Finally, a bit of finish around the net for the Abbotsford Heat.
Just a modest amount, mind you, but still.
For a second consecutive evening, the Heat dictated play against the Rochester Americans on Saturday. But unlike Friday’s opener, when they fired 50 shots on goal only to lose 5-2, the hosts were more efficient in the finishing department.
Ben Street scored twice, Tyler Ruegsegger chipped in with a single and the Heat out-shot the Amerks 31-18 en route to a 3-1 victory.
“We were pretty frustrated as a group coming in this morning,” Street said, alluding to Friday’s snakebitten performance. “It was nice that a few of those pucks found the back of the net for us. We were still doing the right things, so it was nice to get rewarded with a win.”
Street’s individual plight of late has mirrored that of his team as a whole.
The Coquitlam native came into Saturday’s game leading the Heat in points with 22 and the entire AHL in shots on goal with 132. But all that rubber had yielded just seven goals, good for a 5.3 per cent success rate – well below expectation.
Goals had also been tough to come by for the Heat, who had averaged an anemic 1.43 goals per game over their previous 14 contests dating back to the start of December.
During that stretch, Street tallied just twice, but he staged a confidence-boosting breakthrough on Saturday.
“I’ve been squeezing the stick a little tighter, for sure,” he acknowledged. “It’s kind of a slippery slope – when you’re shooting that many, you’re getting chances, and when they’re not going in everyone says, ‘It’s good that you’re getting chances.’
“But eventually it wears on you, and it was starting to wear on me a bit. So it was nice a couple of them found the back of the net tonight.”
In the early going, Saturday’s tilt looked like a carryover from Friday – Abbotsford dominated, but the Amerks opened the scoring against the run of play.
Nick Tarnasky did the honours. The former NHLer (245 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers) whacked the puck out of midair and past Heat goalie Danny Taylor on a rebound at the 6:47 mark of the first.
The Heat had plenty of great looks at David Leggio, but the Rochester goalie stood tall once again. Most notably, he stymied Krys Kolanos from point-blank range after the Abby sniper was set up by Ben Walter.
Finally, on their 15th shot of the opening frame, the Heat found the range. Blueliner T.J. Brodie came swooping into the offensive zone and laid a backhand saucer pass in Street’s path, and he beat Leggio cleanly with a blocker-side wrist shot.
The Heat maintained the pressure in the second period, and Ruegsegger made it 2-1, tracking down the rebound off Street’s initial shot from the point and chipping it home.
Street made it 3-1 at 3:23 of the third. Paul Byron did most of the spadework, chasing down a shoot-in and circling the net before feeding Street in the slot for a one-timer.
Taylor, who became a first-time father on New Year’s Day, celebrated with a 17-save victory. His best stop came midway through the third period, when he flashed the glove to rob Mark Mancari on the rush.
Later on, Sven Baertschi had a golden opportunity to score his first goal since returning from injury on Friday, after Mark Pysyk hooked him on the breakaway. But on the ensuing penalty shot, Leggio foiled his deke, doing the splits to make a right toe save.
Street picked up first star honours after a three-point night, while the Heat defensive duo of Brodie and rock-steady veteran Joe Callahan were named second and third stars, respectively.
Street and Byron have found a nice chemistry together – the speedy Byron pushing the pace and dishing the puck, and Street playing triggerman.
“I think we complement each other well,” Byron analyzed. “He’s a great hockey player. He’s so easy to play with – smart, and does a lot of good things.”
Brodie was electric all night long, using his speed to elude Amerks forecheckers in the defensive zone and attacking with flair at the other end.
“At this level, in the last three weeks, he’s matured into a little bit more dynamic of a defenceman,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said of Brodie, who suited up for 54 NHL games with the Calgary Flames last season. “The first couple years here we saw him as a D that had the ability to jump up but really didn’t make a lot happen. He did some nice things with his feet but he’s not a prolific passer. But certainly over the last while he’s become much more efficient at knowing when to give people the puck.
“Early on here, T.J. would hold the puck a really long time and give it to someone and hope it connected. Now it’s more out of creativity and he moves pucks quicker.”
Ward was also happy for Ruegsegger, who came into training camp on a tryout basis and earned an AHL contract. His second-period tally was his second of the campaign.
“We call him Rudy – the hockey version of Rudy in my opinion,” Ward said with a chuckle.
“He’s a sparkplug for us. He’s earned everything he’s got here.”
• Tarnasky was an entertaining presence on Saturday – he spent much of the night chirping back and forth with Heat fans behind the Amerks bench. In the second period, he and teammate Mancari found themselves on the jumbotron as part of the “kiss cam” gimmick, and Tarnasky gave Mancari a smooch on the top of his helmet. The fans were all over Tarnasky again in the third period when he took a cross-checking penalty behind the play on Dustin Sylvester.
• Up next for the Heat is a Friday-Saturday set vs. the Chicago Wolves (the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate) next weekend. The puck drops at 7 p.m. both nights at the AESC.