Photo credit: @AHLHeat
By Marko Ukalovic
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The third act of the NorCal rivalry between the Stockton Heat and the San Jose Barracuda went the Heat’s way as they jumped out to a two-goal lead and then hung on for a 3-2 victory on Saturday afternoon at SAP Center.
The Heat have now won three games in a row and currently sit in second place in the Pacific Division with 35 points, five points behind the division-leading Tucson Roadrunners. The loss for San Jose snapped a three-game point streak and they are 2-1-0-1 in the month of December. Stockton is 3-0 against San Jose this season.
This was the first game without Roy Sommer behind the bench for the ‘Cuda as he was promoted this past Wednesday to be an associate coach with the parent club Sharks. Michael Chiasson and Jimmy Bonneau now serve as co-coaches of the team.
Stockton (16-5-1-2) drew first blood early in the first period with its number one power play in the league. Glenn Gaudin sent a shot in from the left wing that partially deflected to the right of ‘Cuda goalie Josef Korenar. Luke Philp collected the puck all alone in front of the crease and tapped home the puck into an empty net for his 11th goal of the season at the 5:07 mark. Philp has scored a goal in five straight games and has seven goals in the past five goals.
San Jose (9-12-0-2) evened the score 68 seconds into the second period. Lukas Radil, playing in his first game since being reassigned by the Sharks, centered the puck out in front of the crease from behind the net. During a mad scramble in front of the crease, Maxim Letunov poked at the puck and it deflected off a Heat defender’s skate into the back of the bet for Letunov’s seventh goal of the season. Sasha Chmelevski, who was in the middle of the scrum, was credited with the secondary assist.
“Today I played many minutes,” Radil said after the game. “It’s good for me to get back in (to playing) shape. I’m really glad to get the opportunities (to still play in San Jose). I like playing here.”
The Heat regained the lead late in the middle frame. Andrew Nielsen led a rush into the ‘Cuda zone and fed a pass over to Justin Kirkland. He skated down the left board and sent a tough angle shot on Korenar, who kicked out the rebound into the middle of the ice where Matthew Phillips cashed in the rebound as his shot rolled off the arm of Korenar into the back of the net for his 10th goal of the season at the 16:14 mark.
Stockton received an insurance goal in the third period. A turnover by the ‘Cuda in the neutral zone fed Adam Ruzicka at the red line and he skated all the way in from the left wing with a power move, fighting off Thomas Gregoire at the crease and snapped a backhander past Kornear for his fourth goal of the season at the 7:05 mark.
San Jose cut the deficit to a one when Danil Yurtaykin skated in from the blueline down the right wing making a move around a Heat defender as he centered the puck over to Ivan Chekhovich. The rookie forward fired home a one-timer past Heat goalie Artyom Zagidulin for just his second goal of the season at the 11:45 mark. Chekhovich snapped a 13-game goal-less drought.
“It was great to see Checko (Chekhovich) get on the board,” said Bonneau regarding the rookie’s goal-less skid. “(He’s a) talented kid, works hard. (We’re hoping for) things to just get going for him.”
A key moment in the game came with seven minutes left in the third period was when San Jose had a 5-on-3 power play opportunity for 18 seconds but weren’t able to cash as the number three penalty kill in the AHL stifled the ‘Cuda power play.
“Limit the turnovers. I think we had a little more than we should’ve had in the third period. I think when we’re good on our forecheck, that’s when we are successful,” said Letunov.
The ‘Cuda pulled Korenar for an extra attacker with two minutes left in the game, but Stockton’s defense kept San Jose’s attack at bay.
“Our neutral zone (play) both offensively and defensively need a little work. I thought we struggled to keep our lines together a little bit, shifts were extended. The quicker we can get out of our zone the more we can get stability in that,” said Bonneau.
Zagidulin finished the afternoon with making 21 saves on 23 shots as he is now 11-1-1 on the season. Korenar stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced in a valiant but losing effort.
GAME NOTES: San Jose was 0-for-4 on the power play. Stockton was 1-for-4.
The last time Stockton won in San Jose before today was back in October of 2018.
Jonny Brodzinski had his six-game point streak come to an end as he was kept off the scoreboard.
The announced attendance was 3,465.
UP NEXT: The two teams complete their weekend series Sunday, December 15 up in Stockton at 5:00 pm at Stockton Arena.