Gulls lose to Stockton Heat in home opener

SAN DIEGO — Playing their home opener didn’t improve the results for the San Diego Gulls, who lost to the Stockton Heat, 5-1, Friday evening for their fourth defeat in four games in the 2019-20 season.

The Gulls (0-4-0-0) were outshot, 37-24, including 15-5 in the third period, were scoreless on two power-play opportunities and needed a breakaway goal by Daniel Sprong with seven minutes, 23 seconds to play to spoil Jon Gillies’ bid for a shutout.

“We thought we’d get a little home crowd behind us, get in our building for a few days, and that would have a positive effect on us,” Gulls coach Kevin Dineen said. “But I felt like their team played extremely well. They played hard and our push back is just not there right now. It feels like we are still in a mode that is not automatic.

“Things are still looking like we are playing too robotically. We need to get our feet moving.”

The Gulls are the only winless team in the American Hockey League’s seven-team Pacific Division.

Byron Froese opened the scoring 12:19 into the first period when a shot from just inside the blue line hit Gulls goaltender Anthony Stolarz and bounced into the slot where Froese took the puck and scored on a backhanded shot.

“We start fine and then all of a sudden we get a goal down and I didn’t like our push back,” Dineen said. “You get a goal down, so what? You take it to them. We are letting teams come to us instead of reacting to the plays. Way too much of that right now.

“We need to start playing with a little more of an offensive mindset. Not just on offense, but when they have the puck we need to go harder at people and be more sincere in our game.”

Froese increased the Heat’s lead to 2-0 with a power-play goal on a backhanded shot 11:08 into the second period before a crowd at Pechanga Arena San Diego announced at 11,523.

Pacific Division-leading Stockton (4-1-0-0) took a 3-0 lead with 1:13 left in the second period, on a shot by Ryan Lomberg from between the faceoff circles, four seconds after defenseman Jani Hakanpaa’s tripping penalty expired.

The Heat also got third-period goals from Zac Leslie at 4:35 and Buddy Robinson at 8:10. Robinson’s goal prompted Dineen to replace Stolarz with Kevin Boyle. Stolarz (0-3-0-0) allowed five goals and made 26 saves. Boyle stopped all six shots he faced.

On the Gulls goal, defenseman Chris Wideman grabbed the puck out of the air and passed to Jack Kopacka. Sprong skated past two defenders and controlled the long pass from Kopacka and put a shot past Gillies for his first goal of the season.

Gillies made 23 saves in his first appearance of the season.

Stockton, the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate, scored on one of two power-play opportunities.

The Gulls were involved in their third fight in three games. Defenseman Steve Benoit drew a five-minute major penalty for the brawl with Heat left wing Martin Pospisil with 11:15 to play and the Gulls trailing 5-0. Pospisil received a five-minute major, a two-minute minor for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct.

The Gulls, the Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate, will next play next Friday, playing host to the Ontario Reign, the Los Angeles Kings AHL affiliate.

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