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Knight, Jones lead the charge as Heat light up Bulldogs 6-0
Corban Knight rediscovered his offensive mojo, Blair Jones picked up where he left off in his return to the AHL, and the Hamilton Bulldogs didn't stand a chance.
Knight and Jones notched two goals apiece as the Abbotsford Heat hung an unconverted touchdown on the Bulldogs (two days before the Super Bowl, no less), winning 6-0 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
And these were no garbage goals – each one was of the high-calibre variety, whether a tic-tac-toe passing play or a highlight-reel individual effort.
"I think it's one of those things in hockey where every once in a while, everything falls into place," Knight analyzed with a smile. "Everybody was chipping in, all four lines and all the D, and Orts (goalie Joni Ortio) was standing on his head.
"It felt good out there."
It took the Heat (27-14-4) just past the midway point of the game to get on the board, and then the floodgates opened.
Markus Granlund got things started at 10:26 of the second period – on the power play, he took a lead feed from Max Reinhart, fended off Bulldogs defenceman Darren Dietz en route to the net, and roofed a shot on goalie Dustin Tokarski.
Just over a minute later, Knight doubled the hosts' lead, taking a centering pass from Brett Olson, toe-dragging the puck around a defender and unleashing a sizzling top-corner wrist shot.
Knight's second of the game came in the final minute of the middle frame, on a snipe from the slot that was nearly a carbon copy of his earlier goal.
In the third, linemates Corey Locke, Sven Baertschi and Josh Jooris combined on a lovely three-way passing play to make it 4-0, with Jooris finishing it off by weaving around a charging Tokarski and sliding the puck into the empty net while falling to the ice.
Jones took over from that point – he tapped in a beautiful feed from Reinhart at the 9:52 mark, and hammered home a power-play slap shot less than two minutes later to round out the scoring.
Jones had a terrific start to the season with the Heat, racking up eight goals and 13 assists in 16 AHL games prior to being recalled by the Calgary Flames. Knee surgery sidelined him for a month, but he didn't seem to miss a beat in his return to Abbotsford.
“I felt better than I thought I was going to feel,” said Jones, who surely benefitted from playing on a line with the red-hot Granlund and Reinhart. “I haven’t really played a lot. I had knee surgery and then I wasn’t playing much. I was quite happy with how I felt.”
Rookie centre Knight, after a strong start to the season, had fallen on hard times offensively of late – he'd mustered just two assists over his previous nine games.
He busted out of that slump emphatically, adding an assist on Granlund's strike to the two goals of his own.
Knight found terrific chemistry with left winger Evan Trupp, recently recalled from the ECHL's Alaska Aces, and it figures – the two were teammates at the University of North Dakota. Trupp picked up assists on both of Knight's goals.
"We played two years together, and we're really good friends, too," Knight said. "The fact we were put together, I think we were both pretty excited about it, and we were able to get some chemistry going tonight. Hopefully we can keep it going as we move forward.
"I'd definitely say I was a little snakebit the last little while here, and things weren't coming my way. It was nice to get a couple nice set-ups from the guys, and I was able to put them in."
Heat head coach Troy Ward noted that rookies from the college ranks like Knight often hit a wall midway through the AHL season, given that the NCAA schedule features roughly half the number of games.
"Corban's a thinker, he's a real deep thinker," Ward said.
"He stayed with it, and I think he's been a good pro. He's going through a learning curve like a lot of our guys. They're kind of over that hump of, 'I'm tired now.'"
Lost in all the offensive pyrotechnics was a reliably terrific performance from Ortio, who turned aside all 34 shots the Bulldogs sent his way.
His second shutout of the season was highlighted by some heretofore unseen truculence – the typically mild-mannered keeper threw a couple of jabs in the second period during post-whistle scrums that encroached on his crease.
“Joni, from a goaltending standpoint, was effective because he was competitive, protecting himself and his crease," Ward said. "He made some huge saves at critical times. We gave them a couple good looks and he was there and made it look pretty easy.”
• Blueliner Shane O'Brien made his Heat debut on Friday, and turned in a solid performance in a pairing with rookie Tyler Wotherspoon.
• Heat defence partners Derek Smith and John Ramage both posted game-high +4 ratings on Friday.
• Enforcer Trevor Gillies, signed by the Heat on Thursday, arrived too late in the day Friday to get into the lineup, according to Ward. He's set to make his debut on Saturday, when the Heat and Bulldogs (20-19-4) renew hostilities (7 p.m., AESC).
It's worth noting that the Heat currently have the fewest penalty minutes (543) of any team in the AHL – less than half the total of the league-leading Bridgeport Sound Tigers.