this week – Wednesday and Friday at the Utica Comets, and Saturday at the Hamilton Bulldogs.